Harajuku is all grown-up. The streets of Japan may not be as eccentric as it was a decade ago, but that doesn’t mean that it’s gone forever. It might be just a bit buried under all of the minimalist chic that they are championing right now. But the loud, colorful, and fashionable spirit of Harajuku still remains. You just have to look harder. And when you do, you’ll see Tokyo’s forever It Girl, the electro-punk rebel and DJ MADEMOISELLE YULIA, at the top of all the decoras and the lolita goths out there.
Harajuku has definitely seen a decline in recent years, especially with Uniqlo’s almost cult like growth ever since the rise of minimalist fashion back in 2014. Despite the loud and crazy fashion movement being inspired by the neighborhood its named after, Harajuku has found a new home, new rules, and a new muse. But icons like Yulia made what the neighborhood is today — a worldwide fashion district that remains unshakeable than ever. “I was born and raised here,” she tells us about the neighborhood that made her. “I can’t exactly say how much it influenced me but… a lot! It’s a part of me.”
Yulia’s rise to fame goes all the way back to her high school years. When the rest were grinding through homeworks and battling bullies, she was treating the streets as her very own runway and building up her credentials as Japan’s must see electronic acts. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t the dance floor that first stole her heart. It was the rowdy, diy magic of the punk movement. “I started to DJ when I was in high school. But before that, I was in a punk band. We eventually broke up because the members who played guitar and bass left Japan when we were in our last year of high school. I still wanted to keep doing something with music and I found DJing to be a good way to continue,” she explains her turntable origins.
“I have nothing to say to the people who think Harajuku street style is dead because for me its not.”
She wasn’t the only one on the rise at the time. Streetstyle was garnering attention from fashion magazines as well through “street snaps”. They’re slowly exploring the world outside their photo studio and who else was there to greet them but people like Yulia. Wearing her punk elegance so well at a young age, she was hard to miss. “At that time ‘street snap’ was a really popular thing. Most of the time, street snaps were taken in Harajuku and I lived there. They spotted my style and took my pictures. And then, people from the fashion industry eventually recognized me,” she recalls. “Everything happened really naturally.”
Several years of organizing her own electronic dance nights in Tokyo and collaborating with the heavy hitters in Japan’s music scene (Teriyaki Boyz, Towa Tei, M-Flo, Verbal), Yulia dropped her first album named Mademoworld in the dead of the night. This was long before Beyonce even thought of unannounced releases. Translating her chic peculiarity into soundwaves, Yulia made an album that easily became one of the year’s best. The key to the success of Mademoworld is its unique duality. It provides a space for the past and the present to converge seamlessly, unlike most attempts that come out sounding more like the awkward adolescent brother of Frankenstein’s monster.
“Punk is an energy. It never really left me. ”
Each song is an ode to the most notable decades of music, from the ‘60s and all the way to the ‘90s. Though the canon sound of each era is almost exclusively defined by the West, Yulia doesn’t forget where she came from and why she’s here. She layers that inspiration with the blunt Japanese punk which her soul is made of. With bass that vibrates through your chest and punchy beats that keeps you on your feet, the seemingly-overwhelming aural mesh surprisingly knows when to give what and when. Bereft of bass drops and the ridiculously-autotuned vocals distinct to contemporary electro music, Mademoworld lets you channel the heartbeat of your inner rebel guilt-free.
“Punk is an energy. It never really left me. ” Yulia says. This is visible through whatever she does. She has the rebel’s equivalent of Midas’ touch that every icon in Harajuku has. You know it’s gospel when it comes from a Nylon editor and the literal human embodiment of Harajuku’s rebellion. Now sporting edgy pieces that flaunt leather and maturity, Yulia has come a long way from being the “street snap” princess she was in her high school days. Though her outfits might be too avante-garde for your closet, they celebrate the spirit of self-expression and mix-matched identity, a fundamental philosophy behind Harajuku’s eccentricity.
Like the unstoppable storm of talent that she is, Mademoiselle Yulia released her own fashion line. Growing Pains is her punk elegance made ready to wear for us. For her, the line bares thin between Yulia the musician and Yulia the designer. “It’s the same. It’s just the way of expression is different. Growing Pains is a team, it’s like a band! I design but I need people who can work with me,” she tells us. She might be an icon and all, but what is a great visionary without a great team?
“We make style, not fashion.”
The frenetic outfits that Growing Pains features understand a fundamental principle when it comes to designing clothes: that fashion is inexplicably intertwined with culture, and not only in the reactionary sense, mind you. “Growing Pains is not only a fashion brand. It’s a project. We make style, not fashion. Each season has a strong story. It’s inspired by music, movie, history, and various pieces of culture,” she reiterates. Key to the charm of Harajuku and Yulia’s style is the utter disregard for trends and norms of any sort.
And as for the naysayers writing the obituary of Japan’s fashion hub, is her brand Growing Pains shaken by it? “We make style not fashion so we don’t really care about those things,” she shrugs. “I actually don’t really know what Harajuku street style is. I guess fashion is one of the ways people express themselves and it was more like a movement. But these days, they don’t need to walk around Harajuku because they’ve got the way to express themselves through SNS like Instagram,” she clarifies. “I have nothing to say to the people who think Harajuku street style is dead because for me it’s not.”
In a world where the plain and functional follow us like gloomy cloud, it takes a keen eye and a brave heart to appreciate the spirit of creativity, much less form a lifestyle around it. There’s no doubt that Mademoiselle Yulia has got all of this and more, proving that her mixing talents aren’t just limited to the turntables.
“I never get satisfied with what I have done and what I’m doing now. I want to keep expressing myself through continuously creating something.”
Mademoiselle Yulia has an inherent spiritual magnetism to her. The powerful combo of everything that she is — her wildly intense eyes, cheekbones to die for, unapologetically eccentric lifestyle, and undying passion to see the world in different ways. She invites you to look at nothing else but her, even if a grand supernova is playing out around you. What we appreciate most about her is that she’s not only just a presence, but also a force to be reckoned with. Her sharp ambition took her from punk sweetheart to a neon dynamo and that transformation involves a whole lot more than waltzing her way into nightclubs.
“I never get satisfied with what I have done and what I’m doing now,” she puts her ambition into words. “I want to keep expressing myself through continuously creating something.” Yulia pours her heart and soul into everything that she does, letting her ambition push her to constantly evolve and constantly prove herself.
Burn all your obituaries; Harajuku isn’t dead and Madamemoiselle Yulia isn’t done flooring the world.