Kapital’s Kiro Hirata combines disparate elements of design more like a chef than a clothing designer - always experimenting with flavors. Many of them have rich cultural history and vintage inspiration as often seen in their bandanas, aloha shirts, souvenir jackets and noragi jackets. Sometimes these elements are quietly asserted like a railroad-era wabash stripe, the “drunken” stagger stripe that was popular in the Edo period (1603-1868), the vintage Phillies baseball stripe (wider spacing than hickory stripes). In patterns like the traditional Karakusa (winding plant) that dates to the Silk Road in the 700s, and a floral variation of the traditional “Seven Treasures” embroidery pattern (most are represented in the SS21 collection).
Some of the design and history is hidden in the construction like boro patching and sashiko stitching or in the dyeing methods - using lots of natural indigo dye, but also traditional persimmon tannin dyes, hippie tie-dyes, garment dyeing (made and then dyed for color variance), and discharge dyeing graphic elements. Motifs and symbols like Native American conchos and Thunderbirds, China buttons from Kung Fu jackets, American military and rebel moto-culture, Japanese Yökai and, of course: Kapital’s smilies and bones.
Unlike the Smilies (that Kiro Hirata has been sprinkling in since the beginning), the Bones were more recently introduced to Kapital’s bag of tricks and have become a quick hit amongst collectors. They don’t make their appearance every season, but when they do they tend to get snatched up quickly.
As mentioned above, Kapital does a lot of things that have hidden meaning, but they also do a lot just because it’s cool and fun to do. From the Golden Age of Piracy to 90s streetwear, classical symphonies to Hip Hop, gothic statuary to children’s cartoons, bones have been emblazoned on everything from cave walls to t-shirts. As a symbol, they have as many meanings as there are cultures. We all have ‘em. It’d be hard to get up in the morning without them.
Kapital Fair Isle knit sweater featuring Bones on the back from Fall/Winter 2020
Let’s get down to the details…
There are 5 main designs for the bones with a couple variations for each. Instead of copping a classic Jolly Rogers, these are more anatomical representations that are placed where they make sense. The front view of the chest shows the clavicle and the spinal column as it comes out from beneath the rib cage. The back has the large scapula shoulder bones and a full view of the spinal cord. Bones are also often placed on the arms and along the sides of the legs. Not as common, but brought back in SS21 is a frontal leg view with the pelvic bones.
The macramé/embroidered version uses the same pattern as the knits, but is a different variation than the screen printed version.
Top row: Kapital Kountry Jean Jacket from Fall/Winter 2019 featuring macramé/embroidered bones and another version of the Fair Isle knit sweater from Fall/Winter 2020 using the same pattern of bones. Bottom Row: Screen printed variation on a Kapital Kountry tee from Fall/Winter 2019 and the same pattern used on the Spring/Summer 2021 Bones Sweatshirt.
Variations of bones on the arms. Top Row: Left picture is embroidered on and right picture is screen printed. Both pictures are from the Spring/Summer 2021 collection. Bottom Row: More details of the arm bones and different patterns. First two pictures are from the Spring/Summer 2021 collection and the last is from Kapital Kountry Fall/Winter 2020
The embroidered appliqué used on some of the pieces utilizes the hitching techniques of macramé knotting that gives the elements lift and an interesting texture that this writer hasn't ever seen associated with bone/skeleton art. And that's another example of what's so cool about Kapital - they are constantly creating new ways of using traditional techniques. The hand built nature of so much of the work and the lengthy processes (25 steps for each pair of denim pants) encourages variation and evolution.
The heart of this approach is Kountry. Started in 2010, it isn't just the sub-label for Kapital's wilder creations. Kountry shares its name with Kapital's finishing factory where all the dyeing, washing, distressing, intricate needlework and experimentation happens. Through that work, successful elements are added to the main collections. It is from Kountry that Kapital's first bones were printed and sewn.
Also, Kountry is a crystal ball into the future of a garment. The following images are from Kapital Kountry Fall/Winter 2019 and show how the screen printed bones will age and crack after wash and wear...
Kapital Kountry bone tees. Notice the slight paint cracking like a tee that has seen some years of wash and wear as well as the subtle color variation throughout each shirt. These items are new, but show how they will continue to age with future wear as well as being examples of what garments will look like that haven't received the special Kountry treatment.
Beyond just washing and dyeing, some of the more interesting sashiko and quilted designs are created in the Kountry collections. The following sweatshirt incorporated a fully quilted panel on the back with a classic sweatshirt silhouette printed with bones on the front...
Top Row: An example of combining disparate elements for a fresh way to see traditional techniques and styles from Kapital Kountry Fall/Winter 2019 Collection. Bottom Row: Front and back of a traditional Japanese noragi jacket with bones that uses the texture of the fabric weave to create depth in the print.
Seeing is believing, but wearing Kapital is something else entirely. It is sometimes more art than a person can handle. The fully embraced wabi-sabi design ethos sometimes produces odd cuts and angles, pockets in strange places, questionable seams, strange combinations of elements and techniques developed in different places in different eras, and raggedy destruction that often challenges aesthetic norms. (For more on that, check out David Sedaris' funny article in The New Yorker here.) But for fans (many hip-hop innovators among them), the supremely art-driven style of Kapital offers a nearly unique and uncompromising vision that is sure to turn heads. The bones are just one element in a deep well of fashion/art history and global textile techniques that stitch it all together.