(From 2007:) Part travelogue, part fashion study, “The Tokyo Look Book” (Kodansha) is one of the most entertaining tomes of the fall — it is quite spectacular to look at and informative on levels that few fashion books approach.
Like that wonderful regular street fashion feature done by veteran New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, the book shows us stylish clothes as they are worn by “real” people, not carefully lit and posed models.
British anthropologist Philomena Keet teamed up with photographer Yuri Manabe to capture the outrageously colorful and culturally diverse fashion scene on the streets of Tokyo. As the cover blurb puts it so well, “Stylish to Spectacular, Goth to Gyaru, Sidewalk to Catwalk.”
I caught up with Keet by phone when she was in New York several weeks ago and she said “The Tokyo Look Book” began as a lucky accident.
“It was a chance meeting with a book editor. I happened to be doing my PhD in street fashion (in Tokyo) and it was just an opportunity too good to miss,” she said.
“Of course, the question then was: How to do it?,” the writer said, with a laugh.
Keet narrowed her work on the book to a very small slice of the Tokyo fashion scene — youth street fashion.
“I met most of the people for the first time on the street,” the writer said of her journey through the various youth street cultures in Tokyo, from the rather conservative look of “young men at work” to kids who dress like their favorite anime characters and others who have adopted wildly theatrical variations on punk and Goth styles.
Reporters often find “man in the street” features to be tough assignments — first you have to get a stranger to talk, then get him or her to agree to be photographed.
Keet said her work was “hard at first but once I got used to it, it was lovely as well.”
The work was aided by the fact that Tokyo street kids often expect to be photographed by friends and tourists.
“They are all readers of fashion magazines and they are used to being asked for photographs…I think in our case, the combination of an English girl and a Japanese girl (photog Manabe) was particularly good…a lot of the people were intrigued by us,” Keet said of walking the streets with the native photographer.
“The Tokyo Look Book” introduces us to top Japanese designers such as Kazuhisa Komura and we also journey into wild boutiques with names like “Dog” and “Sex Pot Revenge.”
Although it often seems that fashion has become one of the top interests of Americans in recent years, Keet says Japan dwarfs the U.S. and the U.K. when it comes to style worship and living to shop.
“There are so many more fashion magazines in Japan than in the U.K. or U.S.,” the writer points out. “What’s in my book is just one tiny niche of the (total Japanese) fashion scene.”
Keet said the Japanese have few of the hang-ups about fashion that persist in England and America: “We tend to think fashion is a trivial and stupid thing to spend money on. There is less guilt in Japanese society in respect to spending money on fashion…you have the phenomenon of young people living at home but doing a part-time job in order to buy clothes.”
When I urged Keet to put together similar books on New York and London — to start with — she laughed and pointed out that she still has to finish the PhD thesis that was interrupted by the Tokyo fashion project.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do next, but I did really enjoy doing this one. I am half thinking about a London book in time for the Olympics,” she said of the 2012 international event.