Tomoe Shinohara: Artist, Designer, Harajuku Icon
With choppy bangs, playful clothing and countless plastic accessories, teen singer and TV personality Tomoe Shinohara took the entertainment and fashion world by storm. Tomoe’s eccentric style was so beloved by youth that it sparked a fashion craze: Shinorer. Every teen wanted to be her and look like her! Fast forward to the present and Tomoe is a legend in Harajuku street fashion. But she’s shifted gears, moving from music and TV to illustration, and costume and textile design. We sat down with the Harajuku icon to ask about her wild ride of a life.
How did you get started as a singer and artist?
At the age of 10, I was learning ballet and appearing on stage, and I became fascinated with the entertainment world. I was drawn to two aspects: creative expression that comes from the heart, and the creation of glamorous costumes. I wanted to make my dreams come true.
You debuted at the age of 16. What was it like working in the entertainment industry?
I got through an audition, then took vocal training and other lessons [to prepare myself for work in the entertainment industry], and debuted in 1995. I was happy because I was performing at Budokan while writing songs and designing costumes for the tour.
After that, I tried my hand at musicals alongside making appearances on TV. I met industry people while working on stage and in movies, and that led to my current work in costume design.
Why do you think so many people fell in love with your style and cheerful personality?
The Shinorer movement became a big deal because of a TV program. I had an interview segment during which I would give presents I had designed to celebrities like James Brown. Meeting people made me so happy and playful, and [you could see that in] the way I spoke and behaved. It became a trend and that became the “Shinorer” style. Being free and having fun with your style, regardless of gender, was in fashion and I think that my “I’m always true to myself!” style perfectly matched the spirit of the 90s.
You’re famous for your unique style choices that included pigtail buns, plastic accessories and head-to-toe Super Lovers co-ords. What was your motivation for dressing in a way that no one had seen before?
I wanted to be completely different from everyone else in my search for a style that suited me. The TV screen was my stage, so I made colourful costumes and accessories for my performances. The delight I felt when I was making original pieces with my own hands and from the actual process of making clothes resonated with little kids, my contemporaries and even older people—and my style eventually became a trend. I received a lot of handmade accessories from fans all over the country and it made me so happy that my style struck such a chord with people.
The Shinorer boom had fans decked out near-identical styles. The internationally popular style, Decora, was soon to follow. Did you ever think that your style would spawn not one but two fashion trends? How does Decora compare to Shinorer?
I liked having a masculine style, and I feel like Shinorer style utilised colourful primaries while Decora is more about cyber and fluorescent colours. I would make bracelets out of colourful skipping ropes and I would layer on a bunch of beads on my arms in my favourite colours. Decora and Shinorer are both about creating your own original pieces. Japanese people love making things—it’s coded into our DNA.
What role did Harajuku play in your style?
I set up a creative studio with art director and husband Tatsuki Ikezawa in 2020, and our new design company is in Harajuku. It is an area that is buzzing with energy in terms of fashion and culture, and I love it! My recent exhibition was held in Shibuya which is near Harajuku.
The world is a bit unstable right now because of the pandemic, but the shops in Harajuku are adapting, and a new scene is emerging. Harajuku will continue to be a unique place, and I want to move it forward by creating new movements within fashion throughout the area.
Throughout all your careers, you’ve always marched to the beat of your own drums. How did you manage to stay so focused?
Working with my hands has been the source of my ideas. When I want to make clothes, I touch the fabric, I take a needle to it and I try to make something. Activities like drawing with a pencil sharpens the mind and encourages creativity on a daily basis.
Recently, I have been having a go at making rectangular pattern clothes inspired by the kimono, and in doing that, I have had to get to grips with the fact that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an essential part of the process. From now on, I want to be more connected with society while I create.
I have set myself the goal of working overseas. I keep making pieces non-stop, so that people around the world can learn about me. I upload my entire process, from sketching to making, onto Instagram so please take a look when you get the chance.
Dedication to a single art seems to be highly respected in Japan, but you have always juggled interests across a wide array of genres. What are your thoughts on specialisation versus diversity?
I have taken vocal lessons when I was offered a singing job, and I have taken acting lessons when I got a job on stage. Learning for your job is part and parcel in the entertainment industry.
I recently returned to my alma mater, Bunka Gakuen University, in Shinjuku after 20 years. In fashion design, the new ideas come from an understanding of a variety of genres in the world, so I continue to diversify in order to pursue what I love to do.
What have been some of the most memorable milestones in your career?
It’s been 25 years since I became a part of the entertainment industry. I’ve made the most of my career so far and right now I’m having the most exciting time. I spend a lot of my time making costumes, doing art direction, and working on business branding and planning. But it’s not just me, I work with my husband and our design team as an artist in our new company, Studeo. We want to produce even better quality works.
Introduction and questions by Vania, interview translated by Anna.
Images courtesy of Studeo.