Photography: Lane Lang
Since beginning his label LANDLORD in 2015, Japanese designer Ryohei Kawanishi has drawn much of his inspiration from music and the various subcultures that surround certain sounds. Last season, it was all about hip-hop, which makes sense given that the label is a favorite of people like Migos, A$AP Rocky, and The Weeknd. This season, Kawanishi dove deep into reggae culture, using the classic Rastafarian color palette plus copious weed leaves and even a subtle shout out to Bob Marley himself to pay homage to the vibrancy of Jamaica.
“I try to reflect what I see daily,” explains Kawanishi, who has lived in both Harlem, New York and Dalston, London, two neighborhoods known for their heavy Caribbean influence. “What I see a lot in Harlem — I live on 125th street — is it will be Friday night, midnight, and they play the music loudly from speakers in a car, and in the summer, of course, people play reggae music. So I said, okay, I reflect that. We are a streetwear brand, I try to show what I see on the street.”
Kawanishi’s desire to take what he observes on the street and translate it onto the runway is admirable if a little fraught. The collection, while clearly not coming from a place of malice on the designer’s part, nevertheless toes the line between homage and cultural appropriation and occasionally comes across as an outsider’s caricature of Jamaican culture. Kawanishi, however, says he is interested in using fashion to bring people together and celebrate — not appropriate — various cultures.
“When I lived in Dalston, it was Carribean people, Asian people, all races mixed together,” he says. “And I was there, and it was one of those things, everybody played reggae music. I want to reflect that [sense of togetherness].”
Luckily, other influences in the collection help to assuage some of the tension. Kawanishi’s camo print, rendered in variations of pink, yellow, black, and army green, is bold and eye-catching, especially when splattered on suits worn sans shirt and with the addition of matching kicks. The utilitarian aesthetic has become something of a calling card for LANDLORD, which operates from of a clothing factory in Brooklyn that produces things like military uniforms and bulletproof vests.
Kawanishi also expertly lampoons knock-off culture with a Burberry-esque plaid that’s as obviously fake as the handbags sold on the sidewalk in SoHo. And certain pieces, like a satin bomber with thick stripes of red, yellow, and emerald green, feel elevated enough that it’s clear they’re mostly products of Kawanishi’s own imagination. Whether or not that makes them safe from cries of appropriation, however, remains to be seen.