The Meaning Behind Atarashii Gakko!’s Subversive Style

“Youth Representatives of Japan” isn’t a title the genre-bending phenoms take lightly.

by Erica Russell

The first thing you notice about Atarashii Gakko! — the Japanese dance-pop group behind one of Coachella’s most raucous sets — is the uniforms. On April 14, the four women bounced around the Gobi stage in pleated skirts, knee-high socks, and sailor neckerchiefs under traditional quilted robes.

These looks were not just festival costumes: Group members Suzuka, Rin, Kanon, and Mizyu almost always wear matching blue-and-white sailor fuku, aka sailor suits, whether they’re delivering a fiery live performance, filming a music video, or posing for promotional photos. That’s because the co-ords’ boxy, ’90s Sailor-Moon-ish cut defies stereotypical J-pop style, which ranges from glamorous to frothy, while lending the band — whose name translates to “New School” — a timeless mystique that suits its genre-defying sound.

It also speaks to their ambitions. “When we first formed the group, we were still students ourselves,” Rin tells NYLON. “We thought, ‘We want to be students that are three steps ahead,’ hence leaders.”

Other nods to their (school)girlboss mission include the red armbands on their upper-left sleeves, which signify a position of leadership in an organization, and socks that read seishun nihon daihyō, meaning “Youth Representatives of Japan.” (The socks are available for fans to purchase on the group’s official web store.)

But as Atarashii Gakko! release more music videos with new themes (and the outfits to match), “in some way, perhaps we are playing a big role in the spread of Japanese culture,” Mizyu says. For example, in the tokusatsu-inspired video for “Tokyo Calling,” the foursome embrace their nostalgia for ’60s and ’70s Japanese sci-fi with retrofuturistic dome helmets, superhero boots, and shiny sentai battle team uniforms. And in the visuals for the nursery-rhyme-meets-Brazilian phonk “Toryanse” — which is shot in a traditional home and temple — the women debuted the patchwork haori jackets with red tassels and gold cord trim that now feature frequently in their uniform.

Back at Coachella, the group took off its military dress overcoats to reveal the latest and edgiest iteration of its look: black skirts and collars, blouses graffiti-printed with AG creeds like “stand out freely,” and new black-and-white socks and slippers — all of which is bound to be dissected by fans after their Weekend 2 set April 21.

That’s part of the plan, the group says. “We’re four girls in sailor uniforms with a lot of energy,” Suzuka says. “We do a lot of weird things, perhaps, in a very serious fashion. That’s become very on-brand for us.”

Photographs by Toshio Ohno

Styling by Masato(fantastic!)

Hair and Makeup: Youca

Talent Bookings: Special Projects

Contributing Style Director: Jan-Michael Quammie

Photo Director: Alex Pollack

Editor in Chief: Lauren McCarthy

SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid

SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert