The whisperings, raised eyebrows and knowing looks had started to exchange between Tommy Ton and our unofficial guide slash translator around Tokyo, Sato. There was apparently a “secret” mission to make me over into a “Shibuya 109” girl at some point during our trip, as an *ahem* earnest endeavour to gain insight into Japanese style culture. Translation: it was basically an excuse for Tommy to get me to pile on the make-up, don a wig and pull me as far and away from my usual attire as possible, to ensure that it would be a mega LOLZ Insta pop.
Resistance was always going to be futile. Especially when Sato had specifically arranged for my makeover to be overseen by babelicious Shibuya hottie Natsumi Kunsan – a model and veritable local style icon, who represents the latest incarnation of “gyaru” style (there’s a gyaru Wikia if you want to delve deep into the myriad of sub-sub categories that this infamous and constantly influx Japanese style genre).
Shibuya 109 is of course famously “gyaru” mecca but the cliches of the type of girls who shop and hang out there and what they look like were tricky to navigate. Tommy and Sato wanted me to take on the guise of a 109 girl – but the exact aesthetic was hard to articulate. It involved dyed hair (or a wig in my case), eye-widening contact lenses and exaggerated make-up for sure but what exactly was the look in terms of clothing? As it turned out Shibuya 109 has changed quite a bit since I last took a brief gander around this maze of a shopping mall two years ago. The Japan Times published an article a while back written by Misha Janette, who commented on the decline of “gyaru” girls as we know them. Janette noted that the competition from international high street brands such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara wading in on 109 territory. The clothes that we saw when Tommy and Sato were on the hunt for their fantasy 109 outfit for my makeover were not dissimilar from what I’d find in Topshop or ASOS back at home with the exception of a few Lolita-esque and cartoonish comic-inspired shops. What was interesting were the countless homages to the sort of style that has become globally loved through the power of Instagram. Rita Ora, Rihanna and Cara Delevigne instantly came to mind as we went from floor to floor in 109, overwhelmed by the onslaught of slogan sweatshirts, bodycon skirts, creeper-esque chunky shoes, beanies and faux-ghetto nineties-nostalgic merch. It seemed that the traditionally specific and unique niche of Japanese street style tribes haven’t escaped style globalisation.
Still, you can always count on the Japanese though to take a recognisable style genre and spin it until it becomes their own. The dress and accessories that Tommy, Sato and Phil (he was supposed to get a man version 109 makeover but there wasn’t enough time to go down that rabbit hole) picked out from a shop called Fig & Viper, weren’t what they initially had in mind but apparently a cut-out mini dress a la Julia Roberts in opening scene of Pretty Woman, emblazoned with gemstones and some Versace-inspired bling were sexed up enough to take me out of my style comfort zone. This ironic blinged out ensemble could well be seen traipsing up and down Kingsland Road in Dalston, cruising around Silverlake in L.A. or falling out of a bar in Williamsburg in New York but in Shibuya Tokyo, on girls like Natsumi, these clothes are pulled out of context.
It’s got to be said, I was quaking over the cut-outs on the dress more than the actual make-up/hair makeover. I’m no body shape outfit nazi but someone, who consumes as much animal fat, complex carbs and vodka as I do, shouldn’t really be subjecting the public to views of their side haunches. Especially when you’re attempting to pose next to Natsumi, who’s obviously far slighter.
Body grumble aside, the point though was to embrace this temporary and uncharacteristic transformation. Sato took the whole makeover “project” quite seriously as after the Shibuya 109 shopping round, we were led up to Natsumi’s modelling agency nearby and in a conference room laid out on the table was an array of rainbow coloured Prichara wigs (the best brand of wigs apparently in Japan), an equally dazzling range of coloured contact lenses and Natsumi’s personal make-up kit. The whole shebang – spending more than five minutes on making up the face so that my cheeks glowed, my eyes peeped and my lips rouged, applying two sets of false eye lashes, donning a pink wig, blinking into some blue contact lens and adopting the typical sexy cutie posing – was all fascinating to see at every stage. It was a good thing the contacts I was wearing were non-prescription so that I wouldn’t be transfixed by my utterly unrecognisable reflection in the mirror. It was mainly the wig and the contacts which completely altered everything I knew about my face but being so scantily clad (well for me anyway…) was also a strange out of body experience.
I may not have had a strictly orthodox Shibuya 109 girl makeover but as I chatted to Natsumi via a translated convo, it seemed there wasn’t necessarily a specific look that summed up the Shibuya “gyaru”. The distinct style tribes of yester-Shibuya and Harajuku are now scattered and less… well… tribe like… but that seems to have paved the way more for individual interpretations of the imported trends.
So how did I feel after my transformative makeover? The thrill of part of the look did fuel my day. I was mostly tickled by the make-up and the wig. Whilst I had to remove the contact lenses, the wig and the slap stayed on for the rest of my day with my “norma;” clothes, which has had me wondering whether my mop of hair could do with a change – either a chop or a drastic colour change – we’ll see what’s possible once I get back to London. As for the clothes… sorry to disappoint those that wanted a She’s All That ending to this Tokyo stunt but the physical insight into Shibuya 109 style left me even more assured of what the boundaries of my style are and why it is that I dress the way I do and why Natsumi very much has her own thing going on. Emphasis on “own”.