We recently had the opportunity to speak with KOMAKINO's co-founder, Italian-born, London-based designer Federico Capalbo about the brand's origins, influences, future and more.
From punks and mods to hippies and goths, the youth have long used fashion as a conduit for self-expression -- a way of identifying with a certain culture while distancing themselves from those of their parents’ generation. Conversely, fashion’s obsession with youth and their subcultures is well documented, whether born of nostalgia or recent Internet-driven phenomena like last year’s dead-upon-arrival ‘normcore’ and ‘health goth’ movements.
The relationship between fashion and youthful subcultures is nothing new to KOMAKINO, a brand that draws its inspiration from a subversive mix of rebellion, music and tribalism. Co-founded and helmed by Italian-born, London-based designer, Federico Capalbo, the label derives its name from the 1980 Joy Division single and “hypnotic” Japanese dance, and maintains a strong identity each season as a fashion label for outsiders. “It might have to do with where our interests lies, I think. We see fashion as something that has to do with identity in the first place, a feeling. For us it is connected to subcultures and therefore defined by outsiders,” Capalbo explained to us. “There is undoubtedly a system of countercultural codes we refer to, a language we use, but we imagine we make clothes for individuals -- and individuals could probably be defined as outsiders nowadays.”
Can you tell us more about your personal history and involvement with KOMAKINO?
I was born in Italy and lived there until I finished my university studies in literature. Then, at the age of 23, I moved to London where I attended Central Saint Martins. I started the label with my ex-girlfriend a few years ago in London and then continued by myself. However, we do have recurrent collaborators and friends we work with season after season who are effectively part of KOMAKINO.
KOMAKINO’s positioning seems to be that of a countercultural or rebel’s label. What is the attraction of the “outsider” for you?
It might have to do with where our interests lies, I think. We see fashion as something that has to do with identity in the first place, a feeling. For us, it is connected to subcultures and therefore defined by outsiders. There undoubtedly is a system of countercultural codes we refer to, a language we use, but we imagine we make clothes for individuals -- individuals could probably be defined as outsiders nowadays.
There’s also a strong youthful element to your brand which seems to have resonated with many people. What are your thoughts on youth culture today and, in particular, how it intersects with social media and counterculture?
Youth culture in its spirit is always the same, it is pretty much about rebellion.
How does London factor into what you do and the things you enjoy?
I do believe we could probably live and grow the label in any big city really. That said, London certainly plays a role in what the label is about -- for example, most of the bands we listen to and refer to are from here. On a personal level it grew up to be my town, the closest thing I have to home, yet I do not really see it central to my existence. I wouldn't talk about one single London factor, the city itself obviously has many different facets. I also wouldn't know what the 'London scene' is right now, if any, and do not particularly care to know. It is definitely a place that gives you the opportunity to find and follow your own interests. London has really changed a lot over the past 10 years, from my own experiences. Still, I could personally find few interesting gigs I religiously try to attend.
Similarly, does Italy or Italian culture still influence you in any way? Why do you produce your clothing in Italy for example?
Not much really. It certainly is my background, but I never felt particularly connected with that reality when growing up as a teenager back in Italy -- I was quite awkward, which I guess I still am anyway.
We decided to produce in Italy because the facilities we could have access to, the materials and techniques, the level of manufacturing itself and the industrialization of the product are diverse and of a high standard, and that is where we'd like to bring our label.
The name “Komakino” itself is a reference from a Joy Division song. What does that particular term mean and how does music continue to influence the brand?
It is a Joy Division song and a Japanese dance as well. It was simply what I was (and still am) listening to and what I grew up with -- certain music or subcultures. Roll calls aside, music has always played a central role in the development of our work; it is simply something that’s comes from our world.
There always seems to be a strong image component to your collections. Can you touch upon some of the imagery for Spring/Summer 2015? Where do they come from and what do they mean to you?
Graphics and embroideries run throughout the collection -- big and ‘visually loud’ at the back of coats, shirts, tops and jackets, and as small patches on MA-1s and trousers. The 'High Tech Low Life’ graphics (thick lettering and round embroidery) are a direct reference to Cyberpunk culture -- not the science fiction subgenre, as much as the Japanese Cyberpunk scene.
Can you tell us a bit more about Japanese cyberpunk subculture and how it influenced you? How did that reference translate to the collection?
Films by Japanese directors such as Fukui, Ishii and Tsukamoto and industrial music groups Der Eisenrost and Zeitlich Vergelter (whose frontman Chu Ishikawa signed the soundtracks of many of Tsukamoto’s films) loosely influenced the collection. In a collection that is somehow loud and minimal at the same time (where bright colors and streetwear appear with a more tailored construction and ‘minimal’ detailing), those influences weren’t translated too literally. It is, again, more about the spirit of this specific subculture, an emotional reaction to dehumanisation, technology and overexposure.
The new collection manages to combine quite a few styles and references into a cohesive whole. There’s the tailored, more refined aspect as well the bolder, messier street element. Can you tell us a bit more about this contrast?
In the balance of the collection we see this two elements coexisting. While in the jersey section of the collection bright fluorescent colors are used as main fabrics (almost in a ‘louder’ way I would say), for the tailored part, such colors are used to underline technical cuts and slices that were made in the garments construction. Cuts, for example, that run in-between the upper and under sleeve, at backs, yokes and cuffs on jackets, shirts, coats and shorts. Sometimes the bright nylons are used as linings for tailored coats and sleeveless jackets, so that the strong fluo colors are almost see-through when paired with light wools. At other times, the garment is lined in a matching colored viscose and just the cuts have a facing in a contrast color -- almost as they were flashes of light and brightness. The idea of having hints and flashes of brightness is again present in the bomber jackets, with the use of bright reflective tape for pockets and zipper fly extensions, and fluorescent-colored nylons for 3D pocket facings. Again, in the denim section (where the silhouettes are more boxy and loose) this same idea is translated into fabric treatments -- the denims are resinated, distressed and stonewashed first, then all the cuts are hand-dyed in bright contrast colors.
What is the design process like for you?
Personally, at first it is always quite chaotic. I tend to start different things at the same time and do not really proceed through stages. This whole thing gets inevitably reorganized into the industry’s own process -- in order to work with an atelier and to carry on both a sampling and production process that sees other entities and third parts involved (as it is in the clothing industry), everything needs to be carefully planned and organized. It is the industry itself that requires discipline; it is a good thing.
What can we expect next from Komakino?
We are currently working out our upcoming AW15 collection between London, NY and Italy. We will present more oversized and differently fitted silhouettes, experimenting with new materials and trying out our new facilities in Italy, and we will also expand the more structured and tailored part of the collection. We are keeping our codes and spirit, but we will murder the boy.
Words: Jonathan Poh Photography: Michal Andrysiak Styling: Marc Goehring Model: Lenny (Izaio Models)
All footwear by Rombaut.