Hysteric Glamour's Pop Art Legacy
Hysteric Glamour's Pop Art Legacy
- Words Gunner Park
- Date September 14, 2017
With Japan’s ceaseless adoption and reinterpretation of American culture, it is no surprise that the menswear community has seen a myriad of eastern-based labels dabbling in “Americana.” From Japan’s initial adoption of “Ivy League” fashion in the form of VAN Jacket and Beams to the proliferation of streetwear through the Harajuku scene, the once isolated peninsula has become famous for their alleged “perfection” of American style. As Americana begins to fade—forever associated with the earliest days of #menswear, raw denim and Red Wing boots—Japan’s reinterpretations of Western style has mirrored that departure, now more than ever focused on the more experimental aspects of American fashion. This new direction provides a platform for the resurgence of storied Japanese labels, particularly those grounded in the punk-street scene in Harajuku.
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Perhaps one of the more literal examples of Japanese-reinterpreted American fashion comes in the form of Nobuhiko Kitamura’s Hysteric Glamour. Inspired by Kitamura’s childhood and his American influences, Hysteric Glamour is the cultivation of all things “American.” Kitamura’s design ethos is and continues to be based in 1960s and 1970s American pop culture and art, releasing most of his garments in bright vivid colors with American cultural references. Music, comics, pornography, automobiles and mass media all influence Kitamura’s brand from obvious iconography to subtle package designs. Today, Hysteric Glamour covers a wide variety of clothing including graphic t-shirts, jeans, cardigans, frilly tank tops, mini dresses and punk-inspired accessories.
Like many Japanese designers, Kitamura was a product of Japan’s newly-found interaction with Western culture following the American occupation amidst the fall-out from World War II. The cross-cultural fermentation that began in the mid-century quickly spread throughout urban centers in Japan. Japanese youth flocked to those areas, where they were exposed to Western culture firsthand. By the 1960s, the Harajuku neighborhood had become established as a meeting point for Japanese youth, enabling major commercial development in the area and in turn giving rise to an inevitable fashion scene.
Kitamura was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1962, coinciding with an increased interest in popular Western culture and a sharp rise in youth rebellion. While in Japan the youth would not achieve the same cultural relevancy until the 1980s, America laid the framework for Japan’s initial adoption through the genesis of counter-culture. As student protests around the world grew in numbers and Japan gradually opened up to the idea of appropriating Western culture, it was inevitable that a similar sense of youth frustration and anxiety would reach Japan. By the late 1970s, it did.
While in high school, Kitamura became interested in the late 70s New York punk and New Wave sound that originated out of Greenwich Village. It wasn’t uncommon for Japanese youth to find haven in American punk at this time. Japanese rock bands, bikers and the yankii subculture quickly populated the streets of Harajuku, finding haven in nightclubs such as Masayuki Yamazaki’s (the founder of CREAM SODA) Pink Dragon. The progressive link between music and fashion was instantly recognizable for Japan’s youth, fostering an entirely new generation of designers and musicians, including The Checkers and Seiko Matsuda.
Oddly enough, in 1981, Kitamura saw an advertisement for a fashion school on television and decided to pursue fashion as a career. He eventually ended up at Tokyo Mode Gakuen—it is unclear if that was in fact the school whose advertisement he saw—to study design. While attending university, Kitamura began organizing fashion shows and designing for the Japanese brand Ozone Community. Like many other nascent brands out of Harajuku, Ozone Community was a brand designed by kids who had the desire to forge something completely different--collectively referred to as the DC Boom. This was the first generation of designers who worked from scratch, creating a new business model that appealed to a niche demographic. While many of these early DC designers included the likes of Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, later designers offered cheaper garments at more affordable price point. Collectively referred to as “Mansion Makers”—home-grown designers who focused on artisanal hand-made garments with no interest for commercial fashion—this new generation bucked traditional trends, refusing to cater to mainstream or economic interest.
Kitamura despised the commercialism of designer-character fashion, only exacerbated by the unprecedented success of Mansion Makers, which led to a corporate takeover of the industry, with hungry capitalists eager to cash in. While he was unsure of what he hoped to create, he knew what he would not: a corporate business that produced conservative clothing. From the outset his goal was to create clothing that only he could make, exclusively in Harajuku–clothes directly influenced by his personal taste and sensibilities. Particularly, he was intrigued by the seediest corners of America: white trash, pure rock & roll culture. Although Kitamura had never been to America, he was convinced he could bring his version of America to Harajuku.
After graduating from Tokyo Mode Gakuen in 1984, Kitamura was approached by Ozone Community to design a unisex fashion line under the Ozone umbrella. He chose the name “Hysteric Glamour” and launched the label later that year. Originally, Kitamura designed his clothing line for women in their late teens to their mid-twenties. After a feature in Olive Magazine, more people began to recognize the brand for its bold graphic t-shirts featuring motifs from iconic artists and musicians. His designs were colorful, mixing classic 70s American punk with a taste of industrial mass media pop reminiscent of American comic books. The brand became increasingly popular with teens and young adults in Harajuku, and eventually spread throughout Tokyo
Over the next decade, Hysteric Glamour began to offer everything from heavy-duty pieces for the outdoors, to embroidered workwear and denim. The label also expanded its offerings to include garments for men (Thee Hysteric XXX), women (Hysterics) and children (Joey Hysteric). Hysteric garments were predominantly based on vintage pieces. Kitamura would source and analyze classic American staples in order to truly recreate the feel of aged Americana. However, while feel was key, aesthetics came first. Branding was at the heart of the label. Each garment or accessory featured some sort of bold logo or graphic. Today, Hysteric Glamour continues to sport the same bold graphic motifs, with many of their sought after graphic tees selling out immediately across all 52 of their Japanese storefronts.
Hysteric Glamour began a global expansion in 1991, through the opening of a storefront in the United Kingdom. A spiritual successor to World’s End, the store became an instant favorite of alternative and punk rock stars like Mark Bolan and The Sex Pistols. Through his work with Hysteric Glamour, Kitamura built an extensive rolodex of contacts. Several years prior to the opening of their London storefront, for two years Hysteric Glamour had a temporary shop in New York that attracted many Western artists. Many of whom, including Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop, Terry Richardson and Keith Haring, would become both customers and personal friends of Kitmura.
Alarmingly soon after the brand’s inception, it was clear that Kitamura was living out his teenage fantasy of rubbing elbows with his cultural idols. For Kitamura, Hysteric Glamour was a vehicle to pay respect to the culture and way of life that preoccupied his childhood. His inherent charisma and innovation make that much obvious. For his CUTie centerfold shoots, for instance, Kitamura combined his love for art, high-fashion and Playboy Magazine to portray his personal interpretation of what is America. The advertisements included a range of centerfolds that featured slim Japanese models who barely filled out their bathing suit, sporting hot pink lips and clutching adorable anime-esque handbags. Kitamura was truly living out his dreams of paying homage to American culture through a fantasy and attitude that was irresistible to others as well.
In fact, Kitamura initially thought he wanted to become an artist, but his interest in fashion quickly overcame those inclinations. He saw fashion’s exciting potential to create, but he also enjoyed the sales and media aspects of the business, opting to participate as both a patron and as a collaborator. Throughout his career, he continued to explore new outlets through creation and collaboration. In 1993, Kitamura published a series of photography books, working with Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki and Terry Richardson. The result meshed seamlessly with Kitamura’s innovative advertising for Hysteric Glamour, employing Richardson, painter Rita Ackerman and B-movie king Russ Meyer as guest art directors on future shoots. Kitamura’s involvement in art continued to develop throughout his career. In 2003, the designer made a brief cameo in Sofia Coppola’s film, Lost in Translation. Supposedly, some scenes were directly based on experiences the two had while partying together in Tokyo. Later in 2006, for his Spring/Summer 2006 collection, Kitamura collaborated with the Andy Warhol foundation on a limited line of clothing inspired by Warhol’s prints. Due to licensing restrictions, this collection was only available in Japan, causing some of the most popular items to sell out on the first day, while the rest sold through a Japanese proxy service. In the same year, Kitamura also launched the Rat Hole Gallery in the Tokyo’s Aoyama district, to showcase work from the likes of Daido Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki.
While Kitamura may be first and foremost a designer, his role as a collaborator is not to be understated. While today's Supreme collaboration will inevitably thrust the brand into the hands of thirsty hypebeast's the world over, Kitamura has worked alongside countless influential individuals for decades, ranging from magazine publishers to fashion contemporaries. Announced last week through an editorial in SENSE magazine, the capsule collection showcases Supreme and Hysteric Glamour’s mutual admiration for mixed typography and overstated attitude. The prominent “FUCK YOU” graphic, featured throughout the collection on a range of cozy sweaters, fur coats and military parkas, strikes a chord with both brands in a way few prior partnerships have. Although Supreme has collaborated with a plethora of Japanese labels—Sasquatchfabrix, Comme des Garçons and KAWS—this collaboration is truly an almost perfect match, from two design houses with almost identical ethos.
Despite Hysteric Glamour’s use of dated iconography and throwback designs, the brand has managed to remain as relevant as it has ever been. Being one of the first to set up shop in Harajuku—even before NIGO and Jun Takahashi opened NOWHERE—the brand continues to thrive. With 52 stores in Japan alone, several in Europe and an impressive range of collaborations and marketing ploys, the brand continues to produce strong work despite it being their fourth decade in business. Perhaps the link between music and fashion is so compelling that Kitamura has managed to create his own niche market and sustain growth regardless of intense competition. Perhaps there exists a sort of nostalgia behind the motifs and themes the brand represents so well. Perhaps Kitamura’s deep-seated involvement in the music and art industries separate Hysteric Glamour from its younger counterparts. Either way, Nobuhiko Kitamura and Hysteric Glamour continue to redefine the intersection of fashion, music and pop culture, with their presence stronger now more than ever.