Does Kingston need more fashion swag?

Does Kingston need more fashion swag?

Style Observer

Sunday, December 11, 2011

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Imagine a chilling visual: a skyscraper-sized Dr Kevorkian stands in the middle of Kingston, holding a massive syringe. He repeats only one statement: "Change fashion, or choose euthanasia." Below him, an army of cybernetic versions of Dewight Peters and Kingsley Cooper storms the streets. Eyes red and robotic, they are flanked by an armada of statuesque models in skin-tight outfits and dripping sex appeal. They raid every nook and cranny, feverishly illuminating dull buildings, tweaking flagging fashion in stores and pasting fashion propaganda posters on every flat surface. The models leave streak marks where stiletto heels burn the road, and in the wake of the army's maddened exercise, we see the faintest glow of their work, the rising silhouette of their construction: Kingston Harajuku.

Hotbeds of fashion influence bring a rapid array of images to mind. Mention New York, and one can hear the clink of champagne glasses, the surly voices of disgruntled cab drivers and the heady scent of Chanel No 5 wafting through the evening breeze. Think of Paris, and it's easy to visualise a woman chic as a supermodel, rocking Christian Dior jeggings and smoking, a Birkin bag over one arm, a baguette under the other.

Think of Harajuku, however, and you ain't in Kansas anymore, Toto. It is a raging confluence of extremes. If a huge can of yellow paint and an electric power plant had a baby, it would be Harajuku. Nestled snugly in Tokyo's ultra-upscale fashion district Omotesando, Harajuku was originally a place where Japanese youths sought stress relief in a society that values a lack of outward emotional display. It was there they would go to dance, dress like characters from 70s science fiction movies and rally against The Man. Fast forward 30, 40 years, and it is for many the de facto place for rapidly emerging and inspirational fashion.

It is hard to find a designer, artist, filmmaker or creative type who isn't intrigued by the idea of Harajuku. Personal fashion is generally connected to the sensibilities of the zeitgeist; avant-garde fashion is always connected to a need to break from the malaise of normalcy and usher in the new. Harajuku came from the depths of a Japanese culture with an emerging youth populace seeking a different stylistic vibe as they began embracing Western sensibilities.

Where then, is Kingston Harajuku?

Presently there is no location where artists or creatives gather en masse in the nation's capital to take the proverbial skinny dip into a pool of creativity. Sure, we have malls where people can hawk their wares or sell overpriced T-shirts, and there are hush-hush fashion shows where pros and debutantes display their personal creations, but in a Kingston Harajuku the people would be as much on display as the store merchandise.

In Harajuku, it isn't uncommon to see girls dressed as dolls, a style called cosplay, rockabilly boys with slick hair who do dance routines to the soundtrack of the movie Grease, bands doing unplugged sets, and more. It is a creative atmosphere; a cloud of noise and colour that must force one to think and imagine art, design and music in different ways.

Negative public opinion is the main limiting factor for the average person seeking to dabble in experimental fashion. Harajuku in Tokyo gives people an area where the zany, different and experimental are expected, even valued. Since Jamaicans don't publicly mince words about their opinions on many things, even with strangers, it makes sense that the young guy who wants to wear a metallic jacket to the club might be hesitant to do so. Or the young woman experimenting with a skirt made from discarded clothespins might not feel comfortable wearing it in public.

The idea of Kingston Harajuku has nothing to do with how expensive your clothes are; it is how you identify with fashion, what you are willing to share, and how creative you want to be in expressing it. Most importantly, there should be a place where this is done.

Harajuku has galleries, like DesignFesta, which allow people to showcase art, photos, clothing and more for a daily or monthly fee. Highly publicised projects like these could allow for lower-cost exposure for artists young and old. Creativity in an explosive force, and through a Kingston Harajuku, we could usher in a new fashion genesis.

— Marcus Bird

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