When Hans Christian Anderson first wrote The Little Mermaid, he probably didn’t envision her washed up on Punggol Beach with fish roe on her cheeks.
Sushi すし is an exploratory shoot on all things fishy and fashion, by fashion photography duo Nicole Ngai and Julian Tan. Conceptualised over a casual lunch (not of sushi), the pair fell into the idea of an Asian mermaid princess – inspired by Japanese street fashion and, well, sushi.
Mermaids have become commonplace in fashion these days. On the pages of magazines: weightless, silky locks in a fluid mass underwater; the soft, ethereal glow of a model’s porcelain skin. But wait. Where are the Asian mermaids?
While the mermaid mythos has been largely presented as a Western concept, the tale runs deep in Asian folklore too. In Japan, the ningyo is a mysterious fish-like creature from Japanese folk tales, said to give longevity when eaten; but bring calamity and misfortune to whomsoever catches it.
It seems that, across cultures, their tendency towards dark, watery danger is something collectively agreed upon. But mermaids in Japan are far less attractive than their counterparts singing siren songs in the West. The ningyo is described as having the top half of a monkey and the bottom half of a fish – which might explain why we don’t see them in Vogue much.
Enter the duo’s new-age, Asian mermaid space princess here to change the game. Fresh from the ocean, she sports a tumble of rice-white tulle and lace; salty, sea-slicked hair; and fish roe for blusher. Topped off with a generous dusting of other-worldly glitter, she’s no doubt the catch of the day.
Ngai and Tan work telepathically, their on-set chemistry bolstered by a common appreciation for indie and Japanese street fashion. As the sun reaches high in the sky, the make-believe life of their sea goddess of the orient fully takes form. On land, she deceptively sheds her tail and scales – a dainty geisha wrapped in a wedding ceremonial kimono, washed ashore awaiting her own prince. She claims the beach as her own, on two legs vulnerable yet formidable all at once. In time she must return to the sea; but for now, a walking sushi angel she remains.
As she floats mysteriously across the sand, a vision of wet gauze and sparkle, it’s certain Ariel would give anything to be part of this world.
And as the Japanese would say, itadakimasu いただきます. Enjoy.