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How high fashion and manga meet in the middle 

By PATRICIA MANARANG Published Apr 01, 2022 5:00 am

In an article sometime last year, I explored the deep-rooted connections between fashion and music, and how some artists build upon their styling to further their public image or strengthen their concept.

The link between fashion and the media on screens is a more obvious one, and it makes more sense, too; a lot of shows and movies dress up their characters in popular clothing trends or pieces that reflect the time period. However, there’s a particular relationship between high fashion and manga that is fascinating to look at.

Aside from being a vehicle for storytelling and artistry, manga has cemented itself as a culturally and socially relevant genre. I myself used to be a fan back in high school, but have not kept tabs on recent releases.

What drew me back, though, were the numerous brands that started incorporating manga and anime references in their pieces. Manga artists like collaborating with brands to create merchandise or clothes inspired by their work.

You don't see that kind of pull with television and movies these days anymore. That’s what makes it well worth paying attention to fashion in manga.

Legendary works like Sailor Moon and Nana were portals for manga readers who weren’t into haute couture to start getting interested in these brands, and vice versa. Despite being released in the early ’90s and 2000s respectively, Sailor Moon and Nana have remained a staple in the fashion community. 

Naoko Takeuchi, the artist behind Sailor Moon, is a huge fan of high-fashion looks. She loves Chanel and has dressed her characters in pieces from their different collections.

One notable look was worn by Sailor Pluto and was a vintage Chanel by Karl Lagerfeld dress from their haute couture spring/summer show in 1992. Takeuchi drew the character in the Bishōjo Senshi Sailor Moon Gengashū Vol. III artbook released in 1996.

The dress made a real-life appearance most recently when Lily-Rose Depp wore it to the Met Gala in 2019. A lot of people had already associated it with the manga and had dubbed it the “Sailor Pluto” dress when they saw it again.

Sailor Moon also served as an influential piece of media due to its empowering messages on friendship and femininity, and how relatable the problems of the characters are. Despite their magical abilities, these girls were simply girls, although girls with a great fashion taste.

In fact, numerous content creators online have recently been trying to recreate the ’90s fashion that the characters wear during their off-hours when not saving the world. 

The Sailor Guardians proved that you can be both fashionable and powerful, soft and strong, and that you can be something special despite the mundane. The couture looks in the manga were worn by girls who lived their lives (albeit with some magic) just as their readers did, and it was uplifting to be able to picture yourself in their shoes. 

As a medium, manga can tell stories in a meaningful and versatile way. When fashion is incorporated into the narrative, it can open up a whole new world for audiences to explore themselves through their favorite characters.

Nana, on the other hand, was created by Ai Yazawa and featured more mature themes on adulthood and growing up. One of the title characters is characterized by her love for Vivienne Westwood, and was described with the line “Vivienne Westwood, The Sex Pistols, Seven Stars, coffee with milk and strawberry cake. And Ren flowers. Nana's favorite things never change.”

Leaning more onto the punk side of fashion, character Nana Osaki herself fronted a band and would wear real pieces from the brand such as the armor ring and the Saturn sovereign orbs on necklaces, earrings, and pins. Staples such as the Heart Lapel jacket and the platform heels from their Anglomania collection, which Naomi Campbell had worn down the catwalk back in the day, were also drawn in the manga. 

The complex and intricate relationships in Nana are the biggest appeal of the manga, as well as the backdrop for the music industry to be interwoven with the plot. Although unfinished, this manga is considered a work full of depth and continues to inspire a particular faction of modern fashion.

The tartan and plaid patterns, high-boots, and grunge-glamour aesthetic that a lot of people reference today look to Nana for guidance. It has also spawned a greater interest in Vivienne Westwood’s designs, with pieces such as the pearl chokers rising back into prominence. 

At the time of its publication, Nana was able to embody the rise in punk fashion that was seen in the diversity of Japanese street style. The raw, unpolished looks showed a generation of soon-to-be-adults another way to express themselves, and taught them that you can talk through your clothes.

With the punk fashion movement came a message of rebellion, of not wanting to conform or comply. That mindset is the backbone of Nana; if you have a dream, you should be free to chase it, societal expectations be damned.

You are allowed to be reckless, to dress however you want, and live your life with only yourself at the helm. The fashion looks in this manga carry a sense of messy self-acceptance that refuses to be perfect, which is what we all should have at the end of the day. 

As a medium, manga can tell stories in a meaningful and versatile way. When fashion is incorporated into the narrative, it can open up a whole new world for audiences to explore themselves through their favorite characters.

I may not be a magical girl who saves the day with her equally magical friends or a troubled woman hoping to make it big with my music, but I can dress like them. I can take their lessons and experiences and see how I can grow from them. That’s the appeal of both fashion and manga, and how they’re a collision of worlds that work extremely well together.