Let's Talk About the Orb

Below is an English translation of the third of 31 essays/short articles in Takemoto Novala's recently published 乙女のトリビア, or Trivia for Maidens, originally published in Zipper magazine.

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Let’s Talk About the Orb.
That Orb That You Yearn For.

Do you like orbs? You know, Vivienne Westwood’s symbol that looks like Saturn. I’ve been a fan for a long time, but even now, all it takes is to look at the orb for me to get excited.

So, about that orb that we all love so much, do you know why Vivienne chose this to be the image of her shop? Wait, before I get to that, I suppose I should first explain what the orb is. Let’s start by learning some basic knowledge about the orb.

Photograph of the actual official Sovereign’s Orb from the official website of the British Monarchy

To translate “orb” into Japanese gives us 王球 (royal sphere) or 宝珠 (crown jewel). This odd round ball is one of three royal regalia, forming a set of the orb, the crown, and the sceptre. Of course we have all seen photos and images of kings and queens wearing crowns and holding sceptres, but we don’t often see them holding orbs, so it wouldn’t be surprising if you were not aware that this is another way of showing royalty.

The Queen of England at her coronation. Photograph from the official website of the British Monarchy.

I’m not sure myself when the orb began appearing as a sign of royalty, but even back in the times of Alexander the Great, in 356 BC, who became king of Greece at the tender age of 20 and then went on to conquer Asia Minor and Egypt and attempt to become king of the world, he already had an orb in hand. If you should happen to have a deck of cards near you, pick it up and look now, at the image of the King of Clubs. This King of Clubs is actually traditionally Alexander the Great. And this Alexander the Great is pictured holding a sword and an orb.

Basically, the orb therefore represents the privilegentsia and power. England, where Vivienne was born, still has an active monarchy. Therefore, in English, this orb still has power as a royal symbol of the royal dynasty, along with the crown and the sceptre. Before Vivienne became very successful in the fashion world, she was one of the founding parents of the birth of the punk world, bringing the Sex Pistols to debut alongside her husband Malcolm McLaren. One of the Pistols’ most famous songs, God Save the Queen, is actually derisive of the Queen of England, and Vivienne herself at this time was making t-shirts with collages of Queen Elizabeth’s face. So why would Vivienne, with her rebellious message of “Royalty can all go to hell!” use the orb as her own symbol for her shop? If you’re a little bit clever, you should be able to understand, right? After all, the orb is a symbol of power and authority, so she used it as a parody of this.

The English people have a strange kind of irony to their feelings about the monarchy, condemning it as foolish while all the while deep down actually loving it. This can be seen not only in Vivienne Westwood’s creations, but also in the works of Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice in Wonderland, and Oscar Wilde, who wrote The Happy Prince. They write works disparaging the Royal Household, but still take pleasure in the fact that there still is one. In our own times, the English ballet choreographer Matthew Bourne’s remake of Swan Lake was a parody of the Royal Family as well.

What do you think? In learning the simple reasoning behind the symbol of Vivienne Westwood, without even trying, you’ve also learned abut the history of European monarchies from the time of Alexander the Great to the present! It’s a shame they won’t teach this kind of history in school. I bet your teachers don’t even know who Vivienne Westwood is… If you start to research fashion, however, at times it can be quite academic. Isn’t that interesting? By the way, while we’re on the subject of Vivienne Westwood, did you know that her famous Rocking Horse shoes are not actually named after a rock and roll horse? Actually, a rocking horse is a child’s toy in the shape of a horse but with a sled-like bottom rather than legs that rocks back and forth as you sit on it. The shape of the wood on the bottom of those unique shoes is similar to this toy, don’t you think?

Even amongst those who love Vivienne Westwood, there are few who stop to question just what the orb is. But I want you to wonder about this. In order to become a cultivated young maiden, of course!

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I think the information in today’s selection is probably not so new to most of my readers, but when you think about it as being written for Japanese girls, it makes much more sense. Of course knowledge about European style royal families is not as widespread in Japan as in the West. Even in America, we know a little something about the British Royal Family (though probably not enough to keep our friends across the pond from laughing at us!). Still, I wonder just how much of the information in this article is new information for many of you. After all, there are still “girls who wear Vivienne Westwood but don't even know the Sex Pistols.” And on the other hand, there are Sex Pistols fans who are entirely unaware of the connection between their beloved boys and one of the queens of the fashion world.

For myself, I was not previously aware of the orb as a royal symbol until I became a fan of Vivienne Westwood. I don’t even know if this is something to be embarrassed about or not, as I’m unaware to what degree it is common knowledge. I’m sure any readers from the UK (are there any of you out there?) would scoff at that! But the truth is it is still not as well-known as the crown and sceptre. In fact, I wonder if there are people who would see an image of the orb and think to themselves, “Wow! That looks almost just like Vivienne Westwood’s symbol!” How amusing! And yet, not entirely surprising. These days, the orb is known worldwide as Vivienne’s mark. Of course all lolitas know it, and those interested in fashion in general, but not only us! Even most anime and manga fans these days have seen it in great quantities because of the influence and popularity of Yazawa Ai’s masterpiece Nana, and many of them may even own replica jewelry! In fact, this replica jewelry has become so widespread that now we may find young girls in any mall across America wearing an orb who are not only unaware of its royal origins, but also completely unaware of the name Vivienne Westwood. I guess Novala had more to worry about than just the Vivienne fans who’ve never listened to punk!


Anonymous said...
March 3, 2010 at 7:38 PM

I've always wondered why the nobles hold those, and then I wonder do they ever get tired of holding those all day! XD

The Osaka Koneko said...
March 3, 2010 at 7:51 PM

The British Sovereign's Orb pictured above weighs 1.32 kg - nearly 3 pounds! I don't think they actually carry them around..though perhaps someone with more knowledge will give more information! :)

Caro-chan said...
March 3, 2010 at 9:54 PM

XD I always thought that orb was something the Pope held. Thanks for translating this! I learned something new!

Alice said...
March 4, 2010 at 8:38 AM

I love the part where the rockinghorse shoe is described. :3

Anonymous said...
March 4, 2010 at 11:29 AM

It's the royal hand grenade

The Osaka Koneko said...
March 4, 2010 at 11:34 AM

The Holy Hand Grenade, of Antioch to be exact. Get it right! XDXD

jordana said...
March 6, 2010 at 6:53 PM

i am really liking your blog! i came to lolita sort of backwards (from vw more than from japan) so it is nice to get the japanese take on it and bring it around full circle again (and to make up for my woeful ignorance of novala). and to see your commentary too :)

The Osaka Koneko said...
March 8, 2010 at 10:39 AM

Thanks Jordana! ♥
It's great to see that there are indeed people who came to lolita from a very fashion-oriented route, rather than the stereotypical anime or visual kei routes. I don't know if I would ever have found it myself had I not lived in Osaka and seen girls wearing it...I had only the vaguest idea of it before I moved there, despite having designed a few things on my own that were surprisingly similar despite never having known it! Lolitas are often given such a bad rep because of the connections to otaku-dom that it's great to remember that there are people who found it through more widely accepted fashions such as Vivienne! ♥

Алина Торовец said...
May 12, 2015 at 2:01 PM

Thank you very much for this information!))

Dina Ramm said...
October 8, 2015 at 3:52 AM

The orb has three elements: The Cross on top, below a crown, and then a ball. Those elements symbolize the queen/king under God for the people. At least that's what the monarchy would say. I do agree that it possibly was conceived as a parody of the queen but these days Westwood speaks quite fondly of the Queen and Prince Charles....

Dina Ramm said...
October 8, 2015 at 3:53 AM

The orb has three elements: The Cross on top, below a crown, and then a ball. Those elements symbolize the queen/king under God for the people. At least that's what the monarchy would say. I do agree that it possibly was conceived as a parody of the queen but these days Westwood speaks quite fondly of the Queen and Prince Charles....

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