Tokyo has long been known as one of the fashion capitals of the world. From classic, minimalist pieces to high street threads, its reputation for diverse aesthetics has garnered the interest of many fashion icons to spend time exploring Japanese fashion. One such individual is LDN2HK, a prominent figure in the global streetwear community who has called Tokyo home for the last few years.
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1. What does fashion mean to you?
It’s evolved throughout the course of my life. Like all teenagers, brands and styles for me were tribal signifiers of what subculture you identified with. Even a specific sneaker could signal the type of music you listened to. As I got older, I began to appreciate fashion as a medium for more personal self-expression, design thinking and creativity. Now I see it as a part of myself, an extension of my own personal style and experiences. I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled a lot and lived across the world. My style now is very much derived from these experiences.
2. At what age did you first begin to notice street fashion?
Our awareness of fashion tends to start in our teenage years and is, of course, influenced by our social circles such as older siblings. I was a typical teenager that got into skate, punk, and hip-hop culture, some of the core pillars of street fashion.
I grew up in suburban Houston, Texas during a time when my area wasn’t as fashion-forward or progressive as it is today. I had to rely a lot on MTV and magazines as those were my windows into the ‘energy centers’ of the US such as New York and Los Angeles, where underground culture was really thriving. Pre-internet, you’d pick up a copy of Thrasher or URB to flip through for inspiration from artists and celebrities. You could order streetwear brands from the back of the magazines and sometimes you would have to contact companies directly. I moved to Hong Kong when I was a teen in the 1990s and that expanded my world view of street culture immensely.
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3. One of your more famous quotes has been “Chase life, not IG [Instagram] life.” How do you think the role of social media has shaped street fashion?
Social media has shifted people’s reasons for getting into fashion. When I first got onto Instagram in 2013, it was a very nascent platform and I used it to share my knowledge about street culture which I had amassed from over 15 years of being active in the community. Back then, it didn’t matter what your passion point was. Instagram was just a place to feel inspired and share the things you liked, no matter what they were.
Since then, the platform has become a major touchpoint and as a result, quite commercialized. I don’t feel like people’s intentions are around ‘What I’m passionate about,’ but more about going viral, monetizing themselves or portraying a certain lifestyle that they don’t have.
What I really mean by the quote is that it’s cool if you want to use social media as a platform to share your interests and connect with others. But don’t let an app on your phone be your entire life and remember that everything on social media is hyper-curated with what people choose to show.
4. Who are some of your favorite Japanese designers and some of your favorite pieces that you’ve picked up in Japan?
I’m obviously a fan of all the known heavyweights in Japanese fashion such as Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. Then there are the ‘ura-Hara’ legends like Hiroshi Fujiwara and Jun Takahashi of Undercover. I also like some of the more recent figures including Hiroki Nakamura of Visvim and Chitose Abe of Sacai.
Japan does a really great job of curating regional exclusive items. That said, some personal favorites I’ve picked up are vintage pieces. For a long time, I would travel to Hong Kong from the US to visit family and use that as an opportunity to get some of these pieces. Since moving to Tokyo, it’s been like being a kid in a candy store. Older pieces referred to as “grails” are highly coveted overseas and they’re more widely available here in Japan at less marked-up prices.
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5. What are some trends you’ve seen recently or trends you hope to be adopted more widely in the future?
Fashion moves so quickly today and people tend to get fatigued by the number of new releases. The globalization of the industry has also meant that one can get instant gratification from ordering almost anything online, anytime and having it shipped anywhere versus back in the day, when you would have to travel to places in Japan to find it.
As mentioned before, I’m seeing a stronger appreciation for the secondary vintage market. There is a real art to finding pieces whether in-person or online. It takes a certain amount of knowledge, history and passion for the brands and of the designers to thrift streetwear. There’s something special about having a unique older piece versus dropping a ton of cash on the newest item that everyone has. I’m seeing a lot of people specialize in what we call archival fashion. I think this will continue to grow.
6. Sustainable fashion seems to be a growing movement. Do you see elements of that coming through in street brands?
I think that all big brands do have a responsibility to pursue sustainability in terms of labor and the material they use. Fast fashion is seriously impacting the environment in terms of the way they produce clothing and the short lifetime of their use.
But you could say streetwear has always been sustainable. Streetwear brands started off small, so they had to create items in more limited quantities since they did not have the size and scale of fast fashion companies. Usually, materials were produced locally as designers had to use what was available within their production ecosystem versus producing and shipping from abroad, which has a bigger carbon footprint. In addition, due to the limited quantity of items, there is a full sell-through and the clothes often have a second and third lifecycle in the thrifting and resell market. So, it may not be called sustainable but in many ways, the business model already is.
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7. Outside of fashion, did you have an interest in Japan? What originally brought you here?
When you grow up as an Asian American, you tend to absorb all things “Asian” whether it’s related to your specific ethnicity or not. There are some commonalities in terms of values and culture, so I felt a sense of closeness with Japan. A family friend of ours is Japanese and she’s like an aunt to me. Through her, I learned a lot about the culture as a child. My first visit to Japan was in the early 2000s. It was to Hiroshima and the countryside around it. I didn’t make it to Tokyo until 2004 which was when I saw Japanese street culture and cars. That was another passion point for me.
Living in America, we received a lot of exports from Japan that were always seen as “cool” such as Japanese video games and electronics. Nintendo is a great example of a Japanese brand with a strong impression for an American kid growing up during those times. The Japanese influence has always been with me throughout my life, whether in a small or significant way.
8. Has living in Tokyo influenced your perspective on fashion?
I’d heard of and began to appreciate Japanese street fashion from my years of living and traveling to Hong Kong. This is because Hong Kong was usually the first point outside of Japan where Japanese streetwear brands were selling their products. When I eventually moved to Japan, I started to notice more subtle nuances in their clothing. There’s a larger focus on cuts and the silhouette of a piece. I also think the attention to fine details like stitching and technical fabrics is also what makes Japanese fashion very unique.
Streetwear first originated in America through surf and skate plus elements of hip-hop and punk. Japanese streetwear is an adoption of this but as with everything they do, they’ve curated what they know and made it their own. For example, the classic denim blue jean is probably the most iconic American fashion staple. In Japan, however, they’ve taken it a step further. They pay very close attention to the kind of dye used and the kind of cotton they source for it. There’s a very handcrafted approach with a meticulous nature to it and the result is uniquely Japanese.
With Japanese denim, you can also buy it raw, so it is not pre-washed or worn in. It’s stiff like cardboard when you first buy it, but the idea is to wear it constantly and over time it curves into your body and takes on your characteristics. Like the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, the wear over time brings out the little imperfections that are celebrated and appreciated. I think this has also transcended into Japanese sneaker culture where pre-worn shoes are respected and there’s an appreciation for the history behind them.
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9. Any interesting collaborations or notable projects you’ve been able to work on since moving to Japan?
Being based in Tokyo has opened up a lot of opportunities for me whether it’s marketing campaigns or consulting. I’ve shot Tokyo-based campaigns for Adidas China and lookbooks for fwrd.com.
One of my favorite projects has been helping one of Mastermind Japan’s retail platforms. It’s wild to me because 15 years ago I was hunting for Mastermind Japan clothing in Hong Kong. Fast forward to Tokyo and I’m actually hanging out with the founder and designer himself.
When there’s an event or an opening in Tokyo, I’m really happy to be invited. I’ve supported brands like Kim Jones’ Dior show in Odaiba and the grand opening of Kith Tokyo in Shibuya. I also do collaboration projects with other figures in the Tokyo streetwear scene. This included an educational video on Japanese sneaker culture I did with Reggie Casual. He’s a fashion YouTuber based in Tokyo.
10. What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to get into street fashion?
Buy what you like, not what everyone else likes. There are plenty of smaller brands and niches out there that you can support. You don’t have to buy mainstream “hype” items all the time. I think brands like Uniqlo do some amazing collaborations and make streetwear much more accessible.
In the long term, you don’t need to find the newest drop. I highlighted the vintage market where you can find investment pieces and older staples that maybe people aren’t even aware of or looking for. For example, Kaws is one of the biggest street artists today with collaborations with everyone from Dior to Nike. However, a lot of people don’t know that Kaws had a Japanese label in the early 2000s called OriginalFake that is available and accessible if you know where to look. Often vintage is rarer while still being affordable. Especially in Japan, people take better care of their items so secondhand stuff still looks brand new.
Everyone starts somewhere. I often get comments from people who admire my collection. Yet, the reality is that it’s something I’ve accumulated over the span of two decades. I started very early on by scouring message boards and buying used clothing. Don’t feel bad and try not to compare with others. Just focus on what is achievable within your budget and lifestyle!