Q&A with stylist and blogger Misha Janette: 'Tokyo is like a refuge'

Written by
Annemarie Luck

Misha Janette (third from left) with Kawaii Monster Café's 'Monster Girls' whose costumes she designed

She's perhaps most well-known for being the founder of popular fashion blog www.tokyofashiondiaries.com, but Misha Janette continues to reinvent herself – as journalist, TV host and, most recently, stylist. We caught up with her at Harajuku's latest themed restaurant, Kawaii Monster Cafe, to ask her about styling the costumes for the café's 'Monster Girls' and to pick her brain about what Tokyo means to her. She also gave us a few insider titbits on what's set to be the next big style trend in Tokyo...

What brought you to Tokyo?
I wanted to be a stylist, but I knew that growing up in Washington State and not having much money was going to make it difficult to stand out. And in fashion, you have to stand out first, and then show what you’re made of. So I decided to come to Japan and study at Bunka Fashion College, and immerse myself in a completely different culture where I could mix in my American sensibility.

You came here 10 years ago. How was the fashion different back then?
For one, it was way more expensive. A basic T-shirt cost ¥10,000. I remember I couldn’t even find a camisole for less than ¥7,000. These days, there is a lot more variety in price range!

How has your own style evolved?
I’ve kind of gone in circles. Right now, I’m back to dressing how I did when I was a student here: black and white, graphical. When I was starting out as a stylist, I met a hat designer who made these beautiful statuesque Isabella Blow-like hats, so I started wearing them to Tokyo Fashion Week. I essentially styled myself.

You’ve also been through a kawaii phase, even presenting for NHK WORLD’s Kawaii International TV show…
Yes, this began after I started my blog, about four years ago. Around the same time I was introduced to [kawaii champion] Sebastian Masuda and kawaii fashion. People started asking me to wear the clothes and this led to presenting for NHK with a ‘Harajuku girl’ persona. These days, my role has changed as now I’m focused on showing the evolution of fashion here, and explaining foreign views versus the way it really is in Japan.

You recently worked with Sebastian on creating costumes for Harajuku’s Kawaii Monster Cafe. Tell us about your inspiration.
We were going for an ’80s club kids vibe and wanted to give visitors something weird and wild and fun. I also wanted to break away from the obvious cute comparisons with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu so I went for something more adult: tight, short, showing off the décolletage. Also, the costumes had to be on par with Disneyland characters because, after all, it’s a themed restaurant.

Which store should every tourist visit?
Dog in Harajuku. It’s a bit intimidating to go in there, and you might not be able to find something to buy, but you’ll be welcomed into this world that is the gravitational pull of Harajuku. If that store goes, Harajuku will be no more.

What do you think makes Tokyo special?
For me, Tokyo is like a refuge. People who live here know that there are a lot of societal rules, but at the same time there is a freedom because you don’t bother other people; you let them be. You don’t have to worry about being accosted in the street for looking different. Because of that, fashion has thrived.

New trends to look out for?
One of the things I love about Japan is that you can mix two completely opposite things together and it’s okay. Right now, I’m into mixing street styles, and I’m really enjoying ‘neo street style’ – it’s an emerging trend featuring things like yarn dreads in the hair, hardcore oversized clothes and Buffalo platforms, lots of piercings, but then a cute Pikachu hat on the head. It’s a colourful, manga, hip-hop, retro, urban, raver, cyber style. [Check out pics and more info about neo street style on Misha's blog.]

When did you first feel like a Tokyoite?
When I was squished into the trains on my way to Bunka College in Shinjuku every day!

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