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Kohei Kawamura has been known to spend small fortunes on antique Japanese fireman jackets and historical French military uniforms, just so he can pick them apart for their patterns.  Working from the tiniest boutique in Tokyo, Kohei reimagines these iconic, vintage garments and creates one-off, avant-garde pieces that straddle the past and present like beautifully tailored time machines.  He calls his label Klasica.

Kohei and his wife go to Paris twice a year and rent a tiny showroom down a side alley in the Marais to present Klasica’s collections during Fashion Week. He suspends each creation from the ceiling on a thick white rope, creating a jungle of crisp overcoats, linen pants and woollen capes that waver and twist in the breeze.

Today the Japanese designer talks us through his journey from merchant to inventor in his own words.

I’ve never done any official fashion training.

At first, my wife Marina and I rented a shop space in Shimokitazawa where we sold vintage military wear.  This neighbourhood is a famous creative part of Tokyo. It has a lot of live music venues, fringe theatres, and Japanese pubs. Our shop is just outside the centre of the neighbourhood. The shop is just seven meters squared - about the size of a small garage. I think it’s probably the smallest boutique in Tokyo! People are always surprised the first time they come. It has a heavy wooden door and is tucked away on a quiet side-street.


It was always difficult to sell the larger size military pieces so we decided to rework some of them.  Of course, the vintage garments we worked with were all in a different condition and we were usually working with small quantities so we couldn’t ask a factory to do the work. Some shops wanted to buy some of these garments and the KLASICA brand evolved from there.  The first full collection was released in 2006.

My designs encompass two worlds: classic vintage and contemporary, avant-garde design. I always think about the meeting point between these two elements.  When I think about the original label… I simply had to look inwards. I know myself enough to understand that I will never lose my love for old objects. History is innate to what we do. I decided to soak the meaning of classic or ‘classical’ into my label. Klasica is part of this dialogue I have with objects that have had such an interesting lifetime. Henceforth, I try to re-design all the garments taken from particular owner’s closets after, say, ten years. In this way the connection between wearer and garment can remain invigorated.

Klasica outerwear.

KLASICA’s designs have a classic feel so they won’t look out of place whether you’re in the city or in a rural setting.

There is always a dialogue between the exterior and interior of our work. This can translate in a shell of softness and smooth textures for a pleasant feel on the skin. For me this also notes a balance between old and new, mixing the past with contemporary references, in order to create novel expressions.

My thought process is not that focussed on incorporating a very Japanese feeling. If observed through other eyes, one can of course mention our cuts, subtractive design and the understated colour palette. These might be elements that imply a sense of locality, however our research spans across a wider range of historic tailoring references.

Like most artists, sometimes I am easily inspired but sometimes ideas don’t come that readily.

We’re still working hard on KLASICA’s collections but I’m also considering other projects alongside what we do. For example, I’d like to make some reproductions of vintage and historical garments that would be available worldwide.  Of course, quality vintage/antique clothes are little by little getting more difficult to find and they tend to wear out much quicker than new garments. I’d like to work with quirky pieces rather than more mainstream designs.

Klasica details.

I’m always thinking of ways to polish each area of my life. For example, I’d like to get a bigger shop and expand into antique furniture and industrial décor because I studied furniture design in the past. I don’t design eyewear but I’m really interested in this area of design so I like checking out eyewear shops.  My favourite things outside of work are my motorbike… my bicycle… antique furniture… stray cats near our studio… vinyl… organic wine… Last year I took up surfing but I’ve still got a lot to learn.


Highlights from Klasica's newest collection are available in store and online now.