Where have all the 'gyaru' gone?

Japanese model-singer Tsubasa Masuwaka, a pioneer of the manga-like Gyaru look.

All the rage in the 1990s, so-called gyaru or gal fashion is now losing steam.

Total sales at Shibuya 109 fashion complex in Tokyo, dubbed a gyaru fashion mecca, peaked at ¥28.65 billion (S$340 million) in the year ending March 2009. But its sales for the year ending March 2014 are projected to be ¥18.8 billion, or about 60 per cent of the 2009 figure.

On Aug. 24, a "Love Boat" shop on the first underground floor of the complex closed its doors. The fall of Love Boat, which was regarded as one of the first gyaru brands along with "Alba Rosa" and "me Jane" in the '90s, should be seen as a symbolic move signaling the end is near for gyaru culture in Tokyo's Shibuya fashion streets.

Three days later, Orches Co., which operated a popular "Lip Service" shop at the 109 complex, filed for court protection with a debt of ¥6 billion - though the shop itself is still in business there.

Gyaru magazines have gone out of print one after another, too. "Happie nuts" and "Koakuma Ageha" were discontinued after the collapse of their publisher Inforest Co. Taiyohtosho Co.'s "egg," Kadokawa Haruki Corp.'s "Blenda" and Futabasha Publishers Ltd.'s "Edge Style" also ceased publication.

But what exactly is gyaru fashion?

It's a style that usually involves tanned makeup, golden or other flashy coloured hair, false eyelashes, coloured contact lenses, platform shoes, heavily decorated nails and revealing clothes.

Especially popular among middle and high school girls, gyaru girls usually aged 15-20 were often found in Shibuya in the '90s. They would gather at Shibuya clubs after school, sometimes coming all the way from suburbs in Saitama and Chiba prefectures. Their idols were singers Namie Amuro, born in 1977, and Ayumi Hamasaki, who was born in 1978.

It's strongly believed that the nearly universal spread of the term kawaii has its roots in Shibuya-based gyaru fashion.

There are also those who go for plain, casual attire with almost no makeup. Known as "Harajuku-kei" or Harajuku-style, these women who are believed to pay almost no heed to the eyes of boys and men got their name from often hanging around Tokyo's Harajuku district, which neighbours Shibuya. They're often talked about in contrast to Shibuya-kei women.

I believe there are four reasons for gyaru fashion's rapid decline. First, the number of gyaru themselves dropped due to the low birth rate. Secondly, young women came to spend their time and money not in Shibuya but at shopping centers like Aeon Co. malls in their local areas.

Thirdly, gyaru also became attracted to "fast fashion" brands such as H&M and Forever21, which respectively entered the Japanese market in 2008 and 2009. Finally, middle and high schools started tightening rules including bans on dying hair brown after a period of relaxed education policy.

With these adverse winds, the gyaru era that lasted for about 15 years from the mid-1990s seems to have come to end.

So where will these gyaru go? And how will their style change?

According to a recent survey conducted by WWD Japan on 150 young women in Tokyo for its Sept. 8 issue, conventional gyaru fashion seems to have "grown up" into girlie or other types of fashion. Young women today apparently prefer less makeup and simple fashion with undyed hair.

The survey found that respondents regarded Kiko Mizuhara and Asaka Taniguchi, models known for their elegant and natural fashion style, as their idols, apparently reflecting changes in the respondents' favourite fashion style. The spread of social networks is also said to have made them seek more realistic styles.

The initial print run of girlie-style fashion magazine "Larme," which was launched in September 2012, totaled 35,000. But with print runs now at 200,000, it can be said that the current trend of late-teen fashion is summed up in the magazine.

Larme editor-in-chief Haruna Nakagori, born in 1986, who successfully proposed the idea of the magazine as a "sweet and pretty girlie fashion picture book" to Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co., was an editor of the now out-of-print "Koakuma Ageha." According to Nakagori, the downturn of gyaru brands was due to the change of the minds of women around 20. "I was sure my magazine plan would sell well since there already were Web and social network communities of women favouring sweet and pretty things. There were also models who like girlie fashion," Nakagori said.

In Tokyo, girlie girls may stay as late-teen fashion leaders for a while.