The cradle of lolita and gyaru, decora and dolly kei, uru-hara and all things kawaii, Harajuku is singular among fashion capitals. And through the manic mix-up of subcultures, Shoichi Aoki has been there to document it all. In 1997, the photographer published the first issue of his magazine FRUiTS. Glaring at the camera from underneath Pamela Anderson eyebrows—wearing as much punk-rock plaid as they were rave paraphernalia—the original cover stars epitomized the carefully curated yet wholly unpredictable look which became synonymous with FRUiTS, and, through the magazine’s influence, Harajuku style as a whole.
FRUiTS didn’t just influence global perceptions of Japanese youth culture. It also created the genre of street-style photography as we know it. Paving the way for blogs and, later on, social media platforms, Aoki and his team of photographers captured both individual aspects of style—a subject’s body language, grooming, facial expression—and the larger web of references and trends to which her look belonged. Today, such information is easily accessible in hashtags, and, paradoxically, fashion in Harajuku has become more homogenous. Earlier this year, Aoki made the decision to stop publishing the print edition of FRUiTS, telling the website Fashionsnap, "There are no more cool kids left to photograph.”
Even so, the cool kids live on in the FRUiTS. archive—recently acquired by Opening Ceremony. This month, the entire collection of magazines from 1997 to 2016 will be for sale at 33 Howard Street. Below, OC founder Humberto Leon catches up with Aoki, to talk hunting for subjects, tourism in Harajuku, and why the fashion as seen in FRUiTS. has become a “rare species.”
HUMBERTO LEON: We’re huge fans of fruits at oc. how did you get the idea to start the magazine back in 1996?
SHOICHI AOKI: In 1986 before FRUiTS, I started a magazine called STREET that featured photography of London and Paris street style. At the time I lived in Harajuku, I paid attention to Harajuku fashion, but there was nothing that really interested me. But in 1996, there was suddenly all this new Harajuku fashion that emerged. At that point, I thought that I was the only one who realized that this was the beginnings of the fashion revolution of Japan and that there was a need to capture the beginnings. And so I decided to create a magazine.
FRUiTS has had a series of different photographers / “hunters” over the years, each with his own vision. Can you tell us more about these individuals?
Having an eye for fashion is more important than the technology of photography, so from the people that I know I pick someone who I think might be good at it, test them and teach them how to take photos. I don’t use people who have studied the basics of photography or experienced photographers because they usually already have an established eye and style. The basic principle of FRUiTS photography is similar to when photographing a sculpture at a museum. The photographer’s presence should not be apparent in the photograph. The hunter’s ability is in the selection of the subject. To be able to differentiate the hunter’s vision is to be at the highest level. The range within fashion is not wide for the hunter to make judgement. For that reason, I think the difference in vision is apparent. I have a wide range to be able to capture your own style.
What do you personally look for when you take a picture of someone? Is it what he or she is wearing, a pose, a facial expression?
I try to capture the individual’s entire fashion sense as a form of art. Its completion and originality. And finally the beauty in the message that fashion sends.