We live in a time where techwear is inseparable from pop culture. It's nearly 2020; Elon Musk funneled his creative energy to make the car of his dreams; the future is now. To survive in this world, you need clothing that lets you navigate anything the world throws at you: enter techwear.
Techwear at its most basic is a style where functionality is everything, but form is not forgotten. It’s about quality, performance and adaptability. The best brands look great, but with techwear, practicality comes first.
Death Stranding is the first video game to finally get that. And it’s no accident. The game’s wardrobe is dominated by futuristic outerwear that looks incredible and serves a very specific purpose. The influence of Acronym, arguably the world's most innovative and well-known techwear brand, plays an influential part in this: longtime Hideo Kojima collaborator Yoji Shinkawa, famous for his work designing the worlds of Metal Gear Solid and now Death Stranding, is a fan of the label.
“Turns out Hideo Kojima's art director, the legendary Yoji Shinkawa, is a longtime Acronym fan and customer,” Acronym co-founder Errolson Hugh tells me. “Back in 2017 one of Yoji's team reached out to us via email and this led to me visiting the new Kojima Productions studio the next time I went to Tokyo. This was a big deal for me as I have been a huge fan of their work ever since the original Metal Gear games on PS1 and PS2. To find out they were fans of our work as well was kind of surreal to be honest.”
Shinkawa speaks just as highly of Acronym. “Like military-grade gear, or a racing car designed for the sole purpose of speed, I am most attracted by designs or materials that avoid any waste while having great functionality,” he says. “In particular, Errolson’s ideas and design preferences are a rather special inspiration for me as a creator.”
That 2017 trip wasn’t a business meeting, but at the end of what Hugh describes as a “very friendly and informal” visit, Kojima’s team asked the Acronym co-founder if he had a spare 20 minutes. Taking him into the company’s new scanning facilities, they took complete 3D scans of his head performing all kinds of expressions, the end result—of which Hugh says “I still can’t believe it”—is Alex Weatherstone, a character in Death Stranding.
After this meeting, and the discovery of their mutual respect, Acronym and Kojima productions would forge a closer relationship, as anyone who's been following either company’s Instagram accounts over the last couple years would have seen. Yet while this closeness and mutual admiration make it seem like every jacket in the game could have come straight from Acronym’s collections, in truth the brand's direct contributions were more limited.
“Since game development was already quite advanced when we met, we were actually only able to contribute two outfits to the game,” Hugh says. “Virtually everything you see in the game was designed by Yoji Shinkawa. He designed all of the characters as well as the vehicles in the game and is, in my opinion, unparalleled at this type of work. As far as what we contributed, Yoji asked us to help specifically with the base layer that Sam wears underneath his Timefall-proof outerwear."
“We approached this in the same way that we design 'real' apparel for Acronym, and started by asking questions: Who is wearing it? What are they doing in it, and in which conditions? In combination with which other items? Our designers Ian Wang and Ümit Esbulan took the lead on this and they killed it.”
Shinkawa recalls the same meeting. “I’ve been a fan of Acronym for a long time, but I only met Errolson for the first time midway through development. I showed him several images in production and asked if there was anything to which he could lend his talents. The main character’s suit was already completed and fully functional, so I instead asked for input on what Sam would have under the suit. From having only seen some game images and a bit of the story demo, he made a design truly representative of the game world and its necessities. The details, functionality, texture, and silhouette of his design were all wonderful.”
The work Acronym did on Sam’s undersuit so impressed Shinkawa that he says it’s his favorite piece of clothing in the whole game, and that he’d want to wear it himself.
Acronym’s other contribution to the game came as a result of a request from Shinkawa. “Yoji asked if they could use a specific cape that we had done in the past called CP2-S. We pulled this out of the archive and shipped it to Tokyo for scanning. It went into the game pretty much unaltered.”
Techwear is most often associated with dystopian urban environments and despite the style’s outdoor potential, techwear is usually worn by people living in big cities. Death Stranding’s rugged, post-apocalyptic wilderness setting breaks out of this and helps put the game’s clothing collection in its element, subjecting it to the kind of conditions it was actually designed to withstand.
“As Hideo put it when we met that first time,” Hugh remembers, “'In this game it is almost always raining, and the rain is very dangerous, so your clothes fit in perfectly.'” Indeed the weather was such a central part of the design process that it formed the cornerstone of Sam’s whole look.
“The main character isn’t a Special Forces member, a uniformed officer, or a soldier,” Shinkawa says. “He is a simple delivery man making his way through a lonely world marked by timefall—rain that accelerates the flow of time. So, when this element was first created, rather than military materials, I thought about what would work in the world of Death Stranding and designed the aesthetics accordingly.”
Closing out, I asked Hugh—who also collaborated on 2016’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided—if he had any other favorites among recent techwear-heavy games, like Watch Dogs and Cyberpunk 2077. “Honestly it's hard to compare Kojima and Shinkawa games with any others in terms of aesthetics. It's just not fair.”
Luke Plunkett is a Senior Editor at Kotaku. You can read more of his work here.