Tokyo’s outrageous street styles, from Harajuku to Lolita to Yamanba, are well-documented. But the more subtly inventive fashions in other Asian cities often stay under the Western media’s radar.
British photographer James Bent spent the past few years traveling around Asian cities–including Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka, Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok–and snapping their street styles. Asian Street Fashion, a new book from Thames & Hudson, compiles 268 of Bent’s images, with subjects running the gamut from black-cloaked health goths to pastel-haired sea-punks to fashionistas turning traditional kimonos into style statements. They serve as creative inspiration to the sartorially stunted.
These getups undermine the stereotype of loud, in-your-face style that’s become associated with “Asian street fashion” in the Western popular imagination. “The most shocking outfits I see these days are in the West,” Bent told Vogue. Hundreds of Bent’s subjects opt for modern sophistication instead of pyrotechnics, in muted color palettes (black, taupe, army green, navy, and more black) and elegant, understated silhouettes.
That’s certainly not to say the collection isn’t full of fantastical outfits. The cities Bent visited are “pockets of creativity that have remained relatively contained and therefore underexposed to the wider world,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “These hubs of creativity reveal an irresistible quality that runs throughout Asian fashion to varying degrees: the refusal to conform to a uniform and conservative form of dress.” The utter uniqueness of nearly every ensemble pictured makes it hard to generalize about Asian street fashion as a whole: Bent’s subjects tend to buck trends in favor of self-expression. Even when they’re referencing centuries-old traditional styles–split-toe tabi boots, hijabs, kimonos–they might accessorize with a septum ring or green hair or tennis shoes.
Click the slide show above for a sartorial tour of major Asian cities.
Asian Street Fashion is available from Thames & Hudson for $18 here.