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Kozaburo Akasaka

Teppei Fujita

Kind, soft-spoken cosmopolitans — and long-term collaborators — Kozaburo Akasaka and Teppei Fujita are the designers behind menswear brands Kozaburo and Sulvam. After living and learning in Tokyo, London, Paris and New York, the pair are two of the most exciting menswear designers of the moment. We got to catch up with them in their showroom in Paris, where we explore their individual styles. Kozaburo designs for a modern cowboy conquering an unknown world, and the designer won the 2017 LVMH prize after working under Thom Browne. Alongside him, Teppei Fujita, is known for his deconstructed yet precisely tailored garments, beginning his career in fashion working as a pattern maker for Yohji Yamamoto before launching his own label, Sulvam. Though Kozaburo seems more of a thinker and Sulvam more of a feeler, they both are clearly thoughtful and sensitive by the way they present their garments with love and genuine appreciation. Both heavily influenced by music, they talk to us about their daily lives, their relation to fashion week, family, and morning routines. 

Hey there! Starting off with why you’re both here today – can you tell me the connection between Kozaburo and Sulvam design-wise?
K: I would say our connections are tailoring and menswear. I feel that the brands and our approach to clothing-making are very emotional and very personal. Within this, we have the same attitude towards design.

How would you describe this attitude? 
K: A good example is last season we created a collaboration item; embroidered Sukajan, which is a Japanese jacket that is traditionally worn by gang members. The message was “Stop us if you can”.

Ah, so the attitude that connects you is that you’re both unstoppable! The jacket showcases the coyote which represents Kozaburo, and the falcon which represents Sulvam. Why these animals?
K: The coyote is an iconic animal character for Kozaburo, it’s famous for its durability in harsh environments and I like that.

Do you thrive in harsh environments?
K: I wish.

And the Falcon?
K: The falcon represents Sulvam, as it is inspired by Teppei’s giant back tattoo.


What do you appreciate most about each other’s brand?
T: The tailoring is the base of what makes the brands connect. Kozaburo’s approach is very different from my approach. Kozaburo does things I cannot do… He always measures. When we both draw the same pattern, the act is the same, but the meaning is different, which makes the outcome different.

You’re both from Japan and have both lived/worked/studied in places all over the world – New York, London, and Paris…  which place makes you feel like home?
K: Where I feel like home? New York… I have family there, my wife. Where we are, is home.
T: Tokyo, but I like Paris. I have my family in Tokyo, my wife and daughter are there.

Home is where she is.
K: I guess you could say that!

If you could change anything about the industry what would it be?
T: Everyone is following a ‘fashion fantasy’ too much, it’s not just about the clothes anymore, it’s gone too far away. It [the love for fashion] has to be based on the clothing itself, but people don’t actually care about clothes anymore these days. So, I would like to bring back people’s attention, and then go back to the longing to express oneself creatively.
K: I agree with Teppei’s vision. When I think of the question, of course, the environmental effect we have needs to change. But to change that, this industry needs to change everybody’s consciousness. I hope that the fashion movement of becoming more aware of the environment is not just a trend, and that caring for your clothes is something that stays.

What’s the first thing you notice when you first meet someone? What makes someone in the crowd stand out to you?
K: Attitude. I guess it appears through how you act and of course a piece of clothing.

Which designer has influenced you the most?
T: For old tailoring techniques, Yohji Yamamoto was my teacher and mentor. But today, maybe Ralph Lauren!

Why Ralph?
T: Only one person started the brand. Family is important to him. His sons took over and it’s a family company. The vision and identity stayed in the family. He made a lifestyle. Businesswise, he is a pioneer and that’s why I admire him. As a teenager, I wore all Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers.
K: For me, so many… I like Carol Christian Poell, Thom Browne, and Issey Miyake of course. As a design approach, the brand inspires me so much. The innovation and the fashion, the product, I respect that.

How would you describe your brand in three words?
T: A patternmaker, father, and business.
K: Intuitive, love, respect…

Being respected or being respectful?
K: Goes both ways. I want to evoke people’s respect by being more respectful. 

Same question …but on a personal level?
K: I think the part that’s similar to us is that our brand and our personality are basically merged into one. So, the three words are already us on a personal level.

What are the best and worst parts about PFW?
T: Everyone from around the world are in Paris during PFW, and crossing/meeting so many people is super nice. The bad point is many fashion influencers are in Paris… so the pictures. Normally it’s calm and nice here. But during Fashion Week it’s very busy on the street. And I don’t like that.
K: The good part is that it’s the biggest festival of fashion in the world, so I can see ex-classmates, friends, and industry people at the same time. The worst part is waiting for shows outside. I appreciate runway shows, but I’ve started doing presentations and visual lookbooks myself. I still like a runway show but the people, the crowds… it’s a little bit too much, I think.

What shows did you go to this fashion week?
K: I’m planning to go to Schiaparelli on Monday.
T: I’m going to White Mountaineering.

What’s your current favourite piece in your wardrobe?
T: I like the Sulvam jackets I make the most.
K: I like the Snow Peak collaboration we did. It’s like a new technical wear project I’ve been working on. I made it for light camping/hiking, and it’s actually very useful for a rainy day.

First thing you do when you wake up?
K: Eating is the very first thing I need to do. As soon as I wake up I need to put something in myself. Depends on the time, but yoghurt and fruit, or cheese toast… but in Japan my mom cooks breakfast, Japanese food. And also checking the news.
T: Vacuum.

Are you serious? Might be my nightmare.
T: I wake up, and my daughter comes to my bed, we embrace. And then vacuuming.

What trend do you think is overrated?
T: I don’t look at brands a lot but for example, Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton… the designers… I don’t know. Kim Jones and Demna are super nice designers but I think they’re a bit overrated, even though I like them as people.
K: Not sure… chunky shoes? I like it as a silhouette… but Crocs have become too big.

Best self-care ritual?
K: I used to do hair braiding. That was kind of my ritual for a while. Now… dressing?
T: Nail polish.

Dream collab without restrictions?
T: I actually want to keep this atelier to myself until I die. After I die, I will let the atelier people keep the brand. I want a Japan and a Paris atelier, and when I die I want my stuff to stay Sulvam.

And you, Kozaburo?
K: No specific brand, but my dream is like creating an imaginary landscape. I’d like to collaborate with a hospitality area, like a resort… a hotel. Or a landscaping project could be a dream.

Keep in touch – We’ll be the first guests! Thank you so much for your time.

Words by Pykel van Latum