Koji Kamiya

A/W ‘24 | Tokyo

March 22, 2024
By Jee Young Park

“Time flows equally for everyone, yet I believe there exists a style truly established [that is] unaffected by it.” 

Designer Koji Kamiya took to Hyakkendana to make his point, ushering in show invitees in a single file on each side of the street. As we waited, an older woman with a rolling shopping bag politely and unwittingly walked down the runway, and couples scurried out of love motels to the amusement of an eager, fashion-forward crowd. 

Officially, the collection’s inspiration came from various sources: German workers of the 50s and 60s sublimating American culture, an emphasis on duck fabric (of the Dutch doek, linen canvas), parodies of symbolic American designs, and rebels determined to go the distance--bikers, cowboys, rock stars in their early days. 

Unofficially (as in, my opinion), the final product arrived with a mean dose of braggadocio, the instrumentals of Kanye’s Selah accompanying each look in reverent praise. With the gravitational pull of KAMIYA’s show, the hallelujah’s sounded a lot more like KAMIYA! KAMIYA! KAMIYA! One got the feeling that if designer Koji Kamiya believes in anything--stylistically, philosophically, or religiously--it’s in himself. 

In the incorporation of symbolic American designs, I couldn’t help but notice a running thread of 90s hip- hop staples. Timbs, velour tracksuits, bandanas, airbrushed denim, and naked chests against plush shearling filled my stomach with a heavy dose of nostalgia. For those of us who came of age in the 90s hip hop represented the ultimate in rock stardom--but an important disclaimer here-- one can easily see Tupac Shakur as they could Johnny Depp in these looks (such is the nature of visual culture) and Kamiya’s fashion plate is served in part ironically, to “reveal the mental landscape of people who are caught up in the latest fashions.” 

Transcendence from the trend mills is the goal here and a common trait across the figures Kamiya seeks to juxtapose himself against is a sort of ruggedness so extreme it borders on iconic. Time is blind and for this reason, it is cruel. It doesn’t care how long we’ve been hammering away at our cherished dreams or how impossible the deadlines are, it flows nonetheless. Kamiya taps into a constant against the flow of time, the struggle to endure its caprices with a sense of self intact. Braggadocio, machismo, good ol’ blasphemy (Kanye’s I Am A God)--call it what you want, it doesn’t matter--bold, masculine expression will always emerge in response to the brutal world it is expected to endure.

Last season, Kamiya’s show responded to the pressure of its debut with a truck, a fake wall, and snow. This time, the designer backed up the grandstanding with an intimate runway format. When you show clothes this close and without rows, it says you’re not afraid of people appraising your work in detail, of everyone seeing it (no favors for the front row, no illusions for the back row), and everyone seeing each other (who got invited, who didn’t).

And up close Kamiya’s offerings dazzled. Bruised satin blousons took on the colors of cut lips and black eyes on models’ faces. A black overcoat shimmered brilliantly in the evening light. Do-rags found new utility as a substantial cold-weather item, loosely worn as caps in twilight-colored knits.

That is not to say it will be an easy path. Few will appreciate his verve, dismissing it as a passé version of “streetwear” or worse, a corporatized one. But that just might up the brand’s cachet for those who commit anyway and believe in Kamiya’s world.

Director De Palma of the cult classic Scarface, a movie built on a rugged, brutalized and brutal icon Tony Montana would agree: “You’ve always got to realize you’re being criticized against the fashion of the day, and when the fashion changes everybody forgets about that.”

What everyone remembers is not the critique but a cult classic they fell in love with. Social media-driven trends say hello to my little friend, Kamiya.  

Photo credit: Shun Mizuno

Video courtesy of Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo.