'Kawaii' style catches on in the West
BUBBLEGUM-PINK hearts, tulle skirts and polka dots: The unapologetically feminine fashion that originated in Tokyo has exploded in the West, with Hollywood celebrities earning brickbats for adopting the "girly" style.
The hugely popular "kawaii" (cute) look, which blends traditional Japanese concepts of purity and innocence with the doll-like aesthetic embodied by Hello Kitty and other beloved mascots, traces its roots to the late 1970s.
While it made significant inroads into South-east Asia throughout the 1990s, western fashion sentiments had remained largely impervious to - and even somewhat sneering about - its cutesy charms.
The vivid aesthetic occupies pride of place in Japanese pop culture, particularly in the visual stylings of 22-year-old "kawaii" entertainer, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
But it has begun winning fans further afield, including musicians like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj.
A watered-down version of the style has made inroads into United States pop culture, embodied by Disney star Ariana Grande and actress Zooey Deschanel in her leading role as a quirky schoolteacher in the TV show, New Girl.
Miley Cyrus' current psychedelic, hyper-sexualised look also contains plenty of kawaii inspiration.
As the glitterati gathered in Tokyo for fashion week, Japanese designers showcased plenty of outfits with a cute twist.
Designer Keita Maruyama dressed models in feather-topped ankle socks and suits embellished with pom-poms, while offbeat label Dresscamp opted for pink taffeta capes and sequinned tulle petticoats.
Tokyo-based blogger and TV host, Misha Janette, says Japan also experienced a new surge in kawaii culture after the 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster.
"I think people needed the infusion of fun, which is why we saw these colourful fashion statements emerge," she said.
But the sight of women wearing items usually aimed at children - from headbands embellished with cat ears to frothy skirts and tops showcasing strawberry cupcakes or cartoon characters - have aroused the ire of feminist commentators based in the West.
"To make a woman look like a child is to make her unthreatening, helpless and worthy of condescension. When women dress like children, they encourage this attitude," wrote Hadley Freeman, columnist for the Britain's The Guardian newspaper.
Industry insiders dismiss such concerns.
"Just because a woman dresses like a doll doesn't mean she wants to be treated like a doll," Janette, host of popular TV show Kawaii International, told Agence France-Presse.
Furthermore, in a country that values conformity, fashion offers a rare window for self-expression, Janette added.
According to fashion editor Tiffany Godoy, the criticism levelled at young women who dress in the kawaii style represents a dated take on feminism.
"It's such an old-fashioned way of looking at things. The way these girls dress, it's about being playful and wearing clothes that make them happy.
"And (like any subculture) it makes people uncomfortable because it's not a traditional way to dress," she told AFP.