Kozaburo started his namesake label in 2015, after completing his menswear program at Central Saint Martins, working under Thom Browne, and finishing the first year of his MFA at Parsons. He was the winner of the Spring/Summer 2016 Vfiles runway show where he debuted and went on to win the LVMH Special Prize in 2017. Kozaburo's states that his practice is centered around 90s Tokyo Streetstyle and various music subcultures which is immediately evident upon first glance--the heavily sculpted silhouettes pay homage to Christopher Nemeth's anatomically shaped garments, hand-distressed and finished pieces like hole-y tanks and duct-tape secured zippers nod to DIY punk, and platform heeled boots, dramatic oversize shoulders, and crushed velours conjure 70s glam rock. There's a decidedly rock and roll aesthetic that is at the core of the brand.
What separates Kozaburo from the rest when it comes to the rock-inspired is his artistic sensibility and gently poetic design ethos. Since the beginning he has championed sustainability in his Sakiori-woven jeans (debuting in his Spring 2017 Parsons graduate collection) that reweaves scraps into a bold, textured, and beautifully idiosyncratic fabric. Sustainability not in an overt way but in, in his words, a reference to “Mottainai[,] a Japanese mentality to convey a sense of respect over wasted material and labor.” Cut into his signature high-waisted, flared leg jeans with a bright exposed zipper fly, he contemporarizes an ancient 18th century Japanese practice. He prefers used materials for the reason that they have a story imbued within them already, and readily finds beauty in the harmonization of imperfections.
As Kozaburo's label evolves, the breadth of his inspirations expands as well, citing his passion for the American West in the dystopian cowboy AW18, or childhood heroes like Bruce Lee for AW19. All of these sources are given a uniquely Japanese twist--custom bandana prints were inscribed with 77 kanji, dojo tracksuits featured calligraphy print down the sleeves and legs. Most poignant was the landscape art and architecture inspiration from the likes of Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, and Harvey Fite. Though these figures were noted as inspiration for Spring/Summer 2020, it was really Fall/Winter 2020 that embodied the grand scale and phenomenological weight that exists in land art. The starkly lit editorial pushes the extremes of negative and positive space to keep the central focus on silhouette, with light barely grazing the edges of the implied figure the same way Michael Heizer's 'Double Negative' carves implied spatial volumes into the earth with his subtractive process. Circular maze-like prints adorned long shirts in a 'Spiral Jetty'-esque geometry.
The architecture reference is even more prescient looking back at the ways garments are finished. Since the beginning, investigating, revealing and subverting the structure of the garment has been a large part of Kozaburo. There are the gap stitched denim jackets (AW17), 'seamless' melton coats with edges felted together (AW17), and more recently, coats where pattern pieces are stapled together edge to edge (AW20). The experimentation when it comes to materials, construction, and finishing reveals an intensely architectural thought process, garment assembly not as a product of sewing but more a product of fastening, joining, and attaching. Thick heavy melton, sashiko, and canvas pattern pieces meet one another with an industrial tension, channeling equal parts DIY assembled punk armor and built structure. On the strictness of the superhigh waist, extreme stiffness and rawness of the material, I've been told simply, "wearing Kozaburo is hardcore."