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Photographer highlights contrast between Japan, Canada fashions

By Jareen Imam, Special to CNN
  • Fashion is about personality, freelance photographer Paul Hillier says
  • Culture plays a huge role in fashion for both Osaka and Toronto, he says
  • Hillier has found that Osaka fashion differs greatly from other Japanese style
  • He says every district in Toronto has its own unique fashion sense
  • Fashion and Style
  • Osaka
  • Toronto
  • Photography

(CNN) -- Paul Hillier never gave much thought to fashion.

"My idea of fashion was finding the cheapest pair of jeans," the Toronto-based freelance photographer said.

But seeing Hillier's street fashion photography, you might find that hard to believe. His eye-catching photographs showcase not only style, but also attitude. Hillier says that it was a trip to Japan and a street fashion magazine called Fruits that ignited his interest in street style.

"When I went to Japan, I thought, 'Well, why can't I do this?' "

Japan is noted for thought-provoking fashion, like Harajuku, a self-expressive style that has been adopted by many Japanese youths in the Harajuku train station area. The style is a combination of looks, ranging from the dark and elegant Gothic style to the sweet Victorian Lolita fashion.

Japanese fashion is iconic, partly thanks to its being showcased by celebrities like Gwen Stefani. But it can be very different from its Hollywood portrayal.

"The Japanese are a keen society, so it's important not to stand out. There's a proverb in Japan: The nail which stands out gets hammered down," Hillier said.

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One of the beauties of Japanese fashion is not only its eye-catching, extreme style, but its ability to also be soft, clean and subtle, Hillier said. The transformative nature of Japanese fashion is very different from Toronto style, which focuses more on a sleek, modern-punk look.

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"Style in Toronto is very independent, while in Japan, there is a sense of community which is integrated into their fashion," he said.

Traveling between two strikingly different cities, Hillier finds a sense of style in every corner. Normally, he is not looking to find the latest fashionista. Instead, he looks for people who are obviously stylish, but are also easy to talk to.

Below, Hillier explains Toronto and Osaka fashions.

CNN: What inspired you to start photographing street fashion?

Hillier: It blended in with my photography. I used to go to different conventions where people dressed up in cartoon costumes, and street fashion is sort of the same. People are dressing up to make a statement about themselves. The words don't capture the meaning unless you capture the picture.

CNN: Tell us about Osaka style.

Hillier: The Japanese are very conscious of what they are wearing. There is a sense of community, but Osaka is considered the black sheep of Japan, fashion-wise. It's very colorful, and its fashion is very loud and independent. For example, the Osaka "obachan" grandmothers are known for being very independent. I've seen these older women with colorful dyed hair -- bright greens, reds and blues.

CNN: Can you describe fashion in Toronto?

Hillier: Toronto fashion is divided up into districts. Queens Street is traditionally considered Toronto's fashion district, but I see it as an area where you can find a lot of punky fashion.

CNN: How do these cities differ in style?

Hillier: People in Toronto follow fashion, but the typical person in Toronto dresses from the heart. They dress in clothing they want to feel comfortable in, and they're not really concerned about how others view them. So people who stand out, really stand out in the crowd in Toronto.

CNN: What are some similarities when it comes to fashion?

Hillier: Both cities have a great fashion district. In Osaka, it is "Amemura," which is called the American district. That is the young person's hip fashion district, while in Toronto it is Queens Street.

CNN: What influences street fashion in those cities?

Hillier: Culture has a huge part of it, but you can't design in a box. You can't create fashion without outside influences. Culture, friends and media all come into play on how people display themselves.

CNN: Have you spotted a popular look while photographing people?

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Hillier: In Toronto, people play a lot more on how they use vintage clothing and just kind of piecing it together into an outfit.

CNN: Are there certain trends that you only see in Toronto or in Osaka?

Hillier: The way I describe Japan would be that it's Japan. It's so unique, and there is a lot of attention to detail. In Toronto, the typical person is practical. For example, I noticed that thigh-high pirate boots in Japan are usually worn with high heels, but in Toronto, those same boots are flat-heeled.

CNN: What do you think that means in terms of Japanese style?

Hillier: If you live in the city in Japan, you live in your heels. I used to teach younger kids in Japan, and they would be decked out. Some would wear little heels on their booties.

CNN: What makes you stop and snap a photo of someone?

Hillier: Personality. Fashion is an extension of one's self. If they look like someone I want to talk to, then I go up to them. For street fashion in particular, the person who stands out in the crowd and has a unique attitude draws in my attention.

CNN: Why does personality matter in street fashion?

Hillier: The personality always comes across in the picture. You just have to find it in your lenses. Photography in its core is a collaborative effort; it's almost like choosing a partner.

CNN: What is your favorite thing about fashion?

Hillier: I like they way it communicates who a person is at that time. You can tell a lot about somebody by the shoes they wear; you can almost always profile a person based on what they are wearing.

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