Fashion: Haruna Lemon

It’s no secret that I like clothes. I like the fabric, the notions, the patterns, the styling, the combinations, the occasions. The only shop I like better than a bookstore is probably a fabric store. It’s such a delight to wander amongst the bolts and see all the possibilities in them, just looking around and wondering what the different textiles want to be when I sew them up. 

So maybe it’s a surprise that I don’t really care about fashion. To me, clothes and fashion are quite separate. Fashion is the industry, the trends, Paris, Milan, Vogue. Clothes are life, the everyday, a way of being in the world, a language we speak to each other. Clothes are so interesting to me because of the myriad of ways clothing can exist on our bodies, each of us manifesting our own different ideas of our selves in the fabric we adorn ourselves with. Fashion can be interesting in that it’s clothes, and sometimes, the clothes on the runaway are unique or fascinating or just plain wild. But it’s maybe like the difference between doujinshi and a glossy magazine. Clothes are a thing you do for yourselves and your friends maybe, fashion is a thing you do for the world at large. (This is of course, like everything else on this blog, nothing more than my own personal opinion. Please do not start a war with me in the wasteland that Twitter is becoming. I don’t want to go out beefing with someone about fashion.)

While I have encountered manga about clothes before, like the lovely Tsukuroitatsu Hito and the adorable Fukufuku Hitobito, it was only recently that I came to a manga about fashion. (Wait. Does Helter Skelter count as a fashion manga? I feel like that’s more of an unattainable and destructive ideal placed on women manga?) (Edit: How could I have forgotten about the escalating outrageousness of Designer?? Thanks for the reminder, Eric!) Fashion is a book that is, unsurprisingly, about fashion. And it gets right down into the nuts and bolts of things. Have you ever wondered how much one of those runway shows costs to produce? Well, wonder no more! Fashion is here for you!

I’d seen the latest volume (three) around in bookstores, but I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if not for a meeting with a fellow manga professional. They recommended a number of books in the course of our conversation, and while Fashion was not one of them, the same author’s ZuccaxZuca was. But in one of those weird moments of serendipity, the bookstore I went to immediately after that meeting to buy some of the recommended books (I am a book nerd to my core) did not have ZuccaxZuca. So I bought Fashion because it was there on the shelf with the same author name, and I figured, “Close enough.” The stuff of true book meet-cutes!

Kai is a fashion otaku married to unspecified otaku/manga artist Sakurako. They are different kinds of otaku, but they both understand the ways of the otaku, even if they don’t understand the specific thing their spouse is obsessed with. So Sakurako delights in the way Kai nerds out about fashion, while totally not giving any shits about fashion herself. And then Kai meets fashion student Jan and realizes the kid has got something truly special. Jan has somehow managed to win a subsidized spot in the Tokyo Fashion Week line-up, but not only is he a wee baby designer, he’s also a foreigner! He doesn’t know the ins and outs of how to put on a proper fashion show in Tokyo! Kai does, though. And he decides to help Jan and make Jan’s brand succeed whatever it takes. 

What it takes is, apparently, a schwack of cash. But Jan is a struggling student! With a family to support! He has not even half of a schwack of cash. So the first two volumes of the series are basically Kai and Jan bootstrapping this show, finding bits and pieces here and there and glueing all of them into a coherent whole. Half of this bootstrapping comes in the form of the connections Kai has made over many years in the entertainment and fashion industries, while the other half comes from essentially miraculous encounters Jan has with key players and the sheer force of his earnest personality. He’s so sincere, so genuine, so passionate and confident about his designs and yet so naïve and innocent of the world that pretty much everyone who meets him feels the urge to help him succeed. 

Except Jan is not what he seems! Maybe? Haruna keeps dropping the tiniest of hints throughout the first three volumes, implying there is a darker side to Jan. But they never really take up that darker side, so by the time volume three rolls around, the hints get a bit tiresome. It’s a Chekhov’s gun type situation; if you’re going to imply someone is a baddie, please make them do bad things at some point. Maybe it’s just a real long con, and we’ll get to volume six where Jan will villain right out. But as of volume three, it feels like a story thread Haruna was going to explore that got nixed by their editor, but they still can’t quite let go of it.

At any rate, there’s a lot going on, and it all revolves around the fashion industry. So of course, the clothes in this one are fascinating. Kai is one hell of a sharp dresser, and Jan’s line is intriguing. Haruna does a great job of portraying clothes in motion, and making them feel both unique and a part of everyday life. The runway show is extremely cool, and honestly, if I saw something like it in real life, I might become a fashion addict instead of a clothes addict. Haruna also has an extremely clean, but totally expressive style that reminds me somehow of a cross between Kondoh Akino and Chris Ware. Which is a weird combination and yet this is what my brain comes up with. 

The more Fashion I read, the more Fashion I want to read, truly the sign of a good book. But in case you need more convincing to pick this one up, Moto Hagio also has a blurb on the obi of volume two, talking about how great the series is. And she’s not some random manga translator; she’s a manga master. Listen to her and go get this book. 


  1. This sounds really great–and then you had to mention that Hagio-sensei blurbed it!!

    “(Wait. Does Helter Skelter count as a fashion manga? I feel like that’s more of an unattainable and destructive ideal placed on women manga?)

    I… would count it, but maybe as a subversive fashion manga? But what I thought of immediately was Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss, which I always have nostalgia for because it and Mars were two of the first non-fantasy shoujo serials to be translated back when TokyoPop was new, and I thought I’d never see anything like it in English. I suppose the earlier series it’s a spin off of, Gokinjo Monogatari, aimed at a younger demo (and finally out from Viz this Fall) counts as well, but that’s more about kids making their own things for each other, and not *fashion* which ParaKiss definitely is about (and hey, it was serialized in a fashion magazine, Zipper.)

    There are also a lot of manga about models, if that counts–one of the here today gone tomorrow manga imprints in the 2000s manga boom put out Chihiro Tamaki’s Walkin’ Butterfly which I picked up because I felt I needed to support any josei title in English, but I wasn’t interested enough to keep up with it.

    Wait–thought of a shoujo classic. Yukari “Queen of melodrama” Ichijo’s 1974 classic Designer, which ran in Ribon back when Ribon wasn’t just aimed at elementary girls and had a lot of crazy intense titles. It’s absolutely (wonderfully) insane, filled with suicide, sudden familial reveals, etc, in a way only shoujo manga from that era can be. Oh, and it’s about the fasion world and a teen girl who decides to pursue being a designer after her mother runs her over ending her modelling career. Or something (she doesn’t know it’s her mother at the time…) As you can expect it doesn’t focus ALL that much on the ins and outs of actually designing and building fashions, unlike ParaKiss which does a decent job of that, but I’m not sure that even matters.

    1. I haven’t read Paradise Kiss, so that would never have occurred to me as a fashion manga to reference. But I totally forgot about Designer! I even wrote about it a couple years ago and everything. It’s so gloriously off the wall! Thanks for the reminder!

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