Taking the underground over ground and vice versa, blonde hair and blue eyes aren’t the only things that make Tokyo Dandy Dan Bailey stand out in Japan’s restless capital.
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Dan founded Tokyodandy.com in 2008 with his partner in crime Joe Kazuaki, and it started something of a revolution. After years of curating parties for the popular culture blog, nightlife and portrait photographer Dan has become one of Tokyo’s most prominent fashion personalities. Having now been ushered in to the high fashion world, shooting for brands including Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Marc Jacobs, Tokyo Dandy straddles high fashion and street style – a crossover that they pioneered in Tokyo. Hosting parties and DJ’ing himself, Dan also encourages, and documents the kids following his lead, making them personalities in their own right. His ‘Disposable Lives’ art zine, 27 of his more personal pictures all shot on Fuji Film’s QuickSnap, documents the spaces “in-between” his life as a Tokyo Dandy, based around the themes of “youth, four seasons and national identity”.
What drew you to Japan originally? Like so many people, I’d always been interested in Japanese Culture. There’s something so alluring about Japan with its history and traditions contrasted by the bright neon lights of Tokyo. I thought I’d be here for a year but I’ve been here almost ten now.
Who are your favourite characters on the underground scene at the moment? In the past couple of months there’s been a whole new generation of ‘kids’ DJ’ing and holding their own parties. I don’t want to name any individuals and spoil it! Their style is a kind of ‘K-Pop-meets-punk on a street in Harajuku’ and although they look more confident there’s still a shyness and rawness about them that has got me excited about taking photos in clubs again, I was beginning to feel like I’d photographed everybody. I can see some of these ‘new faces’ in the background of photos I’ve taken in the past but they’re front and center now.
What are your ingredients for a good party? It’s all about the mix of people. Getting everyone from college kids, store staff, ex-pats, models, pop stars – people of many different backgrounds and of all ages together. It’s rare to be able to do that in Tokyo and I think that’s what’s made our parties so much fun – no one individual is the star of the party, everyone bounces off each other.
Tokyo Dandy is known for crossing street style and underground parties with high fashion, did you feel the two had become polarized in Tokyo? Definitely. I grew up with magazines like The Face and i-D, where high fashion and street style came together with Art, Music, Politics and clubbing to form what I understood to be popular culture. That just wasn’t represented here. For me, the place where street style and high fashion ‘met’ was on a night out so by photographing parties, both underground and ‘brand’, I could form a crossover on Tokyo Dandy. It’s funny because years ago I helped Japanese punk bands with their English lyrics. One night a group came over to my room and were shocked to see I had pop and dance albums as well as rock and punk. This very genre specific interest isn’t solely related to the fashion scene here. For me it’s important to learn about things out of my usual realm of interest to help me grow and be inspired.
We hear you collect i-D back issues – what’s your most cherished issue and why? After the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters last year a lot of ex-pats left Japan and with it their back issues of magazines. Amazing treasure every time I went to a used magazine store! On one trip alone I picked up the Naomi Campbell’s Soup Hat cover, Kate Moss’ Hello Kitty and the Tom Ford (with dog) issues all for 2 quid each! That was such a surreal time, and whilst back issues of magazines may seem trivial, when everything else was all messed up that was a little ray of sunshine to cherish.
You’re producing a series of limited edition ‘Disposable Lives’ ‘zines,
which do you prefer, working in tangible print or online? I like the freedom of working online because I can do what I want but I’m old school at heart with a strong inclination towards print. The reason I wanted to print this set of photos was to isolate them from all the work I’ve put online and to form a narrative about contemporary Japanese culture.
‘Disposable Lives’ is described on your site as what happened ‘between’ the events you and Joe covered over four years – do you see these pictures as more personal than those on Tokyo Dandy? Without a doubt the Disposable Lives photos are more of a visual diary of friends and also Japan which is a lot more personal than the party photos. I thought about it recently and I think that as brilliant as the parties are, I was always seeking more depth as to ‘where does this all come from?’. The clothes and fashion, although brilliant, seemed one dimensional and I wanted to document more by wandering around the suburbs, travelling through the countryside via the shinkansen and just walking around the city with friends. Life in Japan for me is way more than just parties and the Disposable Lives series illustrates more of the Japan that I see and love.
You’re keen to mention that Tokyo Dandy stretches far beyond you and Joe, do you have a sense of community between Tokyo Dandy’s? I think by not overly featuring ourselves on Tokyo Dandy, and instead focusing on the bigger picture of what’s happening around us, we’ve been accepted more than other blogs and it’s enabled us to be part of a wider community of friends. I think blogging can be really interesting but a lot of the time it’s way too ‘me me me’. As much as we curate parties and try to bring people together ourselves we’re also dependent and appreciative of friends asking us along to stuff. We’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some great people and that’s what it’s all about.
‘Disposable Lives’ is all shot on FUJIFILM, though you use Instagram and Cinemagram regularly, do you have a preferred medium? For walking around and snap shots I love the purity of disposable cameras but when I’m working for other people I actually prefer digital because I’m scared I’ll fuck up the light or something. That said, the reason I packaged the first ‘zine together with the same camera I used to take the photos was to dispel any question as to how the photos were achieved so the viewer can concentrate on the meaning of the photos themselves and be equipped to take their own.
In three words, what makes a Tokyo Dandy? Authentic, original, fun.
Text: Alice Louise Wadsworth
Photography: Dan Bailey