Outside on Post Street and in the Japantown Peace Plaza, pastel-colored babydoll dresses flounce past homemade space-samauri hoods. Everyone's wearing really long turquoise wigs (they're clones of the Vocaloid character Hatsune Miku, try to stay with us here), gaudy plastic baubles glued to their fingernails. A judge at the Baby The Stars Shine Bright runway contest is pleased with one contestant's canny use of a plush llama as accessory. "I like how you incorporated alpaca -- that's really 'in' in Japan these days."
Whimsy was a central characteristic at the heart of this year's J-Pop Summit Festival. But it wasn't all eye-popping plastic and the gluing of themed objects to your pigtail hairpiece. Inside the welcome cool of the New People mall's top-floor Superfrog Gallery, a more sober form of fashion was being explored. Sou Sou's Takeshi Wakabayashi was explaining his brand's commitment to blending traditional forms of Japanese clothing with modern textiles.
"Downstairs there are a lot of people excited about Lolita fashions," Wakabayashi says. "I hope next time they come they will be excited about Sou Sou fashions."
Sharing the stage with the designer was five of his looks -- handsome, dark colored kimonos, some with bold, geometrically patterned scarves and sashes would about. At their feet, the clothing items that the company is perhaps best known for: cloven-foot sneakers in vivid color combinations.
They look a little space age, these shoes. They perhaps wouldn't be out of place with the anime royalty strutting to the next Danceroid show on the Peace Pagoda stage. But Wakabayashi explains that the design is meant to be functional.
"You can actually get a very stable grip on the ground," he says. He recommends the split-toe shoes for everything from sports to carpentry to mining and traditional festivals, his slide show clicking through photo examples of individuals using them for just those things.
"We're helping preserve traditions in Japan," he tells the audience. He might just be right on that -- his own outfit, flowing and kimono-y though it is, smacks of urbanity. The patterns are sleek, even if the profile is a bit billowing. He shows a slideshow of his production facilities, where textiles are designed on 100-year old looms made by Toyota (the designer tells us that a representative from the car company visited the factory once -- now one of the looms are in the corporation's musem for posterity).
New People founder Seiji Horibuchi introduced Wakabayashi to the audience assembled at Superfrog. He says he had trouble at first convincing the designer to open his mini-store in his San Francisco Japanese pop culture mall at first. But after a little convincing, he's been there since day one of New People's opening. Now, Wakabayashi says "simply put, it just thrills me [to see Americans wearing our designs]. I think that the craftsmen, they really get a kick out of seeing our designs in the States."
Sou Sou's textile designs are the true center of its traditional-modern aesthetic blend. Many of the colorful prints are modeled off of old patterns. One line is based around traditional Japanese sweets. At the reception hosted by the Japanese consulate following Wakabayashi's presentation, these make an appearance on the refreshment table: candies placed carefuly on top of decorative postcards, meant to be souvenirs of culture sampled.
Which is not to say that the circus-themed Lolita fashion show outside was any less cultural. "A" for inclusive, J-Pop Summit.