Marie-Antoinette has set her frilled foot on many a runway in her long afterlife, but when Jeremy Scott unveiled his rococo royal at the fall 2020 Moschino show, she looked a little different. Along with the usual bows and ruffles were motifs inspired by The Rose of Versailles, a canonical text in the world of Japanese comics and graphic novels known as manga.
“I studied Japanese growing up and ended up living in Tokyo for a summer when I was 16,” Scott tells T&C. “Reading manga was one of the ways I worked on my language skills, so naturally anime is a source of artistic inspiration for me.” Et voilà, “Anime Antoinette was born.”
When the year in fashion draws to a close, the high art of Japanese animation may well end up being seen as one of its stealth themes, promoted by some of the most adventurous influencers working, such as Virgil Abloh and the rapper Megan Thee Stallion. And with the arrival of the revered Studio Ghibli on the HBO Max streaming platform, the ingenuity of this rich tradition is unlikely to fade from the mainstream anytime soon.
“The future is bright for manga,” says Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, who last year curated the largest exhibition on the subject outside Japan; it was the British Museum’s best-attended show of 2019. “If manga weren’t there, fashion would have had to invent it.”
The manga storytelling style, which is defined by lush visuals and text, is derived from age-old works of Japanese art, illustrated scrolls dating as far back as the 12th century; it reached critical mass through serialization in newspapers and magazines in the 1920s. A century later manga is a billion-dollar industry that encompasses fine art, games, and, most notably, anime, its moving image counterpart.
The founders of Ghibli (including producer Toshio Suzuki and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, who in 2003 won an Academy Award for their film Spirited Away) are to Japanese animation what Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard were to the French Rococo. But until this year they had resisted making their sumptuous productions streamable.
From Prada to Gucci, fashion people, not coincidentally, have been among anime’s giddiest proponents. At Louis Vuitton’s spring 2016 show, Nicolas Ghesquière introduced many to the cult classic Neon Genesis Evangelion; he later cast a character from the video game Final Fantasy in the campaign. A year and a half after that, he opened a show with the theme song from Ghost in the Shell, a perennial dystopian anime favorite. This year New York designer Sandy Liang covered garments from her fall collection with anime eyes, and Megan Thee Stallion launched a line of merch in collaboration with the anime distributor Crunchyroll.
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Back at Vuitton, Abloh, the men’s artistic director, enlisted the multihyphenate artist Reggieknow to dream up a series of characters and animations for a short film as part of the spring 2021 collection. Reggieknow calls himself an evangelist for the “religion of anime”: “That’s something that I’ve been pursuing for some time. And I guess you could say the world is catching up to that now.”
Passion like that demands to be worn on one’s sleeve, and of course designers are there to provide the requisite wardrobe.
This story appears in the October 2020 issue of Town & Country.
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