What is Visual Kei?
Visual kei (v-kei or VK) is a movement in Japanese music where bands places emphasis on both music and looks. Inspired by Western punk, glam rock, and hair metal genres of the 1970s and 1980s, Japanese bands adopted elements from these trends to incorporate into their stage styles. These visual kei bands inspired many fans to dress in alternative fashion leading a rise in Japan’s gothic and punk fashion scene starting in the 90s.
Fashion of Visual Kei
Visual kei is not a fashion style but a wide variety of styles combined with big hair and dramatic makeup. When most people think of the overall visual kei aesthetic, typically they think of a band with a dark color palette and each member is rocking big hair and bold makeup. The hair and makeup carries the look, but clothes can also help boost the overall vibe.
Most of what visual kei bands wear are custom made for the bands as stage costumes. However, there are several Japanese gothic and punk fashion brands that have connections to the visual kei industry and produce clothing for daily wear. Some of these brands are founded by visual kei musicians themselves, while others often collaborate with current musicians to design pieces that fit the band’s particular aesthetic.
Japanese Visual Kei Clothing Brands
Started by famed visual kei guitarist Mana of Malice Mizer and Moi Dix Mois, Moi-meme-Moitie is a Japanese gothic and lolita brand. The brand was founded in 1999 and has had a dedicated fanbase ever since.
The brand is split into 2 lines:
- Elegant Gothic Lolita (EGL) – their gothic lolita fashion line.
- Elegant Gothic Aristocrat (EGA) – their aristocratic line with more masculine pieces.
Notable artist collaborations: Psyhco Le Cemu, JILUKA, Kaya
h.NAOTO by designer Hirooka Naoto is an avant garde brand leaning towards gothic and punk styles. Started in 2000, the brand has many different sub-lines each with its own unique theme. These sub-lines tend to come and go but some notable sub-lines are:
- h.ANARCHY – punk
- h.NAOTO BLOOD – gothic
- h.NAOTO STEAM – steampunk
- FRILL – lolita
- NAOTO SEVEN
Notable artist collaborations: Hyde, GACKT, Shinya (Dir en Grey)
SEX POT ReVeNGe
SEX POT ReVeNGe has been making bold clothing with a blend of punk, rock, and gothic styles since 2003. Their edgy and innovative designs can be dressed up for glamour or dressed down for casual looks. Many of the clothes are made in unisex sizing.
When you think of 2000s visual kei, SEX POT always comes to mind. Early SEX POT was extremely garish with bright colors clashing with black. Current designs are rather monochrome.
Notable artist collaborations: Sick2, AKIRA, theVICIOUS, D
The Japanese webshop does not ship overseas, so a shopping service is required. You can also buy their clothing from CDJapan which does ship internationally.
Alice and the Pirates
Alice and the Pirates is the sister brand to one of the biggest lolita fashion brands, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. Both brands often used visual kei bandmen as models in magazine spreads and fashion shows. Alice and the Pirates’s designs encompass lolita and ouji fashion inspired by gothic, nautical, and punk elements.
Designs from 2005-2010 had typically more pirate and punk elements such as chains and asymmetry. Their previous color pallet was mostly black and white, where as now they use a lot more color.
Notable artist collaborations: Versailles, Kaya, Kamijo
Both the Japan shop and USA shop will ship worldwide.
CIVARIZE is a “brand for people who continue to express their own identity” despite mainstream fashion trends changing with time. The cuts are simple for day-to-day wear, but play with different textures. Sizing is for men, but some pieces can be unisex.
Its sister brands Reflem and Travas Tokyo also have cute, dark yamikawaii aesthetic aimed towards women.
Noteable artist collaborations: DIAURA, Nightmare, DADAROMA
CIVARIZE’s shops do not ship internationally, so a shopping service is required.
Atelier BOZ‘s concept is making classical and elegant attire reminiscent of of medieval Europe. This brand is popular with those looking for more elegant styles. Men’s sizing is available.
The brand almost closed permanently in 2021, but is now sold through Alpstola.
Noteable collaborations: NoGoD, Vampire Rose, Exist Trace
HELLCATPUNKS fashion brand takes inspiration from the 1970s London fashion scene, including punk rocker styles like bondage pants, and resizes them into a more modern style. Plaid and leopard print are some of the brand’s iconic patterns alongside with cat motifs.
Modern HELLCATPUNKS became extremely toned down, so look for older pieces if you are looking for a bolder look.
Hellcatpunks’s shop does not ship internationally, so a shopping service is required.
Ozz On Japan
Ozz On is a gothic and punk brand consisting of several different sub-lines.
- Ozz Croce: Crosses, dragons, phoenixes, skulls, rosees, and spiders are all motifs of Ozz Croce. It incorporates powerful fantasy motifs into the clothes with a cool and edgy style.
- Ozz Oneste: Inspired by the beauty of traditional Japanese and Chinese patterns. This line is heavily inspired by east Asian motifs such as kimono, hanfu, bright colors, and elegance.
- Rozen Klavier: Take Ozz’s unique style and combine it with nostalgic and feminine fashion for sophisticated women. The modern designs have an austere and mature essence to them.
- Ozz Conte: A unisex brand that mixes cutting edge designs with traditional patterns.
- Ozz Angelo: This line takes the most inspiration from classical European designs. Most of the non-wa lolita pieces come from this sub-brand.
Ozz On does not ship internationally, so a shopping service is required.
Million Dollar Orchestra
Started by visual kei vocalist Takeru (Sleepyhead, ex-SUG) in 2010, Million Dollar Orchestra reflects his street gothic style.
Million Dollar Orchestra does not ship internationally, so a shopping service is required.
Deorart is a casual gothic and punk brand made for people to enjoy concerts in their own style. Their main looks often feature loose layers and minimal accessories for the ultimate comfort.
Deorart’s webshop does not ship internationally, so a shopping service is required.
Deorart items can also be purchased through CDJapan which offers international shipping.
despair focuses on making modern gothic and gothic lolita clothing combining it with traditional wa elements from Japanese kimono. They incorporate nobility, elegance, and beauty into their designs.
despair makes kimono, wa lolita, hakama, and casual pieces incorporating kimono patterns.
Notable artist collaborations: Kaya, DISACODE
despair items can also be purchased through CDJapan which offers international shipping.
KINGLY MASK was born in Harajuku in 2003. With the theme of “excitement in your heart always,” the clothes bring you happiness just by wearing them. Constantly challenging new styles as a fusion of music and street fashion, the brand is a strong presence driving the fashion scene of Harajuku.
Notable artist collaborations: Golden Bomber, GOTHAROCKA, Kra, Chisa (ACME, ex-DIV)
KINGLY MASK does not ship internationally, so a shopping service is required.
Originally started as a casual brand, it shifted its image to gothic and lolita style in the Heisei era. ALGONQUINS gained popularity by putting ads in magazines targeted towards young people such as KERA and having visual kei bands wear their clothing as costumes. The brand had a high profile in the gothic & lolita scene.
ALGONQUINS does not ship internationally, so a shopping service is required.
ACDC RAG started off in the streets of Harajuku in the 1980’s. Their brand concept is “No Borders” meaning no matter where you’re from, your gender or age, there are no rules on how to wear your clothes.
ACDC Rag has a low price point that is friendly for beginners to trying to find their style.
Wrouge pursues a timeless rock style for their brand image. The brand makes plenty of comfortable and unisex clothing. Its sister brands JURY BLACK offers a similar rock style for casual men.
Notable artist collaborations: MiA (ex-Mejibray), Arlequin, Lyacon
Wrouge does not ship internationally, so a shopping service is required.
Amilige is the cute-leaning sister brand to Wrouge and JURY BLACK. Their “sickly cute” concept plays heavily on yami kawaii and menhera motifs. Amilige’s designs are mostly aimed at women, but the shirts are baggy enough for men.
Notable artist collaborations: Chisa (ACME, ex-DIV)
Amilige does not ship internationally, so a shopping service is required.
HYPER CORE was founded by the Japanese artist Hisacy. Most of the designs the brand produces are based on his original illustrations inspired by tattoos and rock music. Before starting HYPER CORE, Hisacy’s job as an illustrator included work for Japanese magazines, album covers, apparel designs, and other clients – much of it music-related.
Notable artist collaborations: Yoshiki (X Japan), hide, DaizyStripper
HYPER CORE does not ship internationally, so a shopping service is required.
Some HYPER CORE items can be bought through FAKE STAR which offers international shipping.
Other Gothic and Punk Brands
- MINT NeKO
- Sexy Dynamite London
- Punk Rave
- LISTEN FLAVOR
- Alice Auaa
- Qutie Frash
Even though these brands no longer exist, you can still find their pieces secondhand.
- BLACK PEACE NOW/PEACE NOW/BLACK PEACE NOW FOR MEN
- BLACK HONEY CHILI COOKIE
- Ghost of Harlem
- Glad News
- Suppurate System
Visual Kei Accessories and Shoes
On a final note, brand name items are not necessary in order to fit into the visual kei aesthetic. The most important thing is the overall styling. It’s a balance between the hair, makeup, and outfit.
Buy what you like! Don’t feel pressured to stick to these brands only. Part of visual kei stemmed from punk rock, so feel free to incorporate DIY fashion into the looks. Visual kei also has roots in goth music, so many Western goth brands also work well for trying to get a visual kei look.
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