Kozaburo Akasaka had not always intended to pursue a career in fashion. Long before he was learning about colour, texture and form at Central Saint Martins and the Parsons School of Design, he was a philosophy student at Tokyo’s Toyo University, spending his days learning about epistemology, truth and ethics.
Since 2017, Akasaka has been at the helm of Kozaburo, a menswear label based in New York City. Last year, after being named a finalist for the prestigious CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund, Kozaburo made its runway debut at New York Fashion Week with a collection titled, The Land of the Setting Sun. Inspired by an imaginary utopia where dragons and snakes dance and glide across the world, the collection presented a beautiful, swirling vision of human culture and folklore.
Akasaka is a gifted storyteller. He is a philosopher at heart; thoughtful and considerate with his words, and curious and open-minded in his approach. Here, Akasaka shows us what it means to create with intention.
You grew up in Tokyo in the 1990s, which was a dynamic, robust era of fashion — particularly in the world of streetwear. What’s your earliest memory of fashion?
The grunge movement had a significant impact on my perception of fashion and aesthetics at the time. In the 90s, Tokyo was experiencing a decline in its economy, but there was still a strong presence of both native and multicultural influences, especially from the West. This resulted in a crossover of styles in both fashion and music, where domestic and overseas artists and brands began to collaborate, dominating the youth culture in areas like Harajuku and Urahara.
You studied philosophy at Toyo University before dropping out in your final year to study abroad. For me, the relationship between fashion and philosophy is profound, but I wanted to ask: how do you see these two fields converging and colliding in your practice?
My practice is based on the belief that fashion has no limitations. Philosophy and spirituality are at the core of my interests, and I see myself in a position of exploring the space where both philosophy and fashion intertwine.
What have your studies in philosophy taught you about the act of creation?
Always seek truth, freedom, and beauty while showing empathy and universal consciousness.
Kozaburo has been around for some time now. When you compare the brand today to the brand you launched in 2017, what’s changed? Is there anything that has surprised you about the way that the brand has grown and evolved over the years?
Since 2017, our brand has been committed to keeping a small team and proceeding with caution and steadiness for each step we take. The most surprising thing is that since around the time the pandemic hit, we have faced significant challenges in the fashion industry and the world in general. However, despite these challenges, we have managed to showcase our vision in non-traditional ways of fashion and also launched our sub-line Wave of Sand. We have built strong audiences, communities, and connections across the globe, and I truly appreciate those who support and believe in our brand's vision.
As someone who spent a lot of time in Japan’s underground music scene in the 1990s, I’m curious to know if you think digital culture has changed the way we interact and engage with subcultures?
I believe that digital culture has revolutionised the way we engage with subcultures due to the rapidity of communication and the concept of success. While it has provided the opportunity for quick growth and instant popularity, it has also been detrimental to the long-term sustainability of the idea and the brand.
You made your New York runway debut at New York Fashion Week last year with a Spring/ Summer collection titled The Land of the Setting Sun. I was moved by your collection note, and how you spoke of the circularity and diversity of the universe and all its inhabitants. Can you expand on some of the concepts that underpinned your SS2024 collection?
The Land of the Setting Sun is a concept that has been a recurring vision for our brand in the past few seasons. It is a place that lies somewhere between nations and cultures, where the spirit of the new generation can meet without borders. Our inspirations for this landscape come from many different aspects of our collections, each one a dot that we have picked up on our journey through life. Creating this landscape is like connecting the dots to form a picture.
Your S/S 24 collection featured pieces crafted out of cycora®, a new material created from disassembled end-of-life garments. How important is materiality to you as a designer? Do you tend to begin the design process with a shape or with a material in mind?
Materiality has always been a crucial aspect of my life. As I was growing up, my mother taught me to be mindful of wasting materials. During my research at the university, I stumbled upon the story of Sakiori, a traditional Japanese weaving technique that involves repurposing old fabrics to create new ones. I aspire to spread the teachings and mindset of Sakiori in the fashion industry today. However, the main challenge is the amount of labour involved and fitting it into the current industry's scale. In my meeting with cycora, we both recognised our mutual interest in the eco-circular fabric-making process. It was a match made in heaven, and we decided to join hands. As I begin my design process, I must consider both the shape and the material.
When you think about how you want people to feel wearing a Kozaburo garment, what feelings, emotions and thoughts come to mind?
I want people to feel comfort and protection both physically and mentally.
Before you launched your own brand in 2017, you worked for a number of designers — including Thom Browne. What did this period of your life teach you about collaboration and mentorship?
Believing in universal love and that there’s always more to learn.
I’m really excited to see what the future holds for Kozaburo. What are your goals and intentions for 2024?
Last year I had the honour to take a part of the CFDA Vogue Fund and debut Kozaburo's first NYFW runway in New York. I have realised that I wish to engage more with my community in New York, where the brand is based.