Since I’m not currently in the United States, it’s hard for me to gauge whether the size of Gwen Stefani/Harajuku Girls‘s stardom warrants all this press attention, but here is a NY Times article on Stefani’s limited-edition (oh, so 1998!) Harajuku Lovers Digital Camera.
Most journalists writing about the Harajuku Girls seem to be skimming the other articles on the Harajuku Girls for the “truth” on Harajuku, so again, this kind of statement shows up:
[T]he identically dressed Japanese girls who surround her like so many props in her videos hardly seem to represent the individuality that is perhaps the most praiseworthy aspect of what Stefani is singing about.
Highly-detailed, extravagant colorful street fashion in the West is a very rare phenomenon, and without explicit instructions for constructing this look, must be a somewhat individualistic self-project. However, we should not project these assumptions onto the kids at Harajuku. A vast majority of the girls in that neighborhood achieve their appearance through perfectly following consumer style guides like Cutie and Zipper. While some subcultural spin-offs from consumer lifestyles have occurred (perhaps early Goth Lolita), the bulk of what Stefani loves could be easily replicated through picking up a couple of choice magazines.
Therefore, the Harajuku look is not a “subculture” as much as as media-guided “consumer lifestyle” (see this). So when the NY Times‘ Rob Walker writes, “It’s about figuring how to remake a subcultural style into something salable on a mass scale,” it makes absolutely no sense because the Harajuku look has always been something “salable on a mass scale.”
We shouldn’t necessarily respect the Harajuku girls less just because they wear a pre-determined uniform, but we shouldn’t also assume that they are creatively manufacturing their own style to separate themselves from the rest of society.