Kapital & Modern Day fashion

BY Tyler Sandoval

I think it’s hard to fully portray the aura of mystery surrounding Kapital when they first started landing on people’s radars during the early aughts. It might be hard to imagine, but during those #menswear years, Japanese fashion wasn’t central to the discourse the way it is now. Yea, people knew Engineered Garments (tho I’d argue that isn’t really a Japanese brand), and people knew Visvim, and people knew the streetwear brands because we were still relatively newly in the post-Bape world, but even heads weren’t really seeking out ”obscure” new Japanese brands the way they do now. All of that is to say, it wasn’t popping up on my tumblr feed the way it pops up all over my Instagram feed these days.

frizmworks carpenter pants, IPFU track jacket, and round cardigan on body

The first Kapital pic I remember seeing was back in 2011 or 2012 on filmmaker Jake Davis’ typepad (which I say all the time was both goated and ahead of its time), on a post titled “If I Had a Tumblr” (which I say all the time was a goated post). It was a dude standing in front of what looks like the Grand Tetons wearing some kinda goofy brunch-adjacent hat and, more importantly, a faded army green ring coat. I’d never seen anything like it. It was double breasted in a Peacoat On Acid kinda way, had a lot of pockets, and legitimately looked to me like it could have some kind of authentically vintage jacket that Badlands ranchers would have worn back in the day. It was definitely turned up to 11, but, like all great riffings on vintage Americana, it was still clearly rooted in some kind of historical garment. It took me a bit of exploring to learn that 1) it sadly wasn't an authentic picture of a Badlands rancher and 2) that it was from an image from a lookbook for a Japanese brand called Kapital, specifically their FW 2011 Colorado Hippies lookbook.

frizmworks mil pants and balmacaan half jacket on body

Kapital was founded by Toshikiyo Hirata in the 1980s as a denim brand and later a vintage store, but it’s really since Toshikiyo’s son, Kiro Hirata, joined the brand and assumed the creative helm in the 2000s that it’s become an iconic and globally coveted fashion brand.  The senior Mr. Hirata started the brand in Kojima, a small district in the western Japanese prefecture of Okayama that’s generally considered the denim capital of Japan (which is itself the denim capital of the world); hence the name Kapital. That’s history right there, you understand? That kind of pedigree, that kind of history to build off of, is what elevates Kapital from novelty to visionary. Denim is still still at the core of what they do, but they use it as a foundation for all kinds of weirdo riffs on archetypal American workwear and sportswear. Country music legend Gram Parsons said he made Cosmic American Music. Kapital makes Cosmic American Clothing.

For most of us, denim just means a pair of jeans, but as Kiro told GQ’s Noah Johnson, denim is his philosophy. The best Kapital denim reimagines rugged Americana through the lens of traditional Japanese craftsmanship, with a little extra sauce thrown in to keep it from feeling too costumey. Their Century Denim, one of their signature styles, are cut like early-20th century dungarees, with a straight fit and a back cinch, but are made with the intricate sashiko stitching of historic Japanese workwear and are among the most tactilely satisfying garments I’ve ever handled. Their most eye-catching denim creations might be the boro-style garments, which use the artful Japanese patchwork repair technique to give pants, jackets, and even hats a uniquely distressed-and-repaired, worn-in-not-out texture and character. They look like something a sci-fi hobo cowboy would wear in an artsy-but-still-pulpy graphic novel.
frizmworks parka and fatigue pants on body
frizmworks parka and fatigue pants on body

This approach, of putting American and Japanese workwear in a blender with a hefty dose of imagination, pervades everything within each sprawling Kapital collection. You can see it in full effect in their seasonal catalogues. All shot by photographer Eric Kvatek, they’ve become souvenirs, ravenously collected by Kapital enthusiasts around the globe, and are the clearest distillation of the brand’s creative vision. They look like RRL campaigns on psychedelics; with hippies and surfers and preppies and rockers hanging out alongside, or taking the place of, the cowboys and ranchers. And all of these mashed up, tripped out takes on archetypal characters are reflected in the clothes.They got oversized tees and floral Hawaiian shirts with skeleton motifs that give real Wooks On Motorcycles vibes. Their now-signature smiley faces give hippie-dippie vibes to otherwise basic garments like sweaters and raglan socks. Oversized Kapital Kountry U sweatshirts look like alternate universe team issues for Jimmie Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes from the 1980s. Even accessories like the bandanas or the aprons and trucker hats that advertise the fictional(?) Kapital Denim Services feel like artifacts from their extended cinematic universe. 

It’s no surprise that both down-the-rabbit-hole jawnz enthusiasts and fashion-forward celebs like A$AP Rocky and John Mayer love this stuff. Kapital gives you the chance to step into their unique vision of the quintessential post-war Americana we’re all so familiar with, and either become your own character within that world, or borrow from it just enough to carry their sense of creativity and imagination with you into your everyday life.