The traditional image of a fashion designer may be a well-coiffed man suited up in his atelier fanatically sketching, but realities have changed. There is a new wave of designers who make their lines in the U.S. and place a premium on closely monitoring their production and maintaining their quality.
Hiroshi “Kirk” Kakiage is an example of this type of designer. After a career as a successful buyer for Japanese stores in the ’90s, he launched his brand, Expansion Inc., in 2002. The men’s sportswear brand is inspired by military uniforms and the outdoor aesthetic. It is completely made in the U.S.
Kakiage’s design process starts with the inspiration he culls from his fabrics, all of which he has made from scratch. He sees menswear as an equation, starting with a strong fabric, such as Cone Denim or the sweatshirt fabrication he has made in North Carolina. Then he adds his “spice,” something to make the garment unique, like a specific placement of a pocket or a special pattern.
In order for the equation to be carried out properly, Kakiage feels he must be present in the process. Once manufacturing starts, he will work back and forth with the factory until the item is exactly right. He has a piece with a knit collar, which he has changed 3 to 4 times. “If something is a quarter-inch off, I am going back to the pattern maker,” he said.
As communication between designers and manufacturers can be very difficult, Kakiage regularly travels to factories to sit down with the people who are sewing. “If I go to the factory, everybody knows me,” he said. “I don’t think Expansion is only me. It’s everybody.” He believes there is an eventual pay-off for the careful monitoring of his designs, “My customer, once they buy it, they are kind of attached to it. It’s not a one time only thing.”
Besides fabric, a second source of inspiration is cinematic style. Kakiage closely connects certain garments with iconic characters. He said, “If I’m thinking about the m65 jacket, I’m thinking about Robert DeNiro, or Taxi Driver.” He continued, “When I think about the A2 leather jacket, I think of Jack Nicholson and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That jacket is his jacket.” Building off a concept, he goes to a thrift or vintage shop to get more ideas for designs.
For the Spring/Summer ‘15 collection, designs are relatively simple with unforgettable details. Classic items like cargo shorts, cloth vests and button-up shirts are updated with outlined pockets and bold patterns.
The looks come together as outfits that could, themselves, be worn by characters in films. In his lookbook, Kakiage styles his line in a quirky, boyish way with bandana neckties, patterned ankle socks, and bright sandals and sneakers. The styles morph from 19th Century railroad engineer, to boy scout, to a Mark Twain character. The retail range for the line is from $60-$300.
The line has been sold to Japanese stores Beans, Ships, and Green Angle. In the future, Kakiage looks to grow distrubution in the U.S.
Which pieces are currently getting the most wear in your own closet?
I’ve been wearing this undercover jacket, down with leather sleeves.
Which designer(s) do you find inspiring?
This season, Derek Lam. But I always like Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Wantanabe, Takeshi Ohfuchi of Post Overall’s, and Daiki Suzuki from Engineer Garments.
If you weren’t designing apparel, what would you be doing?
Psychology. That was my major in college.
What are your favorite blogs or magazines to read?
New York Times, Slamxhype, Hype Beast, Highsnobiety, Grind Magazine, CNN.
Online, or in-stores: How do you tend to shop?
In stores. Kakiage said the clothing he makes has a lot of detail to it, which makes it hard to see on a website.