After more than a year of virtual events for the j-fashion community, the possibility of having large scale conventions and meet-ups in the United States looks like more and more like a reality. One of the events scheduled for 2021 is the Royal Vegas Retreat, hosted by the Pretty Princess Club. Founder Nif graciously agreed to answer some questions about this new event and shed some light on the logistics of planning (and then postponing) a large scale j-fashion event.
Pretty Princess Club is the organization I founded in late 2018 with the goal of putting on large-scale Lolita fashion events. At the time, I and a few others saw a gap in convention-sized J-fashion events; there are so many Lolitas and J-fashionistas on the west coast of the US, but at the time, there weren’t any events catering to that market. I think of the Pretty Princess Club as me, our volunteer staff, and all of our attendees.
I’ve been into Lolita fashion for around 6 years now. I was big into anime, manga, and cosplay as a kid, and I found out about Japanese alternative fashion and Lolita fashion through Shojo Beat magazine. At the time, I remember thinking, “who would spend that much money on a dress that looks like a costume” – probably specifically looking at older Alice and the Pirates releases – “when I could sew myself a costume on the cheap.” After a bit of a hiatus during college, I started pursuing cosplay with renewed dedication. One day, I was looking for more resources and inspiration for cosplay, and a “friend” pointed me towards an anonymous message board where cosplay discussion shares space with Lolita fashion. At the time, the Holy Lantern re-release was all anyone was talking about. I had the same feeling of “who would spend that much money on this wacky dress,” but after scrolling past a picture of the lavender OP a few times, I found myself wanting to wear it. The rest was history.
As you might know, I’m actually based out of Seattle, WA. My now-husband and I took a few trips to Las Vegas at a pivotal moment in our relationship. The first time we went, we were having kind of a rough time emotionally. I was always broke due to overspending, and we had some other issues that were affecting our mental health. We managed to scrape together enough money, which wasn’t actually that much, for a trip that felt really decadent and left us both feeling renewed. We loved it so much, we kept coming back. I always joke and say that since I’m allergic to pollen, I just come to Las Vegas to be able to breathe through my nose again – my allergies disappear out there. But there is something about the constant stimulation, excitement, and bright lights that pleases my brain.
I used a few different strategies to get the word out. One thing that was really critical was consistent posting on Instagram. It took me a while to get it right, and now we’re still in “slowmode” just given that the pandemic is ongoing still, but once I had plenty of content – particularly pictures of Lolita fashion meetups – and was able to stick to about 4 days a week of posting, our engagement really took off.
I’m also a shameless opportunist. I had a bunch of fliers printed for the event, and pre-COVID I would hand them out anywhere that felt appropriate. I try to be cognizant of who and what should be the main focus, but when there are Lolitas about, I try to get my fliers and business cards into their hands. I remember being at Paradiso in 2019, and after the Midwest Ouji-Sama pageant was over, I went around to every table and handed out fliers.
Another thing that was really important was sponsoring other events. We had a big batch of cute merch items made, handy things like nail care kits, sewing kits, and cheeky things like bottle openers and plastic shot glasses. We put these together into “con survival kits” and sent them to events like Kei Con in Toronto and La Fete de Versailles in Guadalajara. Being generous whenever possible is one of the best things we did to make friends and fans.
We also had a “roadshow” strategy, where we’d go to anime cons in places we were trying to target like the Bay Area and Los Angeles. We’d set up a booth, take people’s photos, and sign them up for our email list. Then, we’d hold a little meetup somewhere close by to connect directly with the community. We made some really incredible connections this way.
We made our first connections with vendors, special guests, and sponsors in person as well, just by going up to folks and saying, “Hey, I like your stuff! I’m putting on an event in Las Vegas and I’d love you to be there.” This worked a surprising amount of the time, and once again, we met some of the best people doing this. For vendors specifically, we also got feedback from some interested folks about who they’d like to see at our event and emailed them directly with an invite.
Above all else, the location. We saw that people would travel across the country to go to a large-scale J-fashion event, so I thought: why not put one on in a major tourist destination? The MGM Grand is directly on the Vegas Strip, which gives you access to a whole world of entertainment, food and drink, and other fun stuff without having to catch a cab. There are affordable direct flights from nearly every major city in the US to Las Vegas, and Las Vegas in general allows you to choose your price point – you can go all out, or stick to your budget and have an incredible time either way. In addition, the event is a full weekend long, which makes it easy to justify planning a vacation around it. It is set up as a tourist-first event for a primarily adult crowd who is interested in shopping, learning, and partying with other fashionistas.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the venue’s response and how quickly and easily they seem to “get it.” The majority of folks I’ve worked with at the venue hadn’t heard of Lolita fashion before encountering Royal Vegas Retreat, but they all seem to take it in stride. I generally show them our website and Instagram and they’ll be like “oh wow, this is really cool!” They understood the theme of our event, Alice in Vegas, and got really excited about it. Nobody’s been weird about it at all or gotten the wrong idea, as some people do when they hear the name “Lolita fashion.”
A challenge specific to Las Vegas is the local laws and the presence of the Nevada gaming board. When you buy your ticket, you might notice there’s a special tax on it notated “Nevada LET.” Fashion shows are an important part of our content, and those fall under the legal category of “live entertainment,” which means that we are liable for a tax that the gaming board receives, and we’re also responsible for reporting it correctly to the venue and selling tickets through an approved method.
There is also a logistics challenge inherent in putting on an event many miles away from where you live. There are a lot of things that we are responsible for getting to the venue in time for the event, like remote vending shipments, clothing racks, streaming equipment, etc. Professional logistics services are incredibly expensive, so it’s on us to figure out the best way to get everything to the right place at the right time.
That said, the benefits outweigh the challenges. Las Vegas is built for scale, and nearly every resort on the strip has a conference center. We were able to figure out which venue had the right balance of affordability and opulence. Additionally, as a consequence of being designed for scale, Las Vegas has a few good accessibility features: mobility scooters widely available, wide hallways, elevators and escalators. The more needs you can accommodate, the more people you can get in the door.
In summer 2020, we saw that the situation with respect to COVID was not improving, and there really was no way we could safely move forward with an in-person event. At that point, the most obvious path forward was to postpone by a year, because that’s what everyone else was doing. We successfully negotiated that with the venue and put on a virtual event in 2020 instead (which was a weekend before our original dates because that worked better for our partner organization, JFashion on Demand). This year, the conversation is very different. The venue has a big role in these conversations, and any venue you may encounter right now is trying to put on events again. What we’ve done on our side is discuss what we can do to make it safe. I am very lucky to be working with folks who run their own conventions and to be able to pick their brains on how they’re making their event as safe as possible. That’s how we came up with the list of restrictions we’ve put together.
Another thing we did was poll our attendees with a survey about concerns related to COVID. The situation was changing so rapidly that by the time we looked at the survey results, some of the concerns were genuinely no longer relevant.
The most important thing is that we have a few dates on our schedule that are internal checkpoints for the viability of the event. When those dates come up, we can look at the situation and say “is it still reasonable to try and put on our event this year, or do we need to find an alternative path forward.” We’ll plan to run our COVID concerns survey again closer to the event and update our “what’s changing” guidance. A lot of the conversation is around flexibility and pursuing multiple options when the future is still uncertain.
The biggest thing we did was cut ties with a guest that directly harmed the Black community. Moving forward, we’re going to have more process around how we pick our guests. We also reached out to some really cool people that truly do represent the community’s politics, and we’re hoping to have them at our event this year. We keep a running, internal banlist of bad actors, racists, bigots, etc. that we’re happy to share with any other event.
A lot of the inclusion features of our event are kind of “baked in”: a physically accessible venue, a focus on affordability, and an event format where attendees feel comfortable choosing their own adventure and sliding in and out as they need. We also got feedback early on saying that we needed to prioritize seating throughout the event, at content like dances, or while waiting in line. We’re going to work with the venue on making sure that happens. Polling attendees for their dietary restrictions is also important. We will ensure everyone at tea has a complete teatime experience, and they’re not stuck in their chair watching everyone else eat.
Another thing we did was lower the risk inherent in vending at a new event by waiving the costs for our vendors, in hopes that that would help attract a diverse cohort of vendors. I think that was a good step, but moving forward, we need to be proactive about inviting vendors and guests that represent the whole Lolita fashion community.
Another barrier we need to confront, if we keep our event in Vegas, is sensory-friendliness. I’d love for us to have the space for quiet rooms, for one thing.
I am so excited for attendees who are seeing the Vegas Strip for the first time. We are also devoting a ton of our space to shopping, and I can’t wait for folks to see the variety of vendors and goods we’re able to bring in from around the world.
Honestly, just being able to have a big in-person event will feel monumental. There is nothing in the world like seeing a space full of Lolitas and J-fashionistas all looking their best and wearing outfits that they spent weeks or months planning. I can’t wait for all of us to remember that feeling again. It’s bringing tears to my eyes just thinking about it.
Okay, I’m going to disclaim right off the bat that nothing can match the majesty of the bathroom lighting at the Sheraton in Stamford, CT where Rufflecon was held. But I did specifically test the lighting in the bathrooms, and it’ll do. The lighting inside the vending areas and main stage space is fine, but you’ll really want to head into the convention center space – it is full of natural light and gorgeous (if unconventional) light fixtures, and cute seating areas tucked into corners that I think will work really well for impromptu photo shoots. Also, the elevator lobby of the hotel has a fountain in it, and the lighting in there is outstanding. I’m calling it now: every friend group is going to have a “fountain snap.” We’ll see if I’m right!
I just want to thank everyone who has had faith in our event. I know that there is a healthy degree of skepticism around any new activity in the global community, so when people push past that and see something they genuinely vibe with, that means so much to me. I appreciate everyone’s patience as we get everything together on our side. I never predicted our event would be derailed by a global pandemic, and the support that I’ve received from the community has really touched me.
I will tell anyone who asks that the best part of planning RVR 2021 is the people I’ve met. We are an incredible, resilient community of hobbyists, and the more that we pull together to support our most marginalized members, the stronger we’ll be. I hope everyone I work with continues to keep their politics in Lolita fashion, and I promise to do the same.
Royal Vegas Retreat is currently scheduled for November 19-21, 2021 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV. You can reserve your tickets for the event beginning Saturday, June 26, 2021. General Admission and VIP tickets will be available. The cost for reserving your GA ticket is $5 and the cost for reserving your VIP ticket is $20. Attendees will be asked to pay the balance of their tickets on August 14, 2021 which is $120 for GA and $180 for VIP. Check out their website for more details.
By day, Jenna is a legal professional living in Los Angeles, California. By night (and weekends), she is a frill wearing monster who loves Innocent World and lolita indie brands. When she isn’t taking mirror selfies of her coordinates, she enjoys reading comic books, playing board games, and snuggling with her pup, Lily. You can see her mirror selfies on her instagram @lovelylaceandlies and contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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