No matter how sad or gloomy I’m feeling I can always look at my phone for a quick pick-me-up. No, it isn’t a picture of my friends, or an inspirational “I love you hold on <3” text from my mom- it’s my phone case. The case was an impromptu gift from a friend and it does hold sentimental value. I can’t look at it without thinking about her snatching the case from my hand and slamming it on the clerk’s counter denying my meek and humble ‘no’s and ‘you don’t have to’s with “I’m buying you this case, stop saying no, just take it.” The case is delicate, embellished with cabochon pearls, flowers, and its centerpiece- a regal quinceanera pink cat. With unforeseen durability, the beads have stayed have stayed on for a surprisingly long time. I’d like to think that the state of the case is symbolic of our friendship, and as long as the glue holds down rows of cabochon pearls and flowers, we can always count on one another. A flower has broken off. I hope this isn’t the end.
But besides its sentimental value, the case itself is beautiful. I find myself attracted to the kitschy and tacky accessories that modern minimalism has regarded as garbage. Tacky isn’t a bad word to me. I love things that are splattered with glitter, color, sparkle, fur, and animal print- like Lisa Frank regurgitated her soul onto a surface and sold it for $4.99 in Chinatown. I’d rather live in an Afghan Poppy Palace than a Mies, and I prefer to indulge my eyes in the art of Japanese nail studio Jill and Lovers than anything Modrian could make. It’s not to say I don’t value minimalism or the chicness of the understated, but much like you can’t deny the irresistibility of caramel-filled brownies topped with nuts and powdered sugar, my eyes can’t stop from feeling gorged when I see something shiny and cute.
Japan has taken this feast for the eyes to new levels with Decoden. The term comes from a mix of decoration and denwa, the Japanese term for phone. Decoden artists make miniature sweets from polymer clay and resin that replace the sweetness of pastries with saccharine cuteness. Decoden isn’t just child’s play- to what seems like kid stuff in America is a style that is acceptable among all ages in Japan. Decoden has spread beyond phone decorations to all types of electronics from tablets to portable game systems. Decoden is also popular among nail artists. Popular subjects in decoden art include food, bows, Hello Kitty, and more recently creepy cute. Creepy cute takes elements of macabre like bones, spiders, organs, and cobwebs and blends them with the sticky cuteness of decoden.
Decoden is not at all subdued nor does it adhere to modern rules of taste. To me, decoden is purposely over-the-top and embodies the decadent indulgence that is reminiscent of Rococo. Decoden is whimsical and carefree and reminds me of a childhood when I didn’t have to worry about student loan debt or the job market or health insurance. So it doesn’t surprise me that so many people find joy from decoden. It is perhaps one of the only things capable of escaping the wrath of my depressive cynicism and pessimism.
Checkout this video of a a decoden notebook demonstration
Because of the labor involved, decadent decoden isn’t cheap. Custom orders through websites like Etsy or EBay can cost upwards of $100. However many online stores sell decoden materials, opening up the possibility of designing and making your own decoden. Just searching decoden on Etsy yields over 6,000 results: from phone cases, to shoes, to sunglasses. Decoden miniatures can be handmade from clays and resins, meaning that anything you can make (or find a mold for) can be the feature of a decoden phone case accompanied by rhinestones, faux whipped cream, lace, and pearls. I find that most of the joy of decoden comes from creation. So much time and effort is invested into decoden that it’s impossible to not form some sort of attachment to the art you make. And if you make it yourself it is truly yours- unique and one of a kind.
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