by Philomena Keet and Yuri Manabe
In the flamboyant world of Shibuya fashion, platinum-blonde Miwa Mochizuki (left) stands out like a beacon. A designer for hip brand Glad News, her makeup, hair, nails, and figure are flawless, although she is not about being pretty and girly. Instead she is dressed in a leather biker jacket, one of the set pieces of the Glad News repertoire. "The look is based on biker style. Mixing a biker jacket with shorts, or a dress -- it's for strong women," she purrs in her husky voice, as she explains the concept behind the brand.
"When our 109 store opened in 2004, most of the fashions around us were quite feminine," she recounts. Indeed, with the popularity of the onesan-kei (older sister) look, as well as the less mainstream but more extreme hime-kei and ero-kawaii styles, there are still plenty of pink frills to be found in 109. But for strong girls looking for fashion with a harder edge, the good news comes in the form of Glad News.
Glad News is not a store for lady bikers, although Mochizuki is hoping to get her license soon. Nevertheless, the idea of a biker gyaru is not far-fetched -- while few girls have bikes themselves, a customized motorcycle, complete with flashing lights and animal-print seats, is de rigueur for the self-respecting Shibuya boy. And almost as important as the bike itself is the girlfriend to go on the back as they race through the streets of nighttime Shibuya.
The fashions in Shibuya move almost as fast as the bikes. "Big companies will change their stock every season, but in 109 the hot-selling items change on a weekly basis," says Mochizuki. "We have to make items that suit that particular week, so we are continually thinking of new things." The 109 design process is incredibly fast: plan-design-produce, all in the blink of an eye, and without skimping on quality. The biker jacket that Mochizuki wears today has an unusual finish, achieved by applying some paint on top of the material. She hit on the idea through trial and error: "We used to try so many things out every day, wondering whether they would work or not. Some things did, and we gained lots of exposure in magazines. We realized in the end that the things that work are the things that you really care about right down to the last detail. These are the pieces that make the customers sit up and toke notice."
Who are these customers? The age range for the 109 Glad News shop is the same as that for 109 customers in general, from late teens to early twenties, but the type of customer is perhaps a little different. "We are basically a gyaru brand, but there's more to us than that. We have all sorts of customers -- ones who are into rock, into psychedelic music . . . even dads come in to the men's shop." Mochizuki herself draws inspiration from music. Her designs have been influenced by rock, now she's more into hip-hop and rap. "But my all-time favorite is Michael Jackson. That red biker jacket -- wow!"
Mochizuki has been with the brand since its inception. She moved to Tokyo from Shizuoka and started working at 109, initially for a rival brand. "That's where it all started," she muses, probably a refrain uttered by many in the Shibuya fashion scene. She worked as a Glad News sales-girl before becoming a designer, but has been involved with planning and design from the word go. In 109, there is less distinction between designer and shop assistant -- they must in a sense be one and the same in order to keep up with the fast-paced changes in trends.
The men's shop opened in Shibuya's 109-2 building after men started buying the women's clothes. "We were the only non-girly shop in 109 and there was a period when it was fashionable for guys to wear things small and tight. Our women's clothes started to be featured regularly in men's magazines!" Mochizuki recalls. Now bags featuring the Glad News logo, with its distinctive newspaper-style typeface, are often to be found hanging from the arms of fashionable young men about town. Not just in Shibuya, but also in Shinjuku, where the brand is popular among the hosts who work in the neighborhood's many bars and clubs.
Another Glad News signature piece is the sukajan, a quilted silk jacket popular in Japan since the country's US occupation in the years immediately following the Second World War. In those days, the sukajan was usually embroidered with traditional Japanese images for US occupation army members to take home as a souvenir. The name is a contraction of the phrase "Yokosuka (suka) jumper (jan)," Yokosuka being the name of a US naval base near Tokyo, and over the years the jacket has moved from souvenir to bad-boy fashion item. Now Glad News has come up with its own fashionable take on the sukajan in all sorts of shapes and colors, such as the red and white version (above) and the skull-and-crossbones version in gold and black (right). There are even cropped sukajan with short sleeves, a sassy update of the original. Thanks to Glad News, which has celebrity fans such as Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas and distributors in London and the US, the sukajan might be finding its way back to US shores, this time not as a wartime souvenir, but as fashion.
Text © 2007 Philomena Keet from The Tokyo Look Book, Kodansha International
Photos © 2007 Yuri Manabe from The Tokyo Look Book, Kodansha International