Special FeatureThe Cute World of Kawaii
Popular fashion magazines and brand creators spend lots of time thinking up ways to attract the attention of ordinary young women. When the women see what they like and exclaim "kawaii! " (perhaps in unison), you know a new trend has been born.
Written by Uchiyama Ikue Photos by Kawada Masahiro
Autumn and winter fashions made quite a splash in Tokyo's Hiro'o district in December 2006. Female university students showed off pink knitted sweaters over lace-adorned camisoles, super-feminine miniskirts, white coats with fluffy fur collars, knee-length pant/long boot ensembles, and lots more. It was hard not to exclaim, "kawaii, kawaii! " which can be translated as "How adorable! Simply exquisite!" And they were exquisite, with their classy, innocent look. The effect was both formally tidy and girlishly genuine. When asked where they got their fashion ideas from, they all responded in one voice: "From CanCam!"
CanCam is Japan's most widely read fashion magazine for young women. Published by Shogakukan Inc., it sells about 650,000 copies of each issue. Readers' average age: 23. CanCam focuses more or less on the same styles other fashion magazines do — so what puts it above its competitors?
The secret behind CanCam's success is, first of all, its star models. Especially Ebihara Yuri, who appears on the cover of each issue. Ebi-chan (her nickname) has been one of CanCam's exclusive models since 2003, and is now branching out into TV commercials and dramas. Clothes worn by Ebi-chan for CanCam enjoy a run on sales as soon as the magazine hits the newsstands, and often sell out soon after (the "Ebi sellout phenomenon").
CanCam's editor-in-chief, Onishi Yutaka, explains Ebi-chan's quick rise to fame: "Everyone who sees her says she's lovely to look at, charming — in a word, kawaii. Women find her kawaii, and so do men. To succeed, a model has to appeal to both sexes."
All of CanCam's exclusive models have that girl-next-door look. They exhibit ideal proportions, of course, but their beauty would not make people stand back in awe. The typical magazine buyer identifies with them because they represent an ideal she herself could perhaps attain. When an exclusive model leaves the magazine, fans remain faithful followers, many attending her "graduation from CanCam event."
The other secret behind the magazine's success? It maintains open lines of communication with readers. "Communication with our readers is a two-way street — we work with them to make our magazine what it is," says Onishi.
One obvious way to do this, he says, is to have readers fill out questionnaires, and their opinions often lead to improvements. CanCam also uses readers' suggestions when partnering with apparel manufacturers right from the design stage, to create a line of clothes featured only on its pages. Readers tell designers what they want to wear, right now, and what they want to wear at the office or university, tomorrow — in other words, what they consider are real clothes for real living. The interaction between readers and magazine sparks the creation of real clothes.