Representing the creative future

How Kozaburo Akasaka won the Special LVMH Prize

Parsons graduate Kozaburo Akasaka talked to Tigran Avetisyan about his forage into fashion and winning the Special LVMH Prize.

It could’ve gone two ways for Kozaburo Akasaka. The LVMH finalist admitted that fashion wasn’t a field he had envisioned himself pursuing; instead it was philosophy that initially won him over. But the study of the mind was not enough for the heart, and eventually Kozaburo took the off beaten path towards fashion. And we’re all better off for it.

Crossing paths intermittently for the past decade, Moscow-based menswear designer and former CSM classmate, Tigran Avetisyan’s first interactions with Kozaburo was coincidentally also via an interview. “It was during foundation year, I was 18 at the time writing for an art magazine,” Tigran reminisces. It was during that interview that Kozaburo disclosed his unconventional background. “In Japan the school system works differently, you only get one chance a year to apply for university and the university that I wanted to go to had the oldest running philosophy course in the country. I studied it for three years but left before completing my final year.”

Despite his text-heavy days as a philosophy student, Kozaburo was a part of the alternative music scene. As two frequented bedfellows, music became the gateway that exposed Kozaburo to fashion. First it was local Japanese menswear brands, then it was Hedi Slimane and onto John Galliano. “I felt that the sound of their creation resonated with me and I became interested in fashion, but it still hadn’t become a priority for me yet.” Eventually Kozaburo found his footing, left Japan and landed at CSM, taking his rightful place amongst those of his ilk. It was during his studies that Kozaburo witnessed a presentation by Thom Browne where cupid struck hard. It was that instance that that catapulted his love of fashion. “That was a particular moment for me, he did a menswear show in 2009 where 40 men were dressed in identical suiting. That was a magical moment in fashion. I really wanted to see his work and I fortunately was able to work for him.”

To this day, Thom Browne still holds influence over him. “The biggest thing I learnt from him was to be yourself, because that’s what he does. And what he taught me still informs my creations from time to time,” Kozaburo says. Despite having had an ‘aha moment’, Kozaburo admits he was still unsure about working in fashion. Pursuing a higher education would give him an opportunity to delve further into it, and because of Thom Browne, Kozaburo joined Parsons’ MFA degree.

Taking the path less traveled was evidently beneficial to him. His creations, a mixture of his worldly influences and sophisticated techniques could only be accredited to this. It’s no wonder that one season into his brand, it was selected for the VFiles SS16 presentation.

When fortune comes, it comes fast. “Good things were happening so I started thinking that I was on the right track and I realised that one of the worst things is wasting opportunities. So when LVMH competition came up, I applied. I was shortlisted and now a finalist. It was surprising but I think I did my best and I’m glad I got this far, it’s all about the mindset,” Kozaburo says.

Presented for the LVMH award, his collection includes a mix of streetwear and classic menswear influences. Synthesising and juxtaposing elements from philosophy, music and youth culture, the collection is contemporarily just. There’s a distinctive nod towards punk-rock as retro inspired elements come to the fore in his collection. By employing artisanal hand stitching and custom techniques, Kozaburo deconstructs classic pieces. By his hands, Kozaburo cuts them into thin strings before weaving them back together again. Silk shirts are given the same treatment while smooth wool and leather coats are interspersed throughout. And retro it would not be without heavy use of denim and hardware. Exposed seams and frayed edges complement the brutally scratched belt buckles. All of these intricate details paired with chunky black and red platform boots – a souvenir of 90s counterculture.

Although Kozaburo himself was surprised at even being shortlisted from over 1000 applications, his collection speaks for itself. “I still need to digest it a bit, to be honest I wasn’t prepared what I was going to say when I won. But it was a good opportunity for me, I’m not good at explaining my work through words so it was a chance to be able to put that into practice”.

On what his next steps are, Tigran gently prods into Kozaburo’s current state of affairs. He replies, “I’ll be working on my sales campaign for my new collection and I’ll need help since it’s just me right now. I did a brief calculation and in this industry you need money especially for a startup. I’m aware of the fact that the prize money will be used up very fast.” Although the struggles of business looms ahead, Kozaburo has already netted some of fashion’s biggest retailers. His pieces have previously been stocked at Dover Street Market in both New York and London, and Opening Ceremony New York has picked up on his collection for the coming Autumn season. There’s a lot of work to be done for a budding designer, as he begins to gathers arms for his next collection, but we’re confident that Kozaburo’s unique sartorial approach will carry him through.