There are two things driving the present-day surge in demand for Kapital: originality and authenticity. Kiro Hirata’s approach to designing denim has set Kapital apart as an inimitable voice in the world of fashion. He is a figure who blends heritage methods with the subtle radicalism of modern Japanese fashion.
Describing his work, Kiro Hirata suggests the process of planning designs at Kapital is less like the traditional quarterly schedules that come to us from brand marketing, and more like piecing together a “puzzle.”
The idea of the puzzle is an apt metaphor for Kapital garments themselves. In more ways than one, Hirata’s pieces evoke the deeper material and metaphoric resonance of the puzzle. Kapital’s overlapping layers of patches and unexpected stitchwork draw upon the methods of traditional garment mending, but recast them with an uncanny, modern originality. In one recent sweatshirt, smiley-face fabric is blown up to different sizes and patched across the surface—some of the symbols cut into one another, and some become unrecognizable altogether. Despite this postmodern bent, a central influence for Hirata has been the traditional reparative arts of Japanese history—the methods of boro.
In the craft of traditional Japanese boro, the garment itself is a kind of puzzle for mending—the question of how to darn and heal a fabric is an opening for the artist and craftsman to layer materials and piece together a new assemblage. As Gilles Deleuze has suggested in his extensive philosophical writings on fabric, folding, and repetitions of form, there is, at stake in the practical work of mending—of returning to the form of the original—a kernel of creative differentiation, of new life.
World-renowned Japanese textile expert Yoshiko Wada defines boro in these terms,
The Japanese term boro refers to objects that have been used, broken, and worn to tatters, then mended extensively and lovingly used far beyond their normal expectations.
In a more abstract sense, she suggests, boro conveys “an extensively used and worn state of being.” In Wada’s words, boro conveys a “Japanese vernacular aesthetics.” In this tradition, “there was no rule to follow other than to instinctively and selflessly uphold the basic purpose and function of the object through the simple process of darning…” In other words, the functional project of mending produced an opening for creativity and experimentation in the hands of the craftsman.
Intended for use, rather than display or fashion, boro textiles were unburdened by conformity to broader aesthetic trends and the demands of consumer society. Instead, for Wada, boro “represents a visual record of the social and cultural history of common folks in Japan.”
It is interesting to consider Hirata’s work, which evokes this cultural history even as it draws in new, modern influences, in this light. In many ways, Kapital seems to dance at the boundary of high fashion and traditional workwear. The father-son enterprise, which exudes the intimacy and inimitability of family history, is of apiece with these older traditions of communal making.
At the same time, Kapital shifts these traditional methods into the context of modern manufacturing, fashion, and the world of American denim. It would be too simple and dismissive to capture the complexity of this engagement with a trope like ‘East meets West,’ but in Kapital there is an undeniable entanglement between the long history of traditional Japanese textile craft, and the 20th century of globalization, American cultural hegemony, and luxury consumerism.
In approaching each garment as a puzzle to be solved, rather than a product whose final form is planned in advance, Hirata opens himself up to the experience of working with fabric in a way not unlike the traditional boro menders of Japanese history. The purpose of mending is the restoration of function, the return of cloth into the cycle of life, and in this free encounter with the material, there is an opportunity to create beauty.
Wada, Y.I. “Japanese Boro: A New Way to See Beauty.” VÄV Magazine, Scandinavian Weaving Magazine, Nr. 4, 2016 Linköping, SWEDEN.