How Japanese Anime Is Influencing Fashion by Aybuke Barkcin

Left: Biker-Gang Leader Kaneda/Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo (1988), Right: Kanye West/Donda Listening Event (2021)

 

Dear Shaded Viewers,

Rapper and producer Kanye West’s new album Donda has been making quite a few headlines over the past month. The rapper has been recording his life in his new condo at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, while hosting two listening events for his fans who want to get a taste of what the rapper’s tenth studio album will sound like.

But amongst the media frenzy surrounding Kanye’s album and as the photos of his rise to ‘heaven’ were widely shared in social media, one thing that caught my attention was the outfit the rapper wore to his first listening event, which featured a ruby-red ensemble including a futuristic Gap x Yeezy jacket… directly imitating the costume of biker-gang leader Shōtarō Kaneda in the 1988 post-apocalyptic Japanese anime Akira (set in a dystopian Neo-Tokyo that was built after WWIII, the cyber-punk anime tells the story of disaffected youth, corruption, secret government experimentations, annihilation and resurrection).

“Every stage show I’ve ever worked on, every video, not just Stronger, every product, even when I was in the hospital, I would think… Oh shit this is like Akira. This is not only the greatest animation achievement in history, the subject matter is so relevant to the current state of the world.” the rapper tweeted after the event.

Kanye West’s choice to modernise Kaneda’s outfit may be signalling the growing influence anime culture will have on the fashion industry… and we should all be paying attention to it.

 

Undercover x Evangelion (FW21)

 

The Japanese style of animation, or “anime” for short, was first considered to be a subculture that few young groups, identifying themselves as otaku, enjoyed. Religiously reading manga, dressing up as anime-characters, collecting merchandise, listening to the latest J-Pop singles… these groups treated anime as a lifestyle and were rather perceived to be nerdish and awkward by society. However, today the creative form has become a global phenomenon enjoyed by many, who find anime’s complex storylines, mature content and relevance with today’s issues to be the new cool… making it one of biggest drivers of youth culture and fashion. 

Growing up in the era of digitalisation, hopping from one medium to another, for the Millennials and Gen-Z generations…worlds which exist in gaming and animation platforms are now treated as visual guidelines and act as a fresh source of inspiration for personal style. For those who don’t feel represented in the Western media nor find it inspiring, turn towards the East, finding new forms of self expression in anime shows and pages of Manga. 

However, anime’s relationship with fashion is not a new matter. For young girls growing up in the 90s, shows like Nana became visual maps for style, which suited the likes of misfit girls by glorifying the glam punk-rock style with protagonist Nana Osaki. A rebellious girl from a small town, dreaming to become a rock-star in Tokyo, with a style which inspired a generation of young girls to wear Vivienne Westwood knock-off necklaces, ripped stockings, leather jackets and pleated mini-skirts. In contrast to Nana’s style, the globally-successful show Sailor Moon, which tells the story of an ordinary girl’s rise to power to protect the universe, directly pulled outfits from the Parisian runways, creating illustrated versions of Chanel, Dior and Thierry Mugler.

The playful act of dressing up, depicted so detailedly in anime shows, strengthens the realisation of the characters in the viewer’s eyes and projects the ultimate roadmap for style… and one doesn’t need to look far to see the examples. An ongoing trend on TikTok has been revolving around the hashtag #animeoutfits, where users recreate the looks of fan-favourite anime characters, incorporating their outfits to everyday life. The trend already has 16.1 million videos on TikTok and is sometimes shared under the concept “What I would wear if I was in X Anime”. Similarly, on platforms such as YouTube, video-makers are using the same concept to style their wardrobes inspired by an anime character they follow.

 

 

It seems as though, the culture of cosplay is becoming more widely accepted by the masses and even fashion brands like Levi’s is jumping on the wagon. Earlier this year, the brand revealed its collaboration with the globally successful franchise Pokémon, releasing a range of graphic t-shirts, hoodies and denim jackets to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show’s characters: Ash, Misty and Brock.

 

Levi’s x Pokemon/Ash (2021)

 

Whether it is a rare capsule collection by Gucci x Doraemon for the Lunar New Year, a collaboration between Balenciaga x Hello Kitty or a rare drop of Uniqlo x Sailor Moon merchandise, from streetwear to luxury, brands have continuously proven the profitability of merging anime themes with fashion. The success story behind the fusion relates back to nostalgic memories, as the cultural heroes in films and television the consumers once adored and followed are incorporated in commodity products… paying homage to their formative years. For luxury houses like Gucci and Balenciaga, the use of these widely accepted characters presents the illusion of accessibility to a wider audience while allowing them to play the ‘one-of-a-kind’ scenario.

 

Balenciaga x Hello Kitty (SS20)

 

Going beyond merchandise products and leather goods, anime culture has also appealed to other luxury houses where its elements have taken the runways in a more discreet way, inspiring new silhouettes and prints which envision an anime persona. Creative Director Nicolas Ghesquière played on the contrast between digitalisation and nature in the Louis Vuitton spring/summer16 collection by dressing the elegant cyber-punk girl, pulling inspirations from cult classic films like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell. Jeremy Scott on the other hand, found the sweet spot between anime and fashion at Moschino fall/winter 2020 runway, dressing the “Anime Antoinette” in modernised pannier dresses in soft candy colors and giving the infamous queen a Japanese twist by mixing French traditions with the cuteness of Harajuku Lolita fashion.

 

Moschino (FW2020)

 

As for the streetwear brands who design the dress code of the underrepresented and rebellious, certain anime characters carry wider importance and are used specifically for the reason that their films have political undertones. Successful collaborations have come out with the merge of the two creative fields, most notably: Supreme x Akira, Undercover x Neon Genesis Evangelion, Bathing Ape x Naruto, Adidas x Dragon Ball Z… anime films and shows that revolve around the story of an underdog fighting against all odds for survival. It is no surprise that brands incorporate these specific characters in their collections to strengthen the message of their brand identity, as these heroes illustrate the disruptive rebellious youth their customers would identify with.

 

Supreme x Akira (2017)

 

Whether they are anime characters we see in a film, a video game we play or an influencer’s photo we like on Instagram… these 2-dimensional images are becoming more powerful tools of influence in our lives, as we willingly take away more time from reality and switch on our screens. Today the youth is trying to merge the two dimensions and create a new look which exists both online and offline. To do so, a big portion of the formula is coming from the anime culture, which has proven its commitment to personal style for the creation of its characters.

Going beyond entertainment, anime will continue to be a useful map for the upcoming generations who want to explore new possibilities with self-expression and fashion brands better take note!

Aybuke Barkcin

Aybüke Barkçin is an art director, photographer, curator and writer that looks at fashion through the lens of political and societal dynamics. She completed her master's Creative Direction in POLIMODA, Italy and has a background in International Relations and Graphic Design. Her work can be found in her website: https://www.aybukebarkcin.com/