By Natalia Zurowski
In Tokyo, there have been two main model types: the high fashion editorial girls, and the very young and kawaii models. Above all, a baby face, long blonde hair, and big blue eyes was always guaranteed to work and work well.
However, I observed this summer that it isn't enough anymore to fit into either category nor to bank on being the adorable blonde. Clients were looking for that something extra.
"So what are clients looking for?"
In short, clients in Tokyo want somebody "different." They're favouring models who are more quirky, edgy, unique, and have a style of their own. Although dressing typically kawaii was considered an advantage before, the style in Tokyo has changed. Clients are looking at models who not only posses a cool attitude but who also dress more along the lines of Cara Delevingne or Chloe Norgaard.
Having your own sense of style is fine, but it's good for models to be aware of what clients expect to help them succeed in the market. Although it may seem shallow, your sense of style can speak volumes about you as a model. This is especially true in Tokyo because at castings, your booker will talk for you to the clients (very few speak English) - and what they say generally doesn't go much further than your age, where you are from, have you been to Tokyo before, and where else you have worked. Your clothes and body language are often your only tools of communicating directly to clients.
"But why is this happening?"
Many of the older clients still like models who are typically kawaii. However, there has been a surge of new and young creatives in recent years changing up the market and rejecting all things kawaii or mainstream. In "The Rise of Japan's Creepy-Cute Craze" in The Atlantic, Patrick St. Michel explains that the backlash dates back to the nineties where the movement became so popular and widespread that the phrase kimo-kawaii (translated as "gross kawaii") was coined. Kimo-kawaii offered an alternative to the "traditionally child-like definition of cute," meaning anything that fell along the lines of “sweet, adorable, vulnerable, weak and inexperienced." It's no coincidence then, that the designers and editors who you'll meet now at castings are also in their late 20's and early 30's; they came from the same generation who started to go against kawaii in the 90's. With the overwhelming presence of kawaii around them, designers and editors have created a counterculture focused on strength and coolness. As a result, this movement has made way into the Tokyo modelling market. Kawaii still does exist, but it's taken on a new meaning. Short haircuts, gap teeth, wide set eyes, or features that were once considered an edgy alternative to cute (think the likes of Kelly Mittendorf) are now loved, embraced, and yes, kawaii.
"I've worked in Tokyo for years and I don't notice any of these changes."
Models who have been going to Tokyo since their early teens and who are now in their 20s, can still have successful trips. They already have a loyal client base and can count on being booked by former clients, but perhaps to a different degree. A male model who has worked very well in Tokyo for over a decade reported to The Business Model that he's noted a dramatic decrease in demand for his classic commercial look over the past year, with clients often opting for edgy, thin boys instead.
Of course your success in the market can't be guaranteed by quirky appearance alone. You need to have a strong agency, an aggressive booker, and the right measurements to get work. If you have yet to enter the Tokyo market, and you're going to go in the busiest season, you need to be aware of what clients expect in order to stand out.