In the rapidly growing world of street fashion, there are the originators and the replicators. The OGs tend to stick around because they know what works for them and keep doing it—and doing it well. Their names may ebb and flow in popularity, but their credibility (and business) never fades away. Japan became a hotbed for brands like BAPE, UNDERCOVER, Goodenough, NEIGHBORHOOD, and Visvim towards the late '80s and early '90s. But among the pioneers that led the way is Hysteric Glamour and its founder, Nobuhiko "Nobu" Kitamura.
Kitamura was born in Tokyo in 1962. He grew up in a house in the middle of the city, falling in love with Western music in high school. The two genres that particularly caught his attention were 1970s-era new wave and punk coming out of New York, as bands like Television, The Stooges, MC5, and Blondie were ushering in two distinct sonic movements. He dug for imported records in Shinjuku on a regular basis, and one day he came across an ad for the Tokyo Mode Gakuin Fashion School, which happened to be nearby.
Kitamura decided to pursue a career in fashion, graduating in 1984 and landing a part-time job at Ozone Community, a youth-oriented label that was cresting as Japanese fashion veered more towards more directional silhouettes. The predominant preppy-inspired style of the early '80s was being subverted by the all-black clad Crow tribes and new wave and punk heavily influenced the "new wave" trend. Japanese teens began to assert themselves more through clothing, deviating from the clean-cut norm and adopting the style of subcultural figures from the West and homegrown rock stars like The Checkers and Seiko Matsuda.
When he was 22, Kitamura couldn't find a full-time gig, so continued to work at Ozone Community, who encouraged him to launch his own unisex label. Japanese fashion expert and author W. David Marx writes in a 2007 issue of Nylon that Nobu acquiesced, but on one condition: "They'd let me do it my way."
Calling the brand Hysteric Glamour, the brand got big in Japan when it got on the radar of the editors at Olive, a highly-influential Japanese women's magazine that heavily influenced the Harajuku girls of the '80s. It just so happened that the "anti-fashion" leanings of Hysteric Glamour—more informed by rock-and-roll rebellion than breaking tailoring traditions—fell in line with what consumers were getting hungrier for at the time. It was counter-cultural streetwear long before the term came to characterize a movement of graphic-driven hoodies, t-shirts, and baseball caps.
Kitamura's graphic influences are Warholian on the surface, but are also a paean to his favorite eras of pop culture. He's a student of both The Stooges and the Star Wars mythos. Kitamura describes his predilections to Marx as such: “I like kind of dumb things. I like huge mass-market American cars from the '60s, not Benzes.”
Hysteric Glamour's graphic direction draws the line between mass, obscure, and obscene. '70s pornography is a big reference, as are anti-establishment punk slogans, indie comic books, psychedelia, and skulls. Musically, the well he draws from is pretty obvious to anyone who's witnessed the evolution of punk from subversive political tool to superfluous edgy design trope. Streetwear heads will recognize the way Hysteric Glamour readily reinterprets surplus and biker staples like M-65 jackets and asymmetrical-zip leather jackets with aggressive iconography. But Kitamura was doing it long before Nigo of BAPE and Jun Takahashi of UNDERCOVER set up their NOWHERE store in the backstreets of Harajuku.
According to Marx, Andy Warhol is one of Kitamura's biggest visual inspirations. Kitamura tells Nylon: “When I was just starting out, there was no one doing what I was doing. I had no experience and no teachers, so I just read books. I had this book of Warhol’s philosophy and jokes, and it was a great reference. In 1986, this French company picked up Hysteric and was going to distribute it. The guy was wearing the brand in a club in New York, and Warhol came up to him and said, ‘That’s great!’ When I heard about that, I sold my car and bought a plane ticket to New York to go meet Warhol. I went to all the clubs looking for him, and I finally met a Japanese girl who’s boyfriend’s brother knew him, and it turned out Warhol was out of town on vacation. So I went home hoping to come back and meet him next time, and he died soon after.”
Though he never got to meet his idol, Kitamura eventually linked up with Nat Finklestein, the prolific visual documentarian of Warhol's Factory, and eventually collaborated with The Warhol Foundation on a series of apparel. From Kitamura's perspective, this was his way of making some truly Warholian pieces that had as much attention-to-detail as the art itself. Some of the pieces are still available on resale sites like Grailed, and there's even a collaborative Globe Trotter x Andy Warhol x Hysteric Glamour luggage collection that dropped in 2009. Warhol's continued influence on Kitamura still manifests today, and can be seen in Hysteric Glamour's Fall/Winter 2017 collection, as well as his continued collaboration with Playboy, whom he's worked with since 2013—and happens to be a label Supreme works with.
Hysteric Glamour currently operates over 20 retail outposts in Japan, and can be bought online both at ZOZOTOWN and its own e-commerce platform, although overseas customers still have to cop via a Japanese proxy service. In addition to his higher-end labels Hysterics (for women) and Thee Hysteric XXX (for men), Kitamura also has a children's line, Joey Hysteric, which shrinks down its rebellious wares for punks-in-training. For a time in the '80s, Hysteric Glamour even had a shop in New York's East Village, but it shut down within two years. Still, within its short lifespan it could count Iggy Pop, Terry Richardson, and Keith Haring as customers.
Throughout Kitamura's two-decade long career, he's rubbed shoulders with many of the people who inspire his clothing, including Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, and Primal Scream. His friendship with Sofia Coppola led to a cameo in her 2003 ode to Tokyo, Lost In Translation, where he takes Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray's characters to a nightclub, strip club, and karaoke bars. These scenes were pulled from his own experiences partying with Coppola, and he's actually playing a version of himself. The cult label even gets a shout out in Gwen Stefani's song "Harajuku Girls," where the singer proclaims: "My boyfriend bought me a Hysteric Glamour shirt. They're hard to find in the states, got me feeling couture (it's really cool)."
Given Hysteric Glamour's penchant for great collaborations, long tenure as a cult label, and unmistakably anti-mainstream attitude, it's easy to see why Kitamura would make such a natural collaborator for Supreme. Hysteric Glamour is only 10 years older than the brand, but has demonstrated its ability to grow at a pace that feels right for them—and more importantly, Kitamura's continued mission to only work on projects that feel right for him and his label.
Kitamura is now in his mid-50s, but continues to work on multiple projects with musicians, artists, and other labels, he's a good case study in how to make a living doing what you want, and using that as a platform to meet people who inspire you. As far as what keeps him going, perhaps he perfectly describes that in this quote from Nylon: “If people just look at my clothes and kind of smile, that’s enough for me."
Now see every piece in the upcoming Supreme x Hysteric Glamour collaboration.