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Kid Kouture

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A standout piece in the Autumn/Winter 2009 couture collections -- if you're a pop culture fanatic like myself -- is undoubtedly a very special coat made of 'animal pelt' created by French designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. But no animals were harmed in the creation of the garment, unless of course you count Kermit the Frog as an animal (and many of us children of the early '80s do...sob). Castelbajac has always toyed with, well toys...in his designs. Who can forget his teddy bear coat way back when? But now, his timing is even more impeccable as we continue to wade, knee-deep, in a style culture of childhood and youth.

First it was the Furries fixation (fetishizing stuffed animals through plush costumes intended for adult play) chronicled in Vanity Fair. Then it was the Grups...a term first coined in a New York magazine article in 2006 to define garage band daddies, snowboarding CEO's and hipster post-Grunge parents. Now, fashion/art is kidding around more than ever and the toy is the ultimate accessory. About a week ago, a news item hit some style blogs about Heidi Klum's fashion shoot for German Vogue. One blogger says she was clad in "a black dress, split on one side, complete with blue shoulder pom poms and what appeared to be a pink plastic toy hanging off her waste. We kid you not." 'Kid' is the operative word.

I recently went to a media event at Royal/T, a cool art/restaurant/boutique space in West L.A. and got to experience the Japanese-for-American-consumption version of the hyper-stylized youth fetish. The gallery is home to whimsical 'buggy-eyed' Jap inspired pop art -- the kind you want to squeeze or sit on if you're a kid (or a Grup). The boutique sells cute pillbox hats fashioned after sushi and Gothic Lolita dolls. The latter have been part of a dark chiffon craze in Japan for decades (think: Kirsten Dunst character in Interview with the Vampire). And you can get a cutesy tasty high tea served by girlish waitresses in frilly little girl/milk maid outfits.

Of course Japan has always been a notorious upholder of the Lolita look and its concomitant sexual style -- from Sanrio for adults (the popular Hello Kitty vibrator) to the practically mythic tales of panties vending machines. Japan is also the birthplace of Cosplay, a subculture of people who congregate in Manga, graphic novel and character inspired costumes for special reenactments. Beyond the insular borders of L.A.'s Japantown, Royal/T has become a more accessible den for such aesthetically inspired gatherings. The hot spot hosted a Mad Tea Party last month that saw L.A. (gothic and traditional) Lolitas, plushy rabbits and top-hat sporting guys come out en-masse.

China too has embraced the Cult de Kid if the recent-ish opening of mega pop artist Zhao Bandi's boutique in Beijing is any indicator. Commonly known as the Panda Man, his signature pieces are colorful panda plushy toys -- to be encased in glass in our future museums, no doubt, and displayed alongside carbon-dated graffiti tagged wall remnants, of course.

One would have thought that Kid Kouture would have become a retro relic of the '80s along with grown-ups toting kitsch Incredible Hulk and Dukes of Hazard lunchboxes. But in the midst of an economic downturn (and tax season) being a grown-up seems overrated. Besides, recessions are great times to save money by digging into those heaps of hand-me-downs and clothes you haven't worn in years -- or in this case, decades.