Interview with Gloria Capetillo, Lolita artist and illustrator living in Japan.
Harajuku is an area of Tokyo known for being the center of fashion for young people, a place where the subcultures of this enormous city live together. After walking just two steps down Takeshita Dori, you can immediately notice that this is more than just a commercial district, this is an area where Japanese youths come to express their individuality. In a society where being part of the community is very important, thanks to the subcultures such as Lolita, Goths, and even Punks, Harajuku has become the place where young people try to express themselves as individuals, making a stand to show who they are, without any restrictions. Without a doubt, this is a place that every person visiting Japan has to see at least once.
Across in front of this street, behind the famous Murasaki Sports store, you can find a small alley that will take you to the Design Festa Gallery, a space designed to give young artists the opportunity to show their work. You cannot miss the building, adorned with a metal structure around its front, it is hard to overlook. After arriving at the gallery, I thought that I would have a problem finding Gloria Capetillo, the young Mexican artist, who is exploring the Lolita scene in Tokyo. It was nice to see that I was wrong, as there were many fans from all over the world wearing classic and fashionable dresses with fine linen. I had to wait because all the fans were very excited about the exhibition and wouldn’t stop asking Gloria questions. Finally, after a short break, we had the chance to go outside, to the Gallery’s cafeteria, an atmospheric place where people can chat, have a drink or eat lunch after seeing their favorite artist’s work. This is how we started our interview about Lolita culture in Mexico:
BMJ: How did you end up in Japan?
GC: Well! It’s a long story, so I’ll try to sum it up the best I can. I have been living in Japan for two years. I had wanted to come to Japan since I was 13 years old. I’ve always liked art, since I was a little girl and so I decided that I wanted to become an artist, but I wasn’t sure in which field I wanted to focus. It was when I was 13 years old that I discovered Japanese art, through manga. Through this I realised that Japan was a place where people supported art and where I could make a living as an artist. From that moment I started looking for opportunities to come to Japan: I looked for scholarships, schools, any kind of support. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to go to college, which made it more difficult for me to come to Japan. It wasn’t until I got engaged that I talked with my husband about my dream to live in Japan. He shared the idea of living abroad, because he thought that, due to his field of specialisation, biology, he would have better opportunities outside of Mexico. So we worked together to come to Japan. Whilst he was working, I helped him to contact college professors in Japan that might be interested in his work. Thankfully, we found a professor in Chiba that decided to support him in applying for a scholarship to come to graduate school in Japan. Whilst my husband began all the paperwork for the scholarship, I started to look into the procedure to get my visa to come to Japan with him, and this is how we made it to Tokyo together.
BMJ: You mentioned that from a very young age, when you were only 13 years old, you had contact with the Japanese culture. How did you first discover Japanese culture? From that time, did you know that you wanted to draw Lolita and get involved in the Lolita culture?
GC: No, Lolita was something I developed an interest in some time later, and it was in such a magical and perfect way. When I was 13 my first introduction to Japanese pop culture was through TV, when a Mexico City TV channel broadcasted anime in the mornings. I saw the colors and art, and I was simply delighted. So, I looked up the origins of Lolita and that’s how I discovered that it came from Japan, and became obsessed with coming to Japan because I knew that here people would appreciate the art style that I like. I got into Lolita when I was around 22 years old; I first discovered it when I was 17, but at that time I didn’t know that being Lolita implicated a lifestyle, I used to think that it was just some fancy dresses that girls used to wear for parties or costumes, not as something that you incorporate into your everyday life. So, I began to enter the Lolita world and a small community began to take form in my town. It was at that moment that I found the perfect balance between my art and my love of Japan, because even before I knew about Lolita, I dedicated myself to drawing women in old-fashioned dresses, with big skirts in a very Rococo style. From then on, I realised that Lolita illustration was my thing.
BMJ: So, you’ve always been into vintage, old-fashioned styles?
GC: Yes, I’ve always liked that kind of thing. Especially the fashion and the architecture, in particular from the Victorian era. I liked to see how people used to live in a more “artisan” way. That’s why I like to watch movies that depict that type of lifestyle.
BMJ: I have a question that I believe many of our readers might be wondering about. If all this classical, Victorian and Rococo styles come from Europe, why not choose to live there instead? Why choose Japan?
GC: In fact, before I discovered Japanese culture, I used to think that if I wanted to become an artist, I should go to Europe, so when I was younger I dreamed about going to Italy or France. However, even though it would have been the easy option, after doing some research, I realised that the European environment wouldn’t suit me and my art. Japan suits me perfectly, not only due to all the support that art receives here, or because of the huge number of galleries that give new artists the chance to show their work, but also because of my style, Lolita is supported here, and people like it. This style has European origins, it is true, but if I had wanted to present it there, it would not have the same impact, because people are not familiar with it. On the other hand, in Japan, audiences are fascinated by this type of art that showcases old European culture. To this I have to add that in Japan it is very easy to have a career as an artist, people like my style. I also like Japanese culture, and I love living here! Japan is a very peaceful and safe county. I am very happy living here.
BWJ: In addition to your art, you also make your own dresses, is that right?
GC: Yes, I sew them myself. I like everything you can make with your own hands. I’ll do any kind of making: brooches, necklaces, hair accessories, dresses, painted stockings… I don’t have a lot of money, so I cannot buy very expensive things. Therefore, I try to save wherever I can, sometimes I buy used clothes for 100 or 200 yen and make new clothes out of them, because fabric is very expensive in Japan. If I’m bored or stuck in the house, I just grab anything I have lying around and start to make new things out of it: dresses, frames, drawings… I’m always doing something.
BMJ: Can you explain to us a little bit more about how you started out experimenting with the Lolita style?
GC: Well, at first for around 3 years I only liked to observe and admire it. I discovered it through my art, because I liked to paint old fashioned images of people. One day I was looking for images of women in vintage clothing and that was how I found the first pictures of Lolita. I thought it was very interesting that some people in Japan dressed like that. A little time after that, Lolita culture arrived in the USA, Lolita brands and stores started to appear. Communities started to take shape in different parts of the US and this made me realise that it was a lifestyle. I always wanted to dress like the girls in my drawings, because that was what I liked, but I thought it was impossible. When I saw these Lolita communities I discovered it was possible, so I decided to do it. I went to the fabric store, even though I didn’t know a thing about making clothes, I tried to do my first dress, which, honestly, was a complete disaster, but I didn’t care. The first time you wear a dress like this nothing else seems to matter, you feel like a princess, like a queen, and it doesn’t matter what people think or if they think it is too extravagant. That’s something that you should not care about.
BMJ: I’m glad you talked about other people’s reactions to Lolita because it’s something I wanted to ask you about. I believe that there are many obstacles to become a Lolita, not only personal or social issues, but some more simple issues that can affect the clothes themselves, like extreme weather conditions. You come from Sonora, one of the hottest states in Mexico. I think it requires a big commitment and a strong will to adopt this lifestyle. Therefore I would like to know, how easy or difficult was it for you to adopt it?
GC: Hahaha! I think weather can be one of the most difficult obstacles. I believe that it really depends on each person. Lolita can be a completely different universe inside every individual, how hard it is to wear depends totally on you, for me it was the easiest thing to do. I traveled a lot in my life, with my family, I kept moving to different parts of Mexico. When I turned 12 years old, we arrived at Hermosillo (Sonora), and I was going through a phase in which I only dressed in black. I was into the “rocker” style, I like rock and roll a lot, and even today, sometimes I still feel like dressing all in black, with spikes and chains. As a consequence, I got used to people looking at me on the streets, as if I was some kind of weirdo… Just imagine, in 50 degree heat, I was all dressed in black!! Hahaha! People used to see me on the street and thought stupid things like, I don’t know, I worshipped the devil or that I was a violent person just because I liked rock… but I never cared. That is how I quickly learned that it doesn’t matter what others think of you, the only thing that matters is that you are happy doing, wearing or being what you want to. As long as you don’t hurt others, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re happy. Therefore, when I began to dress as a Lolita, I was already used to people looking at me in a funny way, which made it a lot easier, and in fact, people were more accepting of my new style. Instead of walking away from me they came to ask me about the dresses, they wondered if I was wearing a costume or if I was an actress… It was very appealing to them, but in a positive way.
BMJ: What can you tell us about the Lolita community in Mexico? Is it a small or large community?
GC: It is enormous. There are hundreds and hundreds of Lolitas in Mexico, almost all of the states have a big Lolita community. The biggest that I know of is Tijuana, in that town there are many Lolitas and they have formed a very organised community. They have held events so big that they have been able to bring brands and models from Japan to Tijuana. It is the biggest, the most united, and where I have a lot of friends. Probably in Mexico City the number of Lolitas is larger, however, they are not organised, actually, they are divided, which makes it hard for them to hold events as big as those in Tijuana. All of Mexico is full of Lolitas, and every day there are more and more. What I like the most is that the more Lolitas there are in Mexico, the stronger their union. There are groups such as the Lolita Sisterhood where girls that have already spent some time being part of the community come together to help the new girls to adopt this life style, they teach them how to dress or how to make their own clothes, they invite them to tea parties… I like it because since I left Mexico I’ve seen that they are closer to each other and I’m able to see how the girls support each other more and more.
BMJ: Wow! Tijuana! I never expected that Tijuana would have the largest Lolita community.
GC: Indeed, Tijuana is the best community that you can find in Mexico nowadays. That community is the one that has brought almost everything to Mexico, for example, one week ago there was a very big and beautiful tea party, which a Japanese model attended. There was also a gigantic convention that some big brands attended and they held a fashion parade, they had awards, another tea party and many Lolita stars attended. It was the event of the century and it was held in Mexico! Even people from the USA and South America attended, from all around the world. I really wanted to go, even though I was already here in Japan. The fact that I’m living in Japan doesn’t mean that every day I have the chance to see the models or to meet the designers. Events in Japan are more exclusive, and the events in America are more like conventions, which makes me wonder, why doesn’t this kind of convention happen in Japan?
BMJ: How do you think the Lolita community will evolve in Mexico? Do you believe it has a future?
GC: There is a great future for the Lolita community in Mexico. When I started, there were so few of us that we only had one Internet forum, we weren’t organised… it was total chaos. As time passed, the community started to grow and became stronger. I didn’t expect that in two years, the time I’ve been living in Japan, the community would grow this much. To be honest, I didn’t think it was possible that in such a short time this type of event could become organised, that brands and models would travel all the way to Mexico or that the community would evolve in such a way. At that time I thought that something like this would never happened, and in order to be able to hold such types of events, we would need at least another five years. Nevertheless, some Lolita “leaders” appeared and began supporting others; they started to encourage girls to trust themselves, to get on well with each other and to work together to hold events. They created a very positive energy that encourages girls to keep moving forward. There are many events in Mexico that aim to help the general public learn about Lolita, which has helped to increase its acceptance, which has helped us to be able to do more activities. The community has advanced so much that, honestly speaking, I don’t know how far they can go, but I don’t think they have a limit. In Latin America there is a big Lolita community, but Mexico is the biggest one, with so many events that people from other countries want to come to the Lolita conventions in Mexico, even girls from Spain want to come to Mexico.
BMJ: Do you think that Lolita can become something “mainstream”, like other subcultures have?
GC: Maybe, but it will need a lot of time, like 30 or 40 years. Lolita is something kind of new, it was born in the 80’s or 90’s, and it wasn’t until around the year 2000 that it got its strength and brands started to appear, before that it was a little bit underground. So, if you think about it, Lolita has been around for no more than 30 years, it is still a very young movement. Maybe in another 50 years people from all around the world will know about it and they will know that when we talk about Lolita, we talk about a lifestyle and not a book. However, I still think it will be very hard for it to become mainstream, because it’s not easy. If we compare it with other subcultures, Lolita is much more expensive, and hard to wear, it’s not easy to bring old fashion styles into the modern world, and many girls dump it because of this. Unless someone comes up with a simpler, easier version, I doubt that it will become mainstream.
BMJ: All that is true, however, when I mention “mainstream” I refer to people seeing it as something casual, something normal.
GC: I wish for that to happen. The fact that people look at it as something different makes it harder for you to adopt it. Many girls, preadolescent girls that want to be part of the Lolita culture dump it because of the many obstacles they find, people looking at them, parents… There are some girls that are afraid of being harassed or discriminated against for being dressed as Lolita. I hope that it will become part of acceptable “mainstream” culture; it would help the community a lot.
BMJ: Throughout this whole interview you have emphasised that Lolita is a lifestyle, therefore, I can’t stop wondering, do you dress like this every day?
GC: Well, first of all I want to say that Lolita is a lifestyle if you want it to be a lifestyle, every person adopts Lolita in their life in the way they want to, it can be a hobby or something you do just for fun, in my own personal case I chose to adopt it as my style. Every day I dress as Lolita, in fact, I go to work dressed this way. I am very fortunate to have a simple job, I work as a Spanish language teacher, which allows me to use this dress, and my students like it. My husband loves to see me in these outfits and sometimes he even helps choose what to wear. Speaking of my family, my parents liked it a lot, due to the fact that during my “rocker” phase they thought I wasn’t very feminine, but the moment they saw me in a Lolita dress, they were very happy! Hahahaha!
BMJ: You just mentioned that luckily, you have the opportunity to dress like this for work, but I guess that for many girls, due to school or their occupation, it is difficult to dress as Lolita every day. How do the community react to this situation?
GC: There are many girls that feel bad because they would love to be able to dress as Lolita every day, and they even have the clothes to do it. However, because of work, school, other obligations, they can’t do it. We believe that it doesn’t matter if you are wearing jeans or a suit, you are still a Lolita, because this is something you hold inside yourself, not only do you wear it as a dress on the outside, you wear it inside of your heart, it’s a part of you. Many girls wear accessories to express themselves as Lolitas: if they have to wear jeans and a shirt to work, they will wear a brooch or a bow; maybe a hat with flowers or bring a purse in the shape of a violin or a unicorn. Just something to express their individuality and Lolita style.
BMJ: How different it is the Japanese Lolita community from the Mexican one? What was your biggest Lolita shock when you arrived in Japan? What things do Mexican girls do differently?
GC: Hahahaha!! I think that my biggest shock was the unity, although I think this is more related to the cultural differences. In Mexico and Latin America, we are very close to each other; we speak as though we are friends as soon as we meet someone. In Japan the communities are not so close; you have to talk indirectly to a stranger and distance yourself, very respectfully, there’s not much contact. In fact, I would dare to say that there are no communities, there are no Lolita groups. In Japan there are many Lolita girls but they don’t find it necessary to come together and organise themselves in communities, but in Mexico that’s the only thing that you can find, we come together and organise parties, there is unity, we even have the idea that you must have a best Lolita friend! But in Japan that doesn’t exist, the parties are held by the brands and people go on their own. The only community I found was in Waseda University, the first, and probably the only, Lolita community in Tokyo. There’s no unity, it’s not a friendly environment, people have to know you for a long time in order for that chemistry to develop between you.
BMJ: Do you have one last message you want to say to Lolitas or non-Loltias, that dream of coming to Japan?
GC: I think that the message I’ve always wanted to say to every person I meet is this: follow your dreams. It doesn’t matter what you want, how you want it, where you live or if you have the resources. If you have a dream, fight for it and get it. Many people told me that I would never come to Japan, that I would never be able to have an expo in Harajuku, and this is my second one. I didn’t listen to the negative voices, I chose to work for what I wanted, and I’m striving for more, this is what I love and I am happy this way. If you have a dream, work for it, the rest doesn’t matter.
BMJ: Thank you very much!
GC: Thank you and everyone at BMJ!