Midori Tajiri-Byrd’s faded lilac mohawk falls across her forehead as she flips through a book of photos.
Taken in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, they depict teens and twentysomethings wearing second-hand, handmade and designer pieces, accessorized with everything from crocheted leggings to Technicolor synthetic dreadlocks. Though shot in the mid-1990s, the photos feel avant-garde.
“These kids are just completely, completely free, so they’re trendless,” says Tajiri-Byrd, aka "LibeRaunchy the BeauxQueen."
“It’s the same thing for New Orleans. We’re so far behind the trends that it doesn’t matter what we do. We aren’t restricted by the same rules, and we afford each other the same freedom.”
Tajiri-Byrd sees in New Orleans a fertile breeding ground for Harajuku style.
Harajuku is cultural shorthand for the intermingling of Western fashion, youth subcultures and street style that blossomed in that Japanese district during the 1990s, when streets closed to traffic every Sunday and became ersatz runway shows.
For a New Orleanian, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Frenchmen Street’s Carnival costume culture. And that’s exactly the point, says Tajiri-Byrd, who along with drag performer Benjamin Murray, aka "Eureeka Starfish," co-founded Harajuku NOLA, a Japanese fashion events company.
She also co-founded a Harajuku-themed sub-krewe for the Krewe of Chewbacchus. And, she and Murray co-host two monthly Harajuku events, the TMI Talk Show at Mister Gregory’s (806 N. Rampart St.) and The Marvelous Show at Grand Pre's (834 N. Rampart St.).
"We started doing these parties regularly about two years ago," Murray says. "They gave people a reason to come out more, and the scene grew exponentially. It was incredible, amazing. I was like, 'Look at all these magical kids.'"
The local Harajuku community has come a long way since 2007, says Kammie Pomeranian. Then, she organized a meetup for fans of Lolita fashion. Characterized by petticoats, ruffles and Victorian aesthetics, Lolita style is a subbranch of Harajuku (and bears no relation to the Nabokov novel of the same name, Pomeranian emphasizes).
“There were only three Lolitas at our first meetup — me and two other girls,” Pomeranian says. “Now, our Facebook group has over 500 members. It’s crazy how much it’s grown.”
Pomeranian credits the internet, Tajiri-Byrd’s events, animé conventions and local boutique Kawaii NOLA (4826 Magazine St.) with exposing Harajuku fashion to a wider audience. Husband-and-wife team Kanako Asai Richard and Adam Richard opened Kawaii NOLA in 2013 to bring Japanese “cute culture” to the city.
Since then, the boutique has hosted artist pop-ups, trunk shows, a Hello Kitty birthday party and other events. At last year’s Cherry Blossom festival, more than 100 attendees filled the store and spilled into the street. This month, the store relocates to a larger storefront Uptown.
“We grew out of our previous space and needed a location that was more conducive to hosting these fun events,” Kanako says. “It's fascinating and invigorating to be a part of the NOLA Harajuku scene. To me, the fashion is about being able to express yourself creatively without any limits.”
Jasmine Wagnon agrees. The 21-year-old Lafayette native practices shironuri, a Harajuku subbranch that translates to “painted in white.” Although she wears yoga pants and T-shirts most of the time, she dresses in shironuri style for conventions, Mardi Gras and Japan Fest at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
“It’s a great form of expression and a nice break from the everyday work life,” Wagnon says. “It’s a way to form community, and I really love the aesthetic.”
TIPS FOR HARAJUKU
The movement is about freedom. Find joy in mismatched items, and get colorful.
Don’t be afraid to wear clothing from the children’s section.
For style influences, reference your favorite cultures, cartoon characters, animé, manga or TV shows.
Imagine your alter ego as a caricature: How would you dress that ideal person?
For shironuri style, wear Mehron Clown White face paint with a setting powder, and shop for clothing at Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange, Funky Monkey, Miss Claudia’s Vintage Clothing and Costumes.
Get active in the community by attending events. NOLA Rufflebutts (facebook.com/groups/nolarufflebutts), Kawaii NOLA (facebook.com/KawaiiNOLA) and Harajuku NOLA (facebook.com/HarajukuNola) are good accounts to follow.