When the Lolita fashion subculture made children of adults, many cultural commentators both in Japan and overseas wondered just how far this infantilization might go.
Well, now they have their answer in the form of rising brand Otonatoy, from design duo Kanehiro Yukie and Kobayashi Misa. As the Japanese-savvy have probably clocked, their brand literally declares itself as “toys for adults”—not of the euphemistic variety, but rather as a means of capturing the spirit of childhood play in fashion.
Their first collection took this rather literally. The kindergarten-themed assemblage put the Japanese nursery school uniform through an avant-garde fashion blender and onto the bodies of adults, with the iconic yellow hats turned into garment patterns, and playmat-inspired prints adorning rompers that might—and should—be a step out of your comfort zone.
Still, the label backs up its risky designs with rock-solid construction, reminding spectators this is fashion to be taken seriously—even if they would need a heart of stone to not be taken in by the pure sense of fun the brand embodies.
Subsequent collections stayed on the kindergarten theme, with a doctor- and nurse-inspired collection reminding adults that play still has a place in stressful Tokyo, while deploying an obvious frisson into the mix.
Their most recent hip-hop-meets-kawaii collection further exaggerated this adult-meets-child juxtaposition, taking the hyper-masculine shapes and motifs of hip-hop and putting it through their distinctively infantile lens.
The result is fashion that doesn’t necessarily mock the subject matter, but rather reminds us that all fashion is play in its own way. Even if it demands we take it seriously, doing so is actually at our own discretion.
The lesson from Otonatoy is simple: however aggressive, shocking, or status-enhancing fashion appears to be, it is ultimately a frivolous, albeit very fun, game. Otonatoy only asks that we’re honest about it.