Originally from Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture, Ayaka Kato came to Singapore in 2013 to further her studies in printmaking at the Lasalle College of The Arts, and never left. Instead, the 24-year-old who now works in the hospitality industry has made the Little Red Dot her creative canvas as she dabbles in photography on the sideline, chronicling the lesser-known facets of urban living in Singapore on film photographs (just browse through her Instagram for proof).

Just like her photos which gravitate towards sub-cultural themes, the mild-mannered Kato channels the same aesthetic that has come to define the punk, Gothic, Lolita and Harajuku movements – but filtered in an effortless manner. Peek through her wardrobe and you’ll see pieces like pretty summer dresses, patent leather items and footwear with soles that of Spice Girls proportions. Her mantra to pulling it all off: “It’s a bit like cosplay I guess. Just that I don’t dress as a specific character but depending on what I’m up to on that day and how I want to look like I’ll dress differently.”

Kato mixes original vintage pieces with her predominantly Harajuku staples.

Describe your sense of style.

Dasai or “uncool” in Japanese.”

Do you think you’re influenced a lot by Japanese fashion?

“Definitely, especially Japanese subcultures like Gothic Lolita, punk, Aomoji-kei (girly fashion). I got interested in fashion when I first saw gothic Lolitas although I didn’t dress like them. That’s how I discovered Harajuku street style and till now it has a big influence on me.”

Why do you think the Japanese seem to have a natural sense of style and effortlessness in what they wear?

“Maybe it’s the wabi-sabi – the acceptance of imperfection – thing? I’m not sure about other people but I do not think you have to be 100 per cent cool or fashionable. I think a little imperfection makes it more real, individualistic, relaxed, and sometimes that adds uniqueness to your style.”

Besides collecting kitschy-cute items like this chandelier hanger she bought in Japan, Kato has a huge collection of Indian bangles from Little India.

There is a sense of kawaii in some of your items.

“Although I don’t dress fully kawaii I do like kawaii things like my Sailor Moon makeup collection or the kitsch and quirky items I have.”

What is one fashion item that you collect a lot?

“Piercings (including earrings and septum pieces) I do love other accessories like rings but I’m usually busy with my hands taking photos, drawing, or making something. So I prefer to keep my hands empty.

What is a recent purchase?

“A Blue Roses by Edward Meadham sweater (which she wore for the photo shoot). I’ve always loved his design since his Meadham Kirchhoff days but sadly that brand does not exist anymore. I was really happy that he started designing again when he started his solo [brand] and I just had to buy a piece of his work.”

Dressing up is “a bit like cosplay” according to Kato.

Who are your fashion idols?

“I’m inspired by lots of people but I enjoy looking at photos of Yu Masui on Instagram. I love his quirky and colourful style and I love that he posts not only about fashion but also things like travelling and food. And when he does post about fashion, it’s not only about famous big name brands but also local or new brands. Plus, his posts are quite funny. Another person would be (noise rock musician) Katie Jane Garside. My goth, punk, vintage style is inspired by her.”

Most of this freelance photographer’s jewellery are vintage finds or obtained from thrift stores.

I love that you have a big collection of traditional Indian bracelets. How many pieces do you own?

“I’ve never counted them before but I have a lot. I left some in Japan – what I have in Singapore isn’t the full collection. But if I have to wear all of my bangles that I own here, I’ll definitely need more than two hands to fit them all.”

The go-to brand for basics, and why?

“Uniqlo, especially the Uniqlo U range which always has some interesting details and is affordable too.”

The go-to brand for shoes, and why?

Dr. Martens – the shoes go well with many different styles of outfits I own. I can wear them with my vintage dress, my favourite band T-shirt and jeans, or even a kimono. And it’s hardy and comfortable.”

The go-to brand for costume jewellery, and why?

“I don’t really have a specific brand. Most of my accessories are from thrift shops which are more unique than other accessories that you can find now.”

Photography Tan Wei Te