When Japanese fashion designer Ryohei Kawanishi began Landlord in 2015, he was unsure of the brand’s viability. “At the time, I had just met my investor [now Landlord’s CEO Dan Huang] and we were unsure about continuing the label,” Kawanishi, the 29-year-old designer who studied at Central Saint Martin and Parsons, tells Billboard.
But after an overwhelmingly successful Fall/Winter 2016 debut at Men’s NYFW — a collection inspired by ’90s Gap, vintage military garments and German fine-art photographer/Frank Ocean collaborator Wolfgang Tillmans — Landlord became one of hip-hop’s favorite labels.
A$AP Rocky, Tyga, Machine Gun Kelly and The Weeknd have all championed Kawanishi’s designs, which are known for their classic streetwear silhouettes and utilitarian style akin to blue-collar uniforms. The New York-based label has also designed four exclusive pieces for Big Sean’s I Decided. tour.
Following Landlord’s newfound popularity among musicians and their fans, their Fall/Winter 2017 collection draws explicitly on Southern hip-hop, corny graphics and all. “I haven’t seen a hip-hop influence in high fashion in quite a long time,” Kawanishi says. “I wanted to reference the labels and artists that reflected the ’90s and ’00s generations of hip-hop. I live in Harlem and it’s something I see a lot.”
Below, Billboard caught up with designer and Landlord creative director Kawanishi about his compelling inspirations and dressing Big Sean.
What was it like growing up in your hometown in Japan? Did you always know you wanted to be a fashion designer?
I’m originally from a very rural area of Japan — I’m a country boy. [Laughs] When I was young, there wasn’t anything to do. My biggest hobby was looking through fashion magazines.
In your latest collection, Fall/Winter 2017, you were inspired by Southern hip-hop. Which specific artists and brands were you looking at from that era?
My biggest reference is Big Tymers from Cash Money Records. I liked what Cam’ron and Snoop Dogg were wearing in the ’90s and ’00s, as well as The Hot Boys — I was listening to a lot of Juvenile and Lil Wayne from that era. Then, I looked at a lot of labels that were popular in that era, like Dickies, Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Ralph Lauren.
You collaborated with British Photoshop artist James Howard for this collection. What about his aesthetic do you like?
I don’t want to be too serious and I prefer to work with a twist. For example, I was inspired by Big Bear’s Doin’ Thangs album artwork, which is really tacky. I was also inspired by Dennis Rodman because of his crazy hair color and he was always wearing womenswear — I like that kind of weirdness.
Why do you think your designs were blowing up in hip-hop before you were even trying to reference the genre?
Maybe one of the biggest reasons is the silhouettes. We normally make a more oversized fit. Right now, most of the menswear is really fitted to the bodies in more traditional styles. But I don’t like that at all, and I feel it makes menswear more interesting to use loose silhouettes and sagging, gangster style. Our garments are pretty easy to access.
Tell us about dressing Big Sean for his “I Decided.” tour.
His stylist [Ade Samuel] reached out to us. We made four pieces exclusively for him, including the classic Nylon Denim Jacket and Nylon Denim Pants set in hot orange and white.
What else can we expect from you in 2017?
One of the most interesting things about fashion is how you keep connecting with people, so I’m open to new collaborations with labels, artists, and musicians. As a next step, I’d love to open a pop up shop with a musician.