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In a time when style is becoming increasingly generic, few people use fashion as a true means of self-expression. Motofumi ‘Poggy’ Kogi is one of them. With a deep understanding of both cultural and technical aspects of fashion, his unique blend of sartorial and streetwear has been captured by street style photographers around the world. In return, he makes his knowledge and style accessible to the public as the director of the Japanese store United Arrows & Sons. Now, he is taking a step further in a recent collaboration with Levi’s Made & Crafted, for which he created a capsule collection embodying a mix of streetwear, well-crafted workwear and vintage classics.
You are known for your authentic style, which is a mix of streetwear and sartorial. How did both of these passions for heritage and the streetwear culture come to be?
The starting point was a collection of very specialised Japanese fashion magazines. They gave in-depth information about a specific style or even a specific item. For example, there was an issue that looked at jeans in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. The content was very focused on the technical aspects of a piece, such as fabric and construction. Reading all these magazines was very important to me, as it allowed me to follow and learn about the evolution of garments and sneakers.
Furthermore, I’ve always had a very specific taste and a desire to combine different things. Back in the days, there were many second-hand shops run by older Japanese people. They had strict rules – they’d say, “With this item, you must wear this, only this”. I preferred more freedom in combining, like mixing streetwear and vintage. It’s not easy, but it is interesting and it is my personal adventure. 
What makes an outfit great, according to you?
The most important aspect is personality and having your own style. When someone is wearing all designer items, that person is essentially wearing a designer’s personality. But when wearing more basic garments, such as Levi’s denim, for example, people can truly express themselves. When designing a piece, I like adding golden elements such as buttons or trims, giving it just a hint of my own style whilst keeping it manageable for other people to adjust it and wear it in their own way. I don’t want to impose my style on others but rather make something that can be used by different people to express their personality. 
You are also known for wearing a lot of vintage garments. What is it about vintage that appeals to you?
I’m not sure if it is a specific attitude of the Japanese consumer, but when they wear only designer pieces, they get a bit ashamed as they become just a representative of a designer’s style. Many of them opt to wear a vintage garment; that way, they intentionally destroy their head-to-toe designer look. I think vintage items can add a lot of personality to an outfit. Most young people are very good at combining them: they can wear very old, torn or even dirty things because they are usually not rich, something they can show without any problem. When people get older, they often seek vintage pieces of a higher quality. These pieces can give deeper character to someone’s personal style.

I suppose what you are saying is that style is a matter of authenticity, which is quite a discussed topic in the fashion industry right now. Why do you think there is so much controversy or discussion about this topic?
As you know, today with Instagram and other social media networks, information travels almost at the speed of light. Everyone around the world is seeing the same images or reading the same texts and, as a result, everyone has the same style. The Internet has turned us all into replicas of each other, it’s so boring! I think that’s the reason why people right now are looking for their own style, for authenticity. I repeat to myself very often that there’s a difference between style and fashion. Fashion is something that is imposed and you simply follow the trends. Style is what you have deep within yourself; you could wear any garment and make it distinctive. That’s why people are talking about the authentic aspect of each other.
You are the creative director of United Arrows & Sons, would you say the store is a personal project or a reflection of your personality?
United Arrows & Sons is definitely my personal expression. But like I mentioned before, I don’t want to impose my style on other people. I want to give them certain items that will help them express themselves.
You have already collaborated many times under the name of United Arrows & Sons, and now you have done a collaboration with Levi’s Made & Crafted under your own (nick)name. What makes a good collaboration, according to you?
The term collaboration was first heard in Japanese fashion in the ‘90s. Back then, there were a lot of specialists in Harajuku. These people had great knowledge about the product they were selling, but it was so niche they couldn’t do business properly. That’s when they would work together with specialists from a different trade, and this collaboration was based on mutual respect. Nowadays, I feel like a lot of big brands are collaborating with other big brands purely for the publicity and without any real exchange of knowledge. However, that is exactly what a good collaboration is about: mutual respect and an exchange of knowledge from different fields.

“Nowadays, I feel like a lot of big brands are collaborating with other big brands purely for the publicity and without any real exchange of knowledge. However, that is exactly what a good collaboration is about: mutual respect and an exchange of knowledge from different fields.”
Could you tell us a little more about the collaboration with Levi’s Made & Crafted? How were you first approached by the brand?
The first contact I had with Levi’s was when I got invited to their archives in San Francisco. I’ve loved the brand ever since I was in high school, so that experience had quite an impact on me. In the archives, I saw so many designs, sketches and pictures. From there, I was able to choose from vintage items that could be tuned with my own style, which was really great.
Does the collection have any direct inspirations?
All the items have different backgrounds. One of the designs is based on a garment I brought from Japan. A friend of mine had a big collection of vintage pieces, including a pair of trousers worn by the famous actor Steve McQueen. Originally, the pants were not made from denim, but I asked Levi’s to do so and I’m very happy with the result.
What I find remarkable about this collection is that it contains a combination of respect for Levi’s Strauss heritage as well as your personal style. Was this something that you strived for or was it more the result of a subconscious mutual understanding?
I don’t think it’s a tendency of me, personally, but rather because I’m Japanese. It is the very nature of our culture. All Americans used to be Europeans, coming from England or Ireland to the United States and completely changing their traditional ways. Americans are always seeking innovation and, as a result, they have created many good brands – but they also disappear quickly. Us Japanese don’t have the skill to change something completely, but we can indicate the genuinely good aspects of things and hold on to them. Therefore, a lot of Japanese brands are built on a rich heritage. They will evolve over time, but never transform completely. It’s a different approach and one that has dictated the outcome of the Levi’s collaboration.

Your job has required you to travel all around the world, what are some of the things you have learned whilst travelling?
As we are at the Paris Fashion Week right now, I can tell you there are some things I noticed when attending fashion weeks in different cities. First of all, I can never go to two different places with the same suit. In Milan, for example, I can wear a real tailor-made suit and will blend in quite well with the Italian environment. I can’t wear the same suit here, in Paris, as French elegance is something different and doesn’t allow for too tailored garments.
Another thing I notice is the way brands try to attract buyers like me. In the United States, they will speak of a certain celebrity that wears the garment. In Europe, they talk more about the history, philosophy and cultural background of an item. And in Japan, we have a much more technical approach and mostly talk about construction and fabrics. This completely different approach to talking about the same item is something that I notice every time I travel.
Nowadays, the world seems a lot smaller due to the Internet and social media. What are some of the ups and downsides to this for a retailer such as United Arrows & Sons?
Allow me to give you an example. Around 2008 and 2009, we started seeing an increasing number of street photographers uploading their pictures on blogs. As a result, the style of the people photographed was immediately broadcasted all over the world to an enormous amount of viewers. So something could go from a small personal styling detail to an international trend, almost overnight. I won’t say it is positive or negative, but it’s interesting.
Do you have any more exciting collaborations planned for the future? 
I’m always seeking new possible collaborations. Right now, I’m playing with the idea of collaborating with a very traditional European craftsman, so I can mix my street style with a very established and traditional way of working. But I must admit that being able to collaborate with Levi’s was already a huge thing for me. You could compare it to unexpectedly meeting a beautiful girl. I was very happy with that.

Marjolijn Oostermeijer
Yoshiki Suzuki

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