If the fall 2021 season and its many fashion films have proven anything, it’s that you can’t fake emotional depth (see: models aimlessly dancing). Most of the clothing I have observed falls into two buckets: clothing to be sold and clothing to be felt. The divide seems greater than ever, but Kozaburo Akasaka is the rare designer to bridge both worlds, which his new collection does masterfully.
Called Monkwear, the concise range is visually appealing and wearable, featuring padded coats with exterior seams and drop-shoulder raglan tees. Akasaka’s two new trousers, a keikogi-inspired Gigi pant and motocross-meets-REI Mobi pant, are priced just around $200 each and are worn with laser-etched kimono jackets and padded custom knits. On the surface it’s all very want-able and very warm.
Underneath, there is a spiritual richness. “It’s not only product,” Akasaka said over Zoom. “There is philosophy attached to the object—more value.” The value has to do with his inspiration, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kukai. The monk lived in the Heian period, traveling to China to study and setting up a sanctuary at Mount Koyo, outside Kyoto. Akasaka’s padded jackets are actually drawn from qipaos, with an extra pocket at the back where the designer imagines a monk could carry his texts. The laser-etched mountain on the kimono jacket is a nod to Koya itself, with the sun of enlightenment rising above it. Those short-sleeve tees have dropped raglan sleeves so that from behind the back panel vaguely resembles Mount Fuji, another omnipresent symbol of Akasaka’s native Japan.
Nearly every detail has a similar backstory; a small logo is a fusion of two of the letters in Kozaburo’s name (三+郎), a wonky pearl on a prayer-bead necklace represents beauty in imperfection, and the lava stones on the same necklace nod to Akasaka’s adopted home in America.
After his show at Tokyo Fashion Week and a week of sales appointments in Tokyo, Akasaka will do another week of sales meetings in Kyoto—only the clientele will be different. “Monks only,” he said, smiling. His hope is that a new generation of Buddhists will relate to the calmness, joy, and emotion in his clothing. If it’s good enough for the monks, well, then it must be good enough for us mere shoppers too.