Under the Radar is Highsnobiety's weekly celebration of upcoming talent. Each week, we're spotlighting a underground brand that's bringing something new to the worlds of streetwear and fashion.
"I went on a road trip from El Paso to Santa Fe in New Mexico, and that's the main inspiration for my fall/winter collection" Kozaburo Akasaka explains over a Skype call from his studio in New York. Born in Tokyo, educated in London and New York, Akasaka cut his teeth designing at Thom Browne before starting his own label, KOZABURO, which is now on its fifth season.
Inspired by Hedi Slimane and Takahiro Miyashita's Number (N)ine, Akasaka's work has, in a few short years, found itself in world-class retailers like SSENSE, Opening Ceremony, United Arrows and H.Lorenzo. Dover Street Market New York bought Akasaka's graduate collection, and the designer was even given a year-long mentorship and grant at the 2017 LVMH Prize.
His work is refreshingly anti-trend, an evocative, romantic worldview filtered through traditional craftsmanship and rock music. For KOZABURO's FW18 collection, Akasaka conjured up a dystopian Japanese cowboy, inspired by the places he encountered on his trip through the American desert.
"New Mexico was where the Manhattan Project was held, and at the same time native Americans still live there" Akasaka explains. Mile-long belts, flared trousers and cropped Western jackets reflect the designer's personal style, while a jaw-dropping lookbook mirrors New Mexico's clash of traditional communities and atomic nightmares, but also nods to Motorhead's glorious Ace Of Spades cover.
El Paso is incidentally the world's cowboy boot capital — 90% of Western boots are made there, the designer assures me — and they're an essential part of KOZABURO FW18. The brand's SS18 season also has boots by the bucketload: Italian-made, bright crimson ones with extra-high heels, and criss-crossed by heavy-duty straps. The look is a million miles away from the oversized silhouettes, luxury sneakers and logomania that's so in right now. "That's not natural for me" Akasaka explains. "I don't want to design something that I don't want to wear."
Eco-friendly manufacturing is all the rage these days, but Japanese resource-saving techniques pre-date our current sustainability obsession by centuries. Case in point is the Sakiori fabrics used across KOZABURO's work, a modern interpretation of the cotton-saving method of weaving rags together.
"As I grew up in Japan, my mom would always say, 'don't waste'...the message of sustainability these days is quite large, but in the olden days it was natural."
Elsewhere, there's exposed seams, jacket adorned with Sashiko stitching, a nod to traditional Judo clothing, and lavish prints of snakes, which decorate many pieces in FW18 and simultaneously nod to both Akasaka's Japanese heritage, and the native American culture that inspired the collection.
"In Japan it means good luck, and for native American people it's secrets, karma, infinity and the sun. I like comparing the meanings."
One of the highlights of the designer's SS18 collection is a pair of copper bracelets and necklaces, which have been oxidized on one side, and polished on the other. The end result is an artifact that looks like it's been left half-buried in the desert, with one side exposed to the ravages of time. "I like the beauty of imperfections" Akasaka muses over Skype.
KOZABURO has all sorts of pieces for braver dressers, but Akasaka punches the hardest when he directly references his home — as on SS18's calligraphic shirts and FW18's metallic silver belts, the latter of which were inspired by one of the designer's friends from school, who is now a Buddhist monk at the Myoman-ji temple in Kyoto.
In silver lettering, the belts recall an old Buddhist saying, simultaneously poignant and evocative.
"Like rain falls on everything, happiness and sadness will fall on everyone."
For more upcoming fashion brands, get to know the Korean-American, weed-obsessed label Sundae School.