Bloom off the crystal boom, but fake pastries take the cake
BY MIKAKO ABE THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Young women look at "suitsu deco" in a department store in Osaka. (MIKAKO ABE/ THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)
It has been a few years since deko-den--cellphones encrusted with decorative crystals--caught on with certain young women. Now the deko wave has hit tableware, home electronics, and cars and the idea is captivating men as well. Meanwhile, on the latest deko frontline is suitsu deko starring replicas of cookies and other sweets.
In early July, an event was held at Narumi Corp.'s shop in Tokyo's Ginza district, where participants decorated mugs and small plates with Swarovski Elements, materials manufactured by the crystal glass company.
The decorated items appeared more refined--less gaudy, if you will--when the crystals were placed with some space in between, unlike the earlier cellphones which were entirely covered with crystals.
"You feel excited and alive when you are holding something that sparkles," says a woman in her 30s who took part in the event.
James Alexandre, Element Business Manager of Swarovski Japan who hails from France, points out that the Japanese have a way of enjoying sparkling items and incorporating them into their lives. According to Alexandre, crystal is associated with luxury items in Europe and has been used only on haute couture clothing. He adds that there has been the perception that men wearing crystal were gay.
Yet in Japan, the deko boom has now reached men as well. It is not uncommon to see male customers at Kiwa Products, an accessory shop in Tokyo's Harajuku that specializes in Swarovski Elements. Some buy iron-on crystals to decorate belt loops or logos on their bags.
"They seem to be known as 'soshoku-kei' boys," says Yuki Sato, the 29-year-old store manager. Although originally soshoku-kei (herbivore type) referred to a new breed of "gentle" young Japanese male, the soshoku-kei used in this case is a homophone meaning decoration-loving type. Sato adds that while dazzling adornments used to be associated with hip-hop fans, young idol types have become customers recently.
D.A.D, a manufacturer of car accessories, has also introduced deko products. In the American Village in Osaka's Chuo Ward, two Mercedes-Benz autos, covered entirely in Swarovski Elements, were parked at the D.A.D store to the delight of the passers-by.
The company used about 300,000 crystals worth between 15 million and 20 million yen per car. The vehicles are for car shows and not for sale.
"If we were to put a price tag on one, it would be 100 million yen," says Daisuke Kuwayama, the 40-year-old president of D.A.D.
The company has been making and selling car accessories incorporating Swarovski products for six or seven years. Cup holders and ashtrays priced between 10,000 yen and 20,000 yen sell well.
Concentrating on a sense of "adult luxury," the firm's designers always keep in mind how the designs will be regarded by women who sit in the front passenger seat.
"Girls long for sparkle forever. No one would say no to them," Kuwayama enthuses.
Will the deko boom continue?
"The hardcore fans are sensing that the end is near, but it's still new to the general public. I hope to spread it to a wide range of people," says Megumi Wakabayashi, 26, president of Monica, a firm that sells decorated items at department stores and other retail outlets.
Wakabayashi says in the boom's heyday of 2006 and 2007, many schools teaching decoration techniques were launched as well as magazines on the subject.
Whatever was popular at that time was a candidate for decoration, such as the Nintendo DS, iPhones or cases for Mintia, a mint. The latest focus seems to be iPad cases.
Recently, suitsu deko--highly decorative fake cakes, tarts and the like made of a type of resin--have outpaced crystal items.
The new boom is said to have been sparked by the candy-colored macaroons that appeared in "Marie Antoinette," a film directed by Sofia Coppola.
As the decoration fervor escalates, there are some cases in which the decorated items strike out on their own.
At a Monica shop which opened in the Shinsaibashi store of Daimaru department store in Osaka in June, trinket boxes and card holders that look like authentic cakes are on sale.
"To apply deko is to customize one's personal items and express your attachment to them as well as who you are," says Maki Taguchi, 28-year-old representative of MIG, a free magazine focusing on young women's culture.
Excessive decoration is what the sparkling and sweets deko have in common. "Even if the trend shifts from the sparkling to the sweets, the sentiment of women who wish to express themselves through over-the-top decoration will remain unchanged," Taguchi says.