If there’s one figure responsible for popularizing the look, it’s Mana, leader of the Japanese band Moi dix Mois, formerly of Malice Mizer. In 1999, after noticing his fans were widely copying his style, he launched his own fashion label, Moi-même-Moitié. He cooked up the terms Elegant Gothic Lolita and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat, too, to differentiate between his women’s and men’s collections. “He’s a major pioneer,” says Godoy.
Nowadays, there’s a whole constellation of Gothic Lolita designers, from Alice Auaa to h.Naoto’s Naoto Hirooka, who has elevated the look to the runway. Four of the eight floors in Tokyo’s Marui department store in Shinjuku are dedicated to the style. And the look itself, much like Western Goth, has multiple subcategories: punk Lolitas, sweet Lolitas and grotesque Lolitas, to name a few. (For the Goth curious, grotesque gals come “injured” and bandaged up.)
“Western Goth responds to a lot of religious imagery and potentially controversial connotations,” explains Carmen Yuen, who’s made a career out of blogging about the Gothic Lolita culture on lacarmina.com. “Whereas in Japan, it’s just an aesthetic. It’s all visual, without the context.” She points to other examples of similarly co-opted looks: Japan’s popular rockabilly or American surf style. “Can you imagine?” remarks Yuen, who now goes by the name Carmina. “California-style board shorts — in Japan?” Even though the Gothic Lolita look isn’t exactly bum-rushing Western shores, it’s begun to filter over. The popular style guide “Gothic & Lolita Bible” — part fashion glossy, part McCall’s pattern book — just launched an English version last year. (Available at Barnes & Noble and Borders, spring 2009 is “The Wedding Issue.”) This August, the Japanese entertainment distributor VIZ Pictures is opening a multistory “J-Pop Center” in San Francisco, which will include a cinema, bookstore and Gothic Lolita shop. The sweet Lolita label Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, meanwhile, has announced plans to open up a store in that city as well. (There’s already one in Paris on 72 Avenue Ledru Rollin.) And Faoflex, an Italian eyewear company, is launching a line called Dandy’s Collection later this month, with one style dubbed Gothic Lolita.
Yuen herself is another example. The 24-year-old Vancouver native, with a BA from Columbia and a law degree from Yale, lives between New York and Tokyo, has a Goth cooking show on YouTube and just launched a capsule collection of Loli-Goth-style coats. Also in the pipeline: a collaboration with London Underground shoes and two book projects. “I go to Gothic club nights,” she adds, “and every single time, there are more and more people. It seems like things are only going to get bigger.” Come March 2010, GothLoli even goes Hollywood; Tim Burton is coming out with his own spin on “Alice in Wonderland,”
starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and newcomer Mia Wasikowska as Alice.
As for the reason behind all this Gothic attention lately (no matter what its strain), some point to the economy, suggesting it’s a hemline effect of sorts, but with dark and gloomy clothing for a dark and gloomy outlook. For Grai designer Maya Yogev, who used to work at Rick Owens and designed a limited edition fashion collection for Black Sabbath in 2006, the financial connection is a practical one. “It’s more cost-effective for me to do an all-black collection,” she says.
Steele begs to differ. “No, no, no! A million times no!” she responds. “That’s a total knee-jerk reaction. There are always going to be designers, like McQueen, who are going to be attracted to the look of the dark side. There’s something dangerously charismatic about this look — it’s the bad boy, the bad girl, the rock ’n’ roll, this sort of dangerous Baudelairean poet.”
Rodarte’s Laura Mulleavy echoes those thoughts. “People have a connection to different aesthetics all the time,” she says. “In the end, what people will pick for themselves is really a personal expression. People can find beauty, and it could be strange.”