In 2012, she started her career as a fashion and accessory designer under the name “millna(which literally means “don’t look”)”. Her “dark” style went viral on SNS, and led her to a collaboration with Village Vanguard. Simultaneously, she has performed as a producer for the doll fashion model Lulu Hashimoto and worked on her own as “Doll GAL millna”, attracting attention not only from Japan but also from the world. In September of this year, she opened her own store “Kawaii Cult” in Koenji, Tokyo, and continues to take on new challenges.
On the occasion of the opening of the “Kawaii Cult,” we talked to her about how she started her activities as “millna”, her works associated with dolls, and her underlying “desire for recovery”.
——What would you say if someone asked you what your current title is?
millna: I guess I’m a fashion designer now. I also call myself an artist, a fashion creator or a doll maker. But for what I’m doing now, I think fashion designer is the one that fits me best.
——The name “millna” has a quite strong impact. Where did your name come from?
millna: I decided on the name quite casually. At the time, the names that combined a negative words and “chan” such as “Tsurai-chan” (the term “tsurai” means painful in Japanese) and “Shindoi-chan” (the term “shindoi” means tired in Japanese) were popular. In my case, I had a huge inferiority complex about my appearance, so I decided to go with “Miruna-chan.” It was around when I was a senior in high school that I started working under the name Miruna-chan.
——Were you aiming to be a fashion designer from the beginning?
millna：I’ve always loved fashion, but in the beginning I would just draw illustrations of clothes that I thought would be great. When I uploaded those illustrations on SNS, the response gradually increased, which made me think that I might be able to do this. So I went on to study fashion at university. From my first or second year at university, I started using the money I saved from my part-time job to order clothes from sewing factories and start making my own clothes.
At the same time, I was also making handmade accessories, which suddenly became popular on SNS. Not only at events of handmade products, but also at live concerts, clubs, and on the streets, I would often see people wearing them. That’s around when I was approached by the bookshop Village Vanguard and others, and my works were available at 18 stores nationwide, and I also collaborated with them.
——What do you think was the reason for the popularity of your accessories at the time?
millna: The “Razor Letter Bracelet,” an item that had a heart-shaped charm with blood-like design and cutter blade inside, was very popular. At the time, I was reflecting the dark side of myself in my work, and I think people could relate to that. It was still a time when young people could express their painful inner feelings on social media.
Also, subculture and handmade products were particularly popular at the time, so I think I was lucky. The enthusiasm of the handmade community back then was so great that it’s hard to imagine now. Of course, I’m sure it’s still popular today, though. I was just an ordinary girl with no good connections or money, but I made something I really wanted to make and sold them on the Internet, and as a result, it became loved by many people. It’s just a dream come true, isn’t it?
——When your accessories went viral, what did you do after that?
millna：In parallel with accessories, my clothes also became popular. I didn’t have a brand name at the time, but as I was making clothes, I realized that I needed one. Haha. So, in 2016, I decided to put a name “hakuchum tokyo” to my brand, and I released some products as a test. After that, people seemed to trust me as a brand, and I held a two-week pop-up store at Laforet Harajuku, and I was getting more and more recognition.
I was at the age of 22 and was in my senior year of college when I opened the pop-up store and I was earning enough money to live comfortably. But I didn’t have any other option but looking for a proper job, so I did job hunting. But I had nothing but terrible memories in its process. So I decided to work as a freelancer instead of being hired by a company because I didn’t want to go through such a negative experience anymore.
——Did your parents ever speak against it?
millna：Yes, they did. I think my parents were just worried whether I could really make a living with it. Since I had quite a bit of savings at the time, I had to show them my bank book to convince them. Haha.
“Decorating the body that is different from the one I wanted to choose to make it my true self”
——Then you started performing as a producer of a doll fashion model while working as a fashion designer, right?
millna: Around the same time I launched “hakuchum tokyo”, I also started producing a doll fashion model named Lulu Hashimoto. Due to its rarity, it was picked up by the media both in Japan and abroad, and my works associated with a doll model got a lot of attention. I started to do more doll works for overseas clients, and from that time on, it became my main focus. I had always loved dolls, so I was confident that I could make them cute, but I never imagined that they would attract so much attention from all over the world.
——After that, you put on the mask yourself and work as “Doll GAL millna”, right?
millna: I produced Lulu Hashimoto partly because I wanted to tell people that no matter how you’re born, you can live your life any way you want, but having someone else become a doll doesn’t fit that concept, and I also thought it would be more fun if I could simply talk as a doll. So around 2018, I put on a doll mask and started working as “Doll GAL millna”. The concept was to decorate my body that was different from the one I wanted to choose and to make it my true self. But recently, I ended my doll activities because I felt that I no longer needed to wear masks.
——Was there something like an inferior complex about yourself at the root of your doll activities?
millna：Well, it was not about hating myself. Rather, I just wanted to get closer to my ideal figure not in a negative way, but in a more positive way.
——Have you had this kind of feeling in mind since you were a child?
millna: I guess I have always wanted to be the ideal me if I could. That’s why I started wearing gal(gyaru) makeup when I was in junior high school.
——When you say “gal”, do you mean styles featured in a gal fashion style magazine “egg”?
millna: I wasn’t interested in “egg”, but the magazine I was into was “Koakuma ageha”. Although I was told by some authentic gal that the styles of “Koakuma ageha” was not a real gal, but in my mind it was. “Koakuma ageha” was popular when I was in junior high and high school, and there weren’t many magazines in which you could learn how to makeup at the time, so I read and studied how to do the doll-like makeup in this magazine.
——However, I think that your current style can be described as “kawaii” with a touch of “lolita” and seems to have no connection with the “Koakuma ageha” style.
millna: Actually, the highest level of praise in “Koakuma Ageha” was “doll” or “doll face.” When I was talking with a gal, there was a consensus that Koakuma ageha has extremely doll-oriented aesthetic. The “princess gal” style is particularly close to Lolita style. So, in my mind, gal and lolita are inter-connected, and they both pursue cuteness to an excessive degree.
Not a desire for transformation, but a desire for recovery
——Recently you’ve been showing your real face without extreme makeup in your activities. What made you change your mind?
millna: It’s probably a good time to disclose this, but I had plastic surgery when I was around 23. When I first had the surgery, a part of me still wasn’t satisfied with the result, but I gradually got used to it. My biggest inferior complex disappeared.
In my mind, plastic surgery is like a good luck charm. The fact that my face has changed is not very important. Rather, what is more important is the fact that you can feel you are cute because of the plastic surgery. After realizing this, I began to change my mind and thought that it’s okay to show my real face. There are some people asking me why I started to show my real face, but I don’t mind showing it. Rather, I think it’s more unnatural to hide it.
——The episode in which you talked about plastic surgery on YouTube were also went viral. Can you say something about it?
millna: I think the way plastic surgery is treated on the Internet is a little morbid. But I don’t intend to simply affirm plastic surgery, saying that you’re not pretty unless you have it, or that you have to keep getting it. I didn’t want to infuse this negative way of thinking into my fans by disclosing my experience of plastic surgery. Recently, I think plastic surgery is being treated in a more positive context than ever before. However, I think it’s better to go to a right place and have it after careful consideration. I’ve done a lot of research myself.
——You also did things like pink-skinned gal in your YouTube channel.
millna: I’ve loved pink since I was in elementary school, but I used to think to myself, “I’m not cute, so I shouldn’t have anything cute.” So I couldn’t wear anything pink or frilly as a child. So I guess it’s partly a reaction to that, but I can’t express my love for pink fully even if my clothes are all pink. So, I did it by making my skin pink as well.
——It must be quite tiring to make your skin pink as well.
millna: It needs a lot of work. I am using a pink grease paint sold at a place called “Sanzen” that sells cosmetics for the stage. But I don’t do it anymore because I often get this paint on my clothes and now we have to wear a face mask due to the pandemic.
——As you answered in another interview before, you don’t think becoming a doll is based on a desire for transformation, right?
millna: No, I don’t thinks so. I call it a desire for recovery. It’s a feeling of returning to the person you were supposed to be. I mentioned the body that is different from the one I wanted to choose earlier, but I don’t believe that the body I was born with is my own. It looks like mine, but I feel that it is a false body. So when I make my body pink or become a doll, I think I’m trying to bring back the person I was supposed to be. That’s how I feel.
——I think some people with such desires go for processing apps or virtual world, what do you think about that?
millna: I’ve tried a virtual YouTuber once, but I quit because I wanted to exist in the real world. I couldn’t get into it because I didn’t feel like the body in the virtual world was my own. So for the time being, I think I’ll stick to the physical. I think that’s the root of who I am.
——What is the purpose of your YouTube channel?
millna：I started it because I wanted to talk to everyone as if we are friends, and now I think YouTube is the place where I can dress and do whatever I want.
—— I think your commentaries on YouTube have also gained popularity as well. But I feel your attitude is distinct because you are not just there for your audience, but you are more like “I am me” and “you are you”.
millna: You are right. Thankfully, there are people who adore me, but I don’t want them to think that what I say is absolute. I want them to think for themselves and do what they want.
“Kawaii Cult” is a place where people can gather like an event
——Why did you decide to open a physical store, Kawaii Cult, in Koenji in September, utilizing crowdfunding?
millna：I’ve always wanted to open a physical store, but I wasn’t sure whether it would be successful. But in May of this year, I was spoken to by an acquaintance, and we worked together to prepare for the launch of a physical store. In the end, we couldn’t open the store, but I got the feeling that I could do it myself. So I looked for a place in my favorite town Koenji, and decided to open my own shop.
——What kind of items do you sell in your store?
millna：At the moment, it consists of vintage clothing and my original items. Basically, I’m thinking of selling my original products as my main focus, and I plan to add more original items in the future.
——How did you come up with the name “Kawaii Cult” for the store?
millna：I’ve been running an event called “Kawaii Cult” since around 2018, and I decided that if I were to open my own store one day, I would name it “Kawaii Cult”. I’m hoping it will be a place where people can gather like at events, but I also want people who don’t know me to come.
——Finally, do you have any plans for your life in the future?
millna：I don’t want to think about it, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out when the time comes. I’m a very optimistic person, so I don’t have any special plans.
——When I heard about your inferior complex, I thought you tend to think negatively, but actually you are quite positive.
millna: Looking back, I think I’ve always been positive. I didn’t like my face, and I was making fun of myself, so how I output was negative, but I think I had a positive mindset underneath. I’ve always tried to change the things I didn’t like into something positive, and I think that’s what led me to where I am today. Now that I finally have a physical store, which was my dream, I would like to keep working hard on it.