Since 1996, a monthly magazine called FRUiTS has been documenting street fashion in the bustling Harajuku area of Tokyo. What makes this fashion magazine different from any other is that there are no professional models and no mainstream advertising – in fact, the only ads you’ll see at all are for shops around the area, and for the magazine itself and its two affiliate magazines (STREET and TUNE). The photos are largely candid, the people usually staring straight into the camera. There is no airbrushing and no other photoshopping of any kind. Most images take up an entire page, with only a small white bar at the bottom containing a description of the outfit and a tiny biography of the person wearing it in their own words.
Both the readers and the people caught on camera tend to be in their teens and twenties, although it is not uncommon for FRUiTS to also feature anyone ranging from toddler-aged to men and women in their forties. The particular style of clothing most often seen within the pages of FRUiTS could be described as many things – crazy, eclectic, creative – but if anything, the only single aspect that holds each collection together is their individualism. It’s generally not understood as a type of cosplay, and there is no political agenda or set of ‘rules’ to follow; seemingly, the only point of the magazine is to highlight the fact that there are no rules when it comes to freedom of expression of Harajuku street fashion.
Photographer Aoki Shoichi first began documenting street fashion during his time in London in the mid-1980s. He has described street fashion in the United Kingdom at this point in time as being “free” and “cool” in comparison to the staleness of Japanese street fashion, which was simply based on whatever was considered trendy. This realisation was what motivated Aoki to begin publication of STREET, which showcased European and later on American street fashion, but also introduced the idea of clothing as art to Japanese teenagers.
When Japan’s bubble economy dramatically collapsed in 1991 it resulted in the nation’s ‘Lost Decade’, but this occurred alongside and perhaps even aided in fuelling a boom in a new and vibrant youth culture. The main thoroughfare in Harajuku was closed off to vehicles every Sunday, when crowds of performers and street fashion devotees of every type imaginable would come to this “pedestrian paradise” in order show off their own unique style. Although this weekly parade effectively ended in 1998 when the walkway was closed off by the city due to noise complaints, just one year after FRUiTS had begun publication, the magazine nonetheless became a cult hit among its readers. Young people still flock to Harajuku every Sunday, congregating mostly on the pedestrian Jingu Bridge that connects Harajuku to the Meiji Shrine area in the neighbouring ward of Shibuya, albeit in smaller crowds.
Over recent years, FRUiTS has also become popular outside of Japan with those interested in the country’s pop culture, particularly with the release of Fruits and Fresh Fruits in 2001 and 2005 respectively – both compilation books made up of excerpts from the magazines (these can be found on shopping sites like Amazon and Book Depository). Exhibitions of Aoki’s photographs have also toured museums in Australia and New Zealand.
Today, FRUiTS continues its run as a magazine that Aoki has stated is “completely different [from the original FRUiTS] but the ideas and sense of style are the same.” Wildly different items of clothing are combined to create something entirely new, or are sewn together from scratch in a very DIY approach. Although some photos depict a particular subculture such as Lolita or Decora, genres and styles more commonly collide in a riot of colour, pattern, or perspective. The idea tends not to be about looking pretty, sexy or attractive in any conventional sense, but rather to counteract the pre-packaged fashion that can be purchased in just any commercially mainstream store or out of a regular fashion magazines. The people in FRUiTS are not selling – they’re showing.
As a result, it’s not easy to generalise the overall ‘look’ of FRUiTS fashion, if one exists at all. “They are much freer in expressing themselves and can think for themselves. They even decide their own hairstyles now”, says Aoki. “They don’t care at all about how other people in society or how other groups see them.” It is for this reason that Harajuku has become known as one of the street fashion capitals of the world, being promoted in other Japanese magazines with a focus on cult and street fashion such as KERA and Gothic & Lolita Bible. However, it is FRUiTS which, as a whole, has arguably had the most influence on the international recognition of and curiosity with Japanese street fashion as we understand it today.
Question of the post: Have you or someone you know ever been featured in FRUiTS? How do you think FRUiTS compares to other Japanese fashion magazines, and do you/would you ever buy a copy or subscribe to FRUiTS yourself?