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Ai Yazawa: fashion inspirations

Ai Yazawa is one of the most popular mangaka in the world. With her characteristic and revolutionary trait, she illustrated a young generation projected into the uncertainty of the new millennium.

Thanks to the reprints of her most important works and the recent inclusion in the Netflix catalog of the anime Nana, Yazawa continues to confirm herself as a sought-after artist who arouses enormous interest in her current contents and her marked sensitivity for fashion, an integral part of his life and his self-referential work.

Ai Yazawa was born in Osaka in 1967. As she stated, hers is a stage name inspired by the Japanese singer Ekichi Yazawa.

She showed a great passion for drawing since she was a child, in middle school she participated in a cartoonist contest for Shueisha, winning the first prize as a rookie. At the same time, she immediately developed a visceral interest in fashion, coming to make her own clothes by her hands. She then enrolled in a fashion institute in Osaka, which she abandoned almost immediately to move to Tokyo to become a mangaka.

Among her most important publications as her first release was Gokinjo monogotari (Cortili del cuore in Italian) followed shortly after by the spin-off Paradise Kiss.

In 2000 she started Nana, which in 2002 earned her the Shogakukan manga award in the shōjo section. Nana, however, was suddenly interrupted in 2009: it was announced that the author was seriously ill and that she had to be hospitalized for treatment. Since then Ai Yazawa never took over Nana again, remaining in fact an unfinished work to this day.

In a 2016 interview, the author reassured her fans about her health but without going into details: she said that she struggled to hold a pen or sit without pain. During the same year she made a Nana calendar.

Ai Yazawa cookingwiththehamster
Ai Yazawa | ©

Retracing the stages of her life and contextualizing her works in the historical era in which Yazawa worked, it is possible to understand the profound break that her manga have had compared to the past work of her colleagues.

The 1990s in Japan were a difficult decade because they were the achievement of the speculative bubble burst of the late 1980s. From 1991 onwards, the Rising Sun experienced the "lost decade", synonymous with economic stagnation and the consequent crisis that had profound repercussions on a social level and which is at the basis of the great customs revolutions that will reach their peak with the entry in the new millennium.

It was therefore no coincidence that the crisis of the economy and of standard values ​​were for Yazawa a trait d'union with the British 70s, a time when the establishment tried to contain the youth movements, developed from below, that took place with an iron fist.

Ai Yazawa therefore has the merit of having portrayed the young people of that decade with their ideas and their troubles, stuck in a limbo of strict rules and a desire for freedom and escape that only the art world (understood as music and high fashion) seemed to give.


Gokinjo monogatari (literally "the stories of the neighborhood") was Ai Yazawa's first major work published in 1995.

It is a manga that has all the characteristics of a Bildungsroman, dedicated to a young female audience: with irony and tenderness, the problems of early adolescence and first love are probed.

The story centers on Miwako Kōda, a young girl who attends the Yaza art and design institute whose dream is to become a successful designer.

Gokinjo monogatari  cookingwiththehamster
Gokinjo monogatari | © cookingwiththehamster

Already from this first work you can see some of the traits that will be a recurrence of style for Yazawa: the world of fashion as a path of construction both of the self and of one's career, self-referentiality to the life of the author (both in the name of the institute, both in the fact that Yazawa herself attended a fashion school and made clothes) but above all the way of drawing the characters, elongated and very thin, similar to fashion sketches and not to people in real life. To underline the beautiful anatomical details of the hands, eyes and mouths, definitely innovative in the way of drawing manga.

Gokinjo monogatari cookingwiththehamster
Gokinjo monogatari | © cookingwiththehamster

Tsutomu Yamaguchi's style vaguely reminiscent of Cyber, a retro-futuristic trend in vogue since the second half of the 90s in Japan.

With "cyber" in Japanese we refer to everything that is futuristic, starting with objects (at the time the first mobile phones with a modern design, robots with a vintage taste and computers appeared). In cyber clothing, synthetic materials were used or those that in any case appeared artificial (such as vinyl or synthetic fur), metal and / or plastic accessories and pop and phosphorescent colors were preferred, as well as in make-up. They wore baggy pants, tops and jackets, high and large chuky shoes, wedge boots and sneakers.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi cookingwiththehamster
Tsutomu Yamaguchi | ©
Tsutomu Yamaguchi cookingwiththehamster
Tsutomu Yamaguchi | ©
Tsutomu Yamaguchi cookingwiththehamster
Tsutomu Yamaguchi | ©
Tsutomu Yamaguchi cookingwiththehamster
Tsutomu Yamaguchi | ©
cyber cookingwiththehamster
Cyber | ©

The reference to punk style is also introduced for the first time, as demonstrated by the character Risa Kanzaki, and that to the lolita fashion trend, represented by Mai Ōta.

Mariko Nakasu, on the other hand, represents the Shibukaji style ("Shibuya casual" or "French casual), as demonstrated by her refined outfits clearly inspired by Chanel by Karl Lagerfeld. Very popular especially in the first half of the 90s, this trend was appreciated from the young middle-upper Japanese social class. Among the leading interpreters of this style in manga, Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi stands out (among other things she is acquainted with Yazawa and a lover of fashion as much as she).

90s punk in Harajuku cookingwiththehamster
90s punk in Harajuku | ©
Risa Kanzaki | © cookingwiththehamster
Risa Kanzaki | ©
Risa Kanzaki cookingwiththehamster
Risa Kanzaki | ©
Mai Ōta cookingwiththehamster
Mai Ōta | ©
90s lolita cookingwiththehamster
90s lolita | ©
Mariko Nakasu cookingwiththehamster
Mariko Nakasu | ©
Mariko Nakasu cookingwiththehamster
Mariko Nakasu | ©
subukaji cookingwiththehamster
Shibukaji - Shibuya or French Casual | ©


Spin-off of Gokinjo monogatari, Paradise Kiss is set 20 years later and with some cameo characters from the previous work. In 2005 Madhouse made an anime of it and in 2011 a live action film was released.

paradise kiss cookingwiththehamster
Paradise Kiss | © cookingwiththehamster

It is a josei manga (dedicated to an audience of adult girls), mature and with an ironic vein.

The plot features Yukari, a very serious girl who attends a prestigious high school. One day she is asked to model for a fashion show of the Yaza fashion institute: she thus meets guys of the same age with completely different lives and goals, so much so as to upset her plans for the future and to undermine her relationship with the family.

Paradise Kiss cookingwiththehamster
Paradise kiss | ©

The themes addressed in this manga are many. From the contrast of the standard and authoritarian world to the creative world of fashion, the bearer of ideals and rules of its own, self-affirmation, passion and sacrifices to achieve one's goals, social conformity, appearances and gender identity. In this regard, the figure of the transgender Isabella is very interesting, who in the story will become the main confidant of the protagonist.

Also in Paradise Kiss Yazawa adopts a "sketch" style to draw her characters, but this time with a more adult vein.

Yukari features an ordinary high school student style that will evolve throughout history, as does her personality.

Miwako presents lolita clothing with some fairy kei notes, in stark contrast to that of her boyfriend Arashi, inspired by punk and visual kei.

Sweet Lolita - Fairy Kei cookingwiththehamster
Sweet Lolita - Fairy Kei | ©
Miwako cookingwiththehamster
Miwako | ©
Miwako and arashi cookingwiththehamster
Miwako and Arashi | ©
Arashi cookingwiththehamster
Arashi | ©
Vivienne Westwood with Destroy t-shirt cookingwiththehamster
Vivienne Westwood with Destroy t-shirt | ©

Isabella has a typical aristocrat style of the late 90s, attributable to the lolita style and Victorian extraction.

Finally, Joji's clothing is inspired by the character Brian Slade from the film Velvet Goldmine by Todd Haynes (1999): an important recall since Brian Slade is supposed to represent David Bowie, one of the greatest exponents of Glam Rock in the 70s. A reference that once again makes us understand how much Ai Yazawa was influenced by the western trends of revolt of the last century, where sexual identity and the break with the dominant social and political paradigm were in the foreground.

Isabella  cookingwiththehamster
Isabella | ©
Isabella cookingwiththehamster
Isabella | ©
Aristocrat cookingwiththehamster
Aristocrat | ©
joji cookingwiththehamster
Joji | ©
Brian Slade - Velvet Goldmine cookingwiththehamster
Brian Slade - Velvet Goldmine | ©
David Bowie  cookingwiththehamster
David Bowie | ©


Nana is perhaps the most representative work of the creative genius of Ai Yazawa, a josei manga that until now has never seen an end but which has become a legend also thanks to the anime and the two live action films released in 2006.

nana cookingwiththehamster
Nana | ©

The protagonists are Nana Osaki and Nana Komatsu, two girls with the same name who decide to move to Tokyo by taking home together. Despite their totally opposite characters, the two become best friends. The narration follows the events of their lives and those of the surrounding characters, characterized so well that they almost become the main characters.

Nana cookingwiththehamster
Nana | ©

This is the most adult manga (both in style and design) by Yazawa in which the theme of the transition from adolescence to adulthood is treated. Real problems are faced and not fantastic or paradoxical situations.

The plot is dotted with many themes: abandonment by parents, death, addictions (relational, but also from smoking and drugs), the birth of half (half Japanese and half American, in the case of Layla), bullying, self-determination, relationships with age difference but above all complex and tormented relationships.

In Nana, sentimental bonds are continually presented which are undertaken more by feelings such as jealousy and envy than by love. All the characters are deeply human characterized by a great psychological depth, and this makes them incredibly realistic: the success of this series lies above all in the fact that the reader is able to identify with each of them, empathizing with them.

nami komatsu ganguro cookingwiththehamster
Nami Komatsu as a ganguro | ©
 Nami Komatsu as a ganguro cookingwiththehamster
Nami Komatsu as a ganguro | ©
ganguro cookingwiththehamster
Ganguro | ©

The plot follows two main strands: music and fashion.

Music plays an essential role as the main characters themselves are musicians. Concerts, studio rehearsals, the search for fame and the world of entertainment are staged.

Fashion is Nana's second stylistic cornerstone also for the parallels that Yazawa wisely makes, first of all the case of Ren with Sid Vicious, the bassist of the Sex Pistols. Both represent the archetype of English punk and nihilism, they are obsessive and united by addictions, as well as by a toxic relationship with their other half (in Sid's case the relationship with Nancy will lead to his death). Ren and Nana probably don't really love each other, theirs is more of a fatal attraction. Nana is perhaps more in love with the idea she has of Ren, she basically would like to be a successful person like him.

Her clothes no longer seem to be a mask, a pose as in Yazawa's previous works, but more a mirror of her personality and lifestyle. In addition to punk, which is fully celebrated here, the ganguro style of the end and beginning of the millennium is also mentioned.

Sex Pistols cookingwiththehamster
Sex Pistols | ©
Trapnest cookingwiththehamster
Trapnest | ©
Black Stones cookingwiththehamster
Black Stones | ©
ren cookingwiththehamster
Ren | ©
sid vicious cookingwiththehamster
Sid Vicious | ©
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Ren and Nana | ©
Sid and Nancy cookingwiththehamster
Sid and Nancy | ©


To better understand and appreciate the enormous stylistic and research work carried out by Ai Yazawa, it is necessary to take a step back and retrace the studies that she herself did at the time. It is precisely in the history of music and fashion that the author has fully taken inspiration to characterize the stories and characters so appreciated even today.

Malcolm McLaren and Sex Pistols  cookingwiththehamster
Malcolm McLaren and Sex Pistols | ©
New York Dolls cookingwiththehamster
New York Dolls | ©

At the beginning of the 70s in the USA, for their dissolute lifestyle, the flagship band was represented by New York Dolls (glam rock precursors) whose manager was Malcolm McLaren, husband of Vivienne Westwood. During the following years on the East Coast (New York and Detroit) a new genre developed that music critics called "punk" (as a synonym for "poor quality") to refer more properly to "garage groups" and their audiences.

McLaren, a fervent scholar of Situationism and Existentialism, returned from New York and wanted to experiment in England with the creation of a punk band by applying the previous study principles: thus Sex Pistols were born. Thanks to the help of his artist friend and graphic artist Jamie Reid who took care of the image, Sex Pistols were not actually a band born by chance, but an artistic act studied from the beginning.

It was a real social phenomenon that, unlike American punk, in England resulted in the most extreme nihilism and total disorder, that was anarchy: the English punks wanted to claim their origin from the working class and had an attitude violent (they organized fights during the concerts following the "pogo").

In 1977 the Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen: McLaren organized a cruise on the Thames during which the band would play the song right in front of the Parliament building on the occasion of the Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The boat was intercepted and McLaren arrested, but this event gave incredible visibility to Sex Pistols.

But the group's fame, played by drummer Sid Vicious, didn't last long because of his relationship with heroin addict groupie Nancy Spungen. While in the States at the Chelsea Hotel in 1978, Sid found the girl stabbed dead. He never knew how to explain what had happened since he was on drugs. Not long after that Sid ended up in a coma first and later died at age 21 of a heroin overdose given to him by his mother as a reward for being released on bail after his arrest.

Malcom Mclaren arrested cookingwiththehamster
Malcom Mclaren arrested | ©
Sid Vicious cookingwiththehamster
Sid Vicious | ©

Vivienne Westwood

If Malcolm McLaren imported punk to England by founding the reference band, Vivienne Westwood formalized its aesthetics.

Together with her husband, in 1971 she opened the Let it rock clothing store in King's Road (London), a name that she will change along with the artistic evolution of the designer (today it is called World's End). During the period of English punk the shop was renamed SEX. Sex Pistols themselves frequented it to buy clothing that, at first, was based on the teddy boy style (trend preceding punk and whose vintage clothes were sold in the Let it rock shop). Born after the Second World War at the hands of the tailors of Savil Row, this style mimicked the one in vogue during the Edwardian era.

Subsequently the punk look took on the aesthetic connotation we know today, that of violence and revolt: torn clothing, sadomasochistic and fetish, with studs, chains, leather and swastikas, shaved hair, safety pins on the face and necklaces with padlocks or razor blades. neck.

On the occasion of the Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth she would have worn the famous T-shirt depicting the ruler with her cheeks pierced by safety pins: about ten years later, Vivienne will appear in Vogue in an editorial playing the role of queen, of punk.

let it rock cookingwiththehamster
Let it rock | ©
teddy boys cookingwiththehamster
Teddy boys | ©
SEX cookingwiththehamster
SEX | ©
SEX cookingwiththehamster
Inside SEX shop | ©
Vivienne Westwood cookingwiththehamster
Vivienne Westwood | ©
Vivienne Westwood cookingwiththehamster
McLaren and Westwood | ©
God Save the Queen t-shirt  cookingwiththehamster
God Save the Queen t-shirt | ©
God Save the Queen by Sex Pistols cookingwiththehamster
Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen by Jamie Reid | ©

Vivienne Westwood's artistic career has been marked by milestones that help to understand both her enormous social impact and the influence she had on various artists in the following decade such as Boy George, Visage and Duran Duran.

Pirate (1981) was Westwood's first show: from the shop where she sold sadomasochistic clothes for punks and prostitutes, the designer entered the world of high fashion proposing a style reminiscent of buccaneers, dandies and pirates. From this collection came a new trend, the new romantic, which in the 80s had its maximum expression.

pirate cookingwiththehamster
Pirate collection | ©
Boy George in Vivienne Westwood cookingwiththehamster
Boy George in Vivienne Westwood | ©
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Duran Duran | ©

Mini-Crini (1985) was defined by Westwood herself as "cardinal change".

The name of the collection was inspired by the mini crini, a Victorian-style bell-shaped miniskirt. This collection was in fact a study on the history of England and Rocking Horse shoes were also part of it.

Mini-Crini collection cookingwiththehamster
Mini-Crini collection | ©
Mini-Crini collection cookingwiththehamster
Mini-Crini and Rocking Horse shoes | ©
Westwood with Rocking Horse shoes cookingwiththehamster
Rocking Horse shoes | ©
Nana cookingwiththehamster
Nana | ©

Between 1985 and 1986 Vivienne Westwood left for Italy to join her stylist friend Elio Fiorucci and the World's End closed for about a year.

During that time, Westwood found herself thinking of a theme that could act as a link between the past and the future. She was inspired by browsing astronomy magazines in which the planet Saturn was reported with the description of her rings. The designer took up the "Globe of the Sovereign of England" (created for the coronation of Charles II in 1661, now part of the crown jewels) and added the ring of Saturn. After the approval of his friend and manager Carlo D'Amario, the orb became the logo of the fashion house, replicated in dozens of variations and also added to jewelry models created later, such as the armor ring.

The Sovereign’s Orb cookingwiththehamster
The Sovereign’s Orb | ©
Vivienne Westwood's orb  cookingwiththehamster
Vivienne Westwood's orb | ©
nana cookingwiththehamster
Nana - Orb pin | ©
Nana - Orb earrings and armor ring cookingwiththehamster
Nana - Orb earrings and armor ring | ©
Armor ring cookingwiththehamster
Armor ring | ©
Nana cookingwiththehamster
Nana | ©

Back in England, Westwood conceived another fundamental collection of her career: Harris Tweed (FW 1987-88). She first introduced the corset, no longer as an undergarment but worn as a top. Probably the most decorative piece of her collections, clearly inspired by the eighteenth century and embellished with prints of paintings of the time - first of all Francis Baucher. It will be one of the most recurring pieces in all the collections of the 90s. The historic model presented during the show was the iconic Statue of Liberty, freely inspired by the one worn at the time of Marie Antoinette at Versailles.

In addition to the corset, the famous Love jacket was also introduced, a traditional hunting jacket stitched up with a heart in black velvet with an internal core to give structure, parody of the establishment, and also intended as a stylistic progression by Mini-Crini in virtue of the introduction, to complete the outfit, of the criniscule: skirt made of six panels supported internally so as to be structured.

Fun fact: the Love jacket is worn in an episode of The Nanny by the protagonist Fran Fine.

Vivienne Westwood's corset cookingwiththehamster
Vivienne Westwood's corset | ©
Nana with VW's corset and necklace cookingwiththehamster
Nana with VW's corset and necklace | ©
Love jacket and criniscule cookingwiththehamster
Love jacket and criniscule | ©
Nana cookingwiththehamster
Nana | ©
Nana cookingwiththehamster
Nana | ©
Nana cookingwiththehamster
Fran Fine with Love Jacket | ©

Westwood's aesthetics during the 1990s were studded with the revival of the history of English royalty and the study of the solid proportions of 18th century French clothing. The greatest splendor of this research were the Anglomania (FW 1993) and Cafè society (SS 1994) collections.

The super elevated shoes were part of the Anglomania collection, which with their almost 21 cm height made Naomi Campbell fall on the catwalk.

Finally, a last accessory worthy of mention is the heart bag, declined over time in multiple variations.

Naomi Campbell during Anglomania catwalk cookingwiththehamster
Naomi Campbell during Anglomania catwalk | ©
Kate Moss with Orb necklace during Café Society catwalk cookingwiththehamster
Kate Moss with Orb necklace during Café Society catwalk | ©

The influence of Ai Yazawa's works, imbued with Westwood's aesthetic, has aroused enormous interest at home. In 2014 at LaForet in Harajuku you opened Anglomania, Vivienne Westwood's first shop in Japan, a destination for many fans.

Anglomania shop Cookingwiththehamster
Anglomania shop | © Cookingwiththehamster

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