Marcel Duchamp once said he forced himself to contradict himself, in order to avoid conforming to his own taste. Seventy years later the adage still stands up as a worthy insight into the artist’s plight as well as an apt fashion maxim, too. And one designer whose work conveys this sense of constant reinvention – as well as a healthy admiration for the French conceptualist – is Ryohei Kawanishi.
Now based in New York, the young Japanese designer completed his BA at London’s Central Saint Martins before graduating from the prestigious Parsons MA programme last year with a collection named after Duchamp’s work “The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even”, after seeing the piece at Philadelphia’s Museum of Art. Kawanishi’s collection takes its cue from the readymade, transforming banal household objects like shower curtains, coat racks and rolls of toilet paper into nine playfully extravagant looks – one for each of Duchamp’s nine bachelors – in an offering reminiscent of Maison Margiela or Miguel Adrover. It follows two similarly playful collections made at CSM, one in response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake tsunami and the other to the 2010 Arab Spring.
So why is he suddenly making strippedback utilitarian menswear? For that’s the mood of his latest project, LANDLORD, a collaboration between Kawanishi, stylist and regular Hood By Air collaborator Akeem Smith, and Daniel Huang. The trio debuted a first collection of unpretentious staples at New York Fashion Week: Men’s earlier this year to loud fanfare. Intrigued, SLEEK quizzed Ryohei about his new-found faith in commercial fashion and how he’s juggling brands, babies and new ideas.
“I like creativity that makes me think.” – Ryohei Kawanishi
SLEEK: How did LANDLORD come about?
I met Daniel Huang, the manager of a US military contract factory in NYC after I showed my graduate collection in 2015, and he asked me if I wanted to start a menswear label with him. I didn’t have a job at the time and had just found out that my girlfriend was pregnant. So I said yes, and brought Naoki [Masuda] on board, the pattern cutter for my Parsons’ collection. Thereafter we started to experiment with Daniel’s factory’s capabilities, and I began to think from more of a production perspective.
We read your feature in W magazine, where you talked about your love for Isa Genzken. What is it about her work that you relate to?
I saw her sculptures when I was studying in London, and also at MoMA after I’d moved to New York. She uses so many different uniforms and garments for her sculptures, particularly the ones at the David Zwirner show in 2015. They remind me of daily life in NYC. There’s endless construction going on in the city and I like to use that as a reference. My father is a construction worker, so I’ve been surrounded by workwear uniforms since I was little.
The collection we’re featuring is also influenced by the Duchamp work that sparked your MA show. Why are you so fascinated by it?
I chose that specific work because I saw garment references in it. But generally, I love the way he pushes concepts while examining the relationship between artist, audience and the work. I like creativity that makes me think.
These references seem to position your clothes in the realm of critical fashion, i.e., fashion that has an awareness of its wider cultural context. But does that really have much pull for consumers?
I’m still looking for new ways to break through that barrier. Fashion is getting more commercial and, you’re right, critical fashion doesn’t really matter to many audiences. That’s the problem I had with my old work, there just wasn’t the clientele for it.
You’ve used fashion to comment on current affairs. But are there any contemporary issues that you think people in fashion aren’t talking about loudly enough?
Everything! There are too many issues to list and I think ultimately fashion isn’t the right medium for all of it, especially in America. American politics is theatre in it itself, we don’t need to dress it up.
Finally, you studied at both Saint Martins and Parsons. The students there have a reputation for being pretty fierce. What was the major difference between the two?
CSM students come to school with IKEA bags, but Parsons students come to school with a Louis Vuitton.
Fashion & Text ELLA PLEVIN
Photography VITALI GELWICH
Taken from SLEEK 51 – order here