Yes, you are reading that right. And no, it's not clickbait. And yes, I am just as surprised as you at this, and if you'll read on, I'll give you in-depth information on what I discovered, and how I discovered it.
To make a long story short, I had posted my previous blog post about natural kei on the mori discord server, and we were discussing it there. One of the mori folks there, wistwarbler, mentioned that maybe reading more from Japanese sources might clear up the issues with inconsistencies I had found. I thought that was a great idea, and mentioned I might do that in the future.
So, I had some free time that night, and I decided to browse a bit for articles to translate later on about natural kei in Japanese. However, I quickly ran into a massive roadblock when I discovered the term natural kei doesn't exist in Japanese.
To clarify, the fashion itself that is associated with natural kei does exist. Clearly, pictures exist, PINK HOUSE exists, etc. That part of the fashion is accurate, but it is the term natural kei, and it's status as a collective "style" that does not exist in the way the English speaking community has long seemed to believe.
I'll get more into what terms do exist in a bit, and what the fashion actually looks like, but I ended up going down another research rabbit hole, and finding a lot of answers about many of the inconsistencies I found in the style, its dates, and its popularity.
So I wanted to give you an update on what I found, both for the history of PINK HOUSE and the fashion, as well as its proper names. While all info on the fashion I wrote about is still as accurate as I could find at the time, and still technically correct in the most important ways, there is just a bit more to the story.
I will be including sources in this post, but please be aware that all of them are in Japanese. You are free to check them out, but be aware you might not be able to read them.
So without further ado, let's get into the real state of natural kei fashion!
I know you are all desperate to know about the term and how the fashion doesn't technically exist, but before I do that I quickly want to talk about dates first. Doing so will set up a lot of context that will be useful to you later on, so I highly recommend reading this section and not skipping it.
To start out, according to Wikipedia, PINK HOUSE was established as an early design concept by its original creators in 1973, but the brand was not officially formed until 1982, making the date of the current styles conception beginning in the 1980s, with roots in the 1970s. This is consistent with the better sources I found, and gives us a clear date for the start of the style: 1982.
Additionally, according to Middle Edge, in the 1990s, Kaneko Isao moved from designing for PINK HOUSE to focusing on his own new brand, Wonderful World. This move is often cited in English sources as the move towards natural kei influencing Lolita, but his new brand continued designing clothing that is similar to his original designs and did not take a new Lolita twist at all. I'm not sure where this idea even came from, to be honest, as the designers associated with PINK HOUSE have maintained a fairly consistent style throughout the years.
Kaneko remained somewhat active throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, and only stopped work in 2007, according to Wikipedia.
So here is what is important to know and keep in mind: One, PINK HOUSE and Kaneko Isao are both still active in creating fashion, both with a similar style despite the split. Two, both are still active (as in PINK HOUSE) or recently active (as in Kaneko Isao).
Keep these things in mind, especially Kaneko Isao's name, as we move on. He will become quite important.
When searching for terms that might bring up natural kei fashion in Japanese, I began with the term ナチュラルケイ/系 (natural kei in Japanese). This is what jumpstarted everything, because the term does not exist at all for this style of clothing, and brings up nothing. So my first thought was to look for PINK HOUSE fan coordinates from people on Instagram and other sites, and see what tags they were using.
For best results, I started with ピンクハウスコード（with is PINK HOUSE coord) and later substituted that with the modern word for coord, コーデ (code). This is a popular naming convention for Japanese fashion tags, so I was fairly confident this would lead me to people tagging the style with the term natural kei in whatever form it took in Japanese. But although that brought up a ton of "natural kei" coordinates, the tags were not what I expected.
Instead of finding a tag for natural kei, I found new terms such as ピンクハウスファッション or PINK HOUSE fashion in English, and Kaneko Isao, both as 金子功 (his name in kanji), and カネコ福(コード、コーデ、ファッション) or Kaneko coord/fashion/style in English.
Various brand names were also popular tags for these outfits, such as Mary Rose or メリーローズ, as well as INGEBORG, Karl Helmut, and of course WONDERFUL WORLD.
WHAT IS IT REALLY CALLED?
Firstly, what I am certain of is that the term "natural kei" does not exist in Japan. As for what it the proper name is, that is a bit confusing. As far as I can tell, the name PINK HOUSE is used similarly to big-name English brands, like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, within Japan. Meaning that it is recognizable as a brand name, but does not have its own style name attached to it.
I'll get more to that in a moment, but first, a few sources as an example.
One example is a PINK HOUSE and Kaneko style resail shop, Daisy, which merely refers to the style as PINK HOUSE fashion, or by Kaneko's name. Additionally, the Morioka staff, a PINK HOUSE specialization store in Japan, refer to styles only by their brand names as well.
The most popular term as far as I can tell are any of the many variations of PINK HOUSE style or coord.
IS IT A STYLE?
So even if "natural kei" as a term doesn't exist, what makes me say it is not a style?
Firstly, let me say it again. The fashion started by the PINK HOUSE brand that we associate with the term natural kei does exist. What doesn't exist is the "kei" part of the fashion.
Let me clarify. When we think of mori kei, or dolly kei, or cult party kei, or even other Japanese fashions like decora and lolita, there is a sense of not only a style that goes along with it, but an aesthetic and a community. Think of mori girl and lolita meetups, talks about lifestyle and activities that fit the fashion. "Natural kei" does not have that.
PINK HOUSE as a brand and fashion style does exist, but it has no community and aesthetic. It would explain why I could never find any real lifestyle or aesthetic attached to the style, just a very specific fashion style. It also explains why the style seems so rigid. If it is literally based around one brand, no wonder all of it looks the same!
You can search for any of the proper terms for the style listed above, and you'll find the same. Many individual outfits, some discussion of its heyday as a style in the 1980s, and discussions of the brands, but nothing else.
POPULARITYThere is one more thing I would like to touch on quickly, and that is the popularity of "natural kei." If you remember from my last post, I mentioned that many claimed the style was very popular, but I couldn't say for sure. But, I was able to find some mention of the style's popularity this time around.
Surprisingly, out of all the incorrect misinformation, the style's popularity is the one thing that is correct. According to NLab, in an interview with a TV actress wearing the style, she claims that the style, which she refers to as PINK HOUSE style, was a staple fashion style in the 1980s.
Additionally, in another source by naver MATOME, they claim that PINK HOUSE fashion, during its boom in the 80s, was even more popular than bodikon fashions (which were considered to be very popular at the time).
Lastly, according to an interview from Healthy Hawaii Foods with Kaneko Isao, PINK HOUSE had collaborations with Hello Kitty in 2010, and the popular idol group Momoiro Clover Z in 2016. They also said the Laforet Harajuku store started selling PINK HOUSE fashion in 2016, proving it's continued popularity within the collective consciousness in Japan.
WHERE DOES "NATURAL KEI" COME FROM?
So now that all this information about "natural kei" has been incorrect all this time, the next question is where did this term and idea come from? Clearly, in Japan, this collective "style" does not exist in the way English speaking fashion blogs have painted it. So what happened? And when?
First, I don't think there is anyone that should be "blamed" for this. I think this is most likely a spread of misinformation that slowly got worse over time as each new person reported what they had read, and so on. Kind of like a game of telephone, the information became more and more distorted as it went along, and with no way for those who don't speak Japanese to check it, it was allowed to run its course.
Obviously, someone is responsible for spreading misinformation deliberately, but I don't think it was any of the people who have discussed it any time recently. But we also can't say for sure if it was even created maliciously or purposefully wrong in the first place. Maybe the term was created by someone trying to give the style a clearer English name, and somehow people began to believe it was an actual "kei" like mori or dolly or cult party over time? Who knows for sure.
As for when it started, that is unsure. I can't find any source in English that doesn't refer to the style as "natural kei," and I am unsure where the term first started. However, what I do know is that, according to google trends, the first search term for "natural kei" came about in March 2005, with 100 searches that month. Presumably, the term came about sometime around then, although we can't say for certain.
When looking for myself at search results on google, nothing can be found about the style before mid-2006. And it is not until October of 2006 that the term becomes an active search term at all.
UPDATE 1/20/2020: According to a reader, the term Natural Kei in Japanese (or ナチュラル系) is actually used. I was searching for the katakana version of the word "kei" and not its kanji, explaining the lack of results in google search. However, although this term does exist, it does not describe PINK HOUSE fashions, but rather Japanese Natural Fashion Trends, which I wrote about previously.
It is possible that someone found this term that was used in Japan, and applied it to the style mistakingly. However, the term does not describe PINK HOUSE fashion at all, and is exclusively used for more natural trends type fashion, more similar to Mori Kei than PINK HOUSE. The term would indeed be foreign to those in Japan who do still wear PINK HOUSE and Kaneko designs.
LET'S WRAP THIS UP!
So, what can we conclude about all of this information? Let's wrap it up in a few points.
- The term Natural Kei does not exist.
- The correct terms for the style focus on popular brands and designers.
- PINK HOUSE fashion is not a "kei" fashion like other styles due to its lack of community and aesthetic.
- PINK HOUSE fashion was indeed a very popular fashion brand, especially during the 1980s after it's official creation, and still remains somewhat popular to this day.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
So all of this is quite confusing to me, and this was such a deep research rabbit hole, and I was pretty shocked at everything I found. However, what I'm curious about now is what do you think? Is the term natural kei still acceptable to use? Should we switch to the proper term PINK HOUSE? Does it really matter? Should we keep the name since it is familiar?
So many questions! Personally, I think that the proper history of natural kei/PINK HOUSE fashion should be more widespread, and the fact that it is not the same as other Japanese fashions is important I think, but I personally don't think it matters that much what we call it, especially since it is what the majority of English speaking/international groups know it as.
Really, what baffles me the most is that we have reinvented the entire identity of a style without anyone realizing it was happening.
Anyways, I'd like to hear your thoughts! What do you think about all this. Let me know in the comments!