To label Fragment founder Hiroshi Fujiwara is near impossible; he is not just a mere designer or musician or writer or collaborator. Fujiwara was born near the Ise Jingu – a Shinto shrine and highly sacred area for the people of Japan – but while he was seemingly blessed by the gods of which resided close by, no one could’ve predicted that he’d build his own religion – streetwear. For the man who inspired retail empires A Bathing Ape and Undercover, the only title fitting for the visionary is ‘Godfather’.
It was the ’80s in a booming Japan and Hiroshi Fujiwara arrived in the city of Tokyo. As a fresh-faced 18-year-old, the hopeful teenager donned a distressed denim jacket, black tank and high-rise jeans, slashed if he had experienced more than sitting front row at Tokyo’s famed Fight Club. For the adolescent who moved from the city of Ise in the Mie Prefecture, the relaxed, punk sensibilities of London were calling – a seemingly distant culture, impervious to the conservative nature of his upbringing.
In London, the newcomer had a by-chance encounter with Malcolm McLaren, former manager of The Sex Pistols and co-founder (alongside Vivienne Westwood) of Seditionaries. After a recommendation, his travels then took him to New York, where underground hip-hop had erupted into mainstream America. With it, music and style inevitably evolved into oversized silhouettes, hardware, worn detailing and a fresh subculture of coveted sneakers. In an absence of the internet – it wouldn’t gain traction until the early ’90s – Fujiwara used his tales of travel and abundant list of industry contacts to share the new-age popular culture in Japan. Amid endeavours as a DJ throughout Tokyo and simultaneously with the boom of Harajuku youth in Tokyo, the creative became the link between Asia and the West. The musician-cum-writer documented his endless travels in local magazines and shared knowledge of skate culture, style and the technicalities behind DJing. His work was notably found in the regular column “Last Orgy” in Takarajim and a later column in men’s fashion and lifestyle giant Popeye, similarly titled “Last Orgy 2”. With a keen eye and dedicated audience – you could argue he was the ‘original’ influencer – the pull of Fujiwara then translated into design.
According to Fujiwara, the fascination and overwhelming success of the Japanese fashion industry could be attested to the “good eye” of its designers. The 55-year-old is known among the likes of Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, but his affinity for streetwear and underground culture separates the designer into his own league. His entrance into the retail league arrived with the founding of streetwear Harajuku boutique Nowhere in 1993, after partnering with celebrated creatives Jun Takahashi and Tomoaki Nagao aka Nigo. Later, Takahashi collaborated with Fujiwara again for AFFA (Anarchy Forever Forever Anarchy), directly influenced by McLaren’s Seditionaries. In 1994, Fujiwara was also a pivotal influence in Shinsuke Takizawa’s streetwear brand Neighborhood. From then on, he earned the reputation ‘Godfather of Streetwear’.
Before the surge of popularity from the box logo of James Jebbia’s Supreme New York and its iconic flagship on Lafayette Street at the same time, Fujiwara launched his first solo venture, Goodenough. Building upon the basis of hype, the designer drew style cues from fellow street empires such as Stüssy and Anarchic Adjustment and created premium graphic T-shirts and high-end clothing. The pieces were released in limited quantities and were made available on release day – reminiscent of A Bathing Ape’s and Neighborhood’s launch strategy today. The concept of scarcity was incredibly successful and is more widely adopted in 2019. Goodenough expanded into London and followed with a diffusion label, Resonate Goodenough, in 2004. Thirty years on and the streetwear mogul lives through two lightning bolts – the brand mark of his cult collaboration effort, Fragment Design.
The Fujiwara philosophy is as simple as it is profound: “a designer is not a designer anymore,” he told The Business of Fashion in 2018. Though initially incoherent, the seemingly perplexing statement has its relevance, if not merit. With a skeleton team of three staff – Fujiwara reportedly prefers working solo – Fragment Design is a multidisciplinary imprint concept and has ultimately shaped the continuance of the streetwear scene. The unique endeavour has an impressive résumé of collaborations and includes the likes of Louis Vuitton, Off-White, Nike, Levi’s and even Pokémon and Starbucks. Emblazoned across product and the ’90s influence of its designer infused into notable styles – the Air Jordan 3, for example – Fragment collaborations are a hot commodity among resellers and savvy hype beasts. When the Godfather has something to do with design, it is almost certain to sell out. Now, Fujiwara has returned and is driving the helm of Moncler for a Fall/Winter 2019 collaboration.
Splashing industrial branding across distinctive silhouettes synonymous with the Italian lifestyle house, as with Spring/Summer 2020, Fujiwara has updated the beloved styles with a grittier appeal, described by the creative as an “unreleased Hiroshi, but it is also an unreleased Moncler”. Formed as part of the Moncler Genius World Tour, the forthcoming collaborative venture will raise the Genius concept to the next level. Each collection has a dedicated launch and October sees Fujiwara’s connection with vintage and military style fused with urban and tech references. Quietly assertive, the regular collaborator creates cult-like pieces with subtle nods to aviator-style cues, Americana mix with mod nods and Pokémon touches first seen in the 7 Moncler Fragment Hiroshi Fujiwara collection. Key looks include a military green parka and nylon bomber in a bid to blend Moncler’s own technology and craftsmanship with his own cultural reference. Thereafter, basic urban pieces such as a buffalo check shirt and a teddy fleece jacket get the piumino treatment, while unwashed selvedge denim jeans make an entrance in the Moncler lexicon.
The industry is rapidly changing and, with an influx of collaborative ventures from Instagram ‘celebrities’ and cool millennials, it’s Fujiwara’s knack for looking beyond what cannot be seen that tends to his perpetual success. It is a “sense” that the creative believes cannot be taught to the West. In his namesake catalogue published by Rizzoli New York, he described his inspiration as going beyond the “global street”. In 2014, the Fragment boss opened The Pool aoyama, a store within the drained, abandoned pool of a private residential building in Tokyo that housed a brand line as well as pieces from Supreme, N. Hoolywood and Undercover. After its closure in 2016, he opened The Park-Ing, a similar concept store found under the Sony building in the shopping capital of Ginza, Tokyo. A converted empty parking garage, the space was turned into a unique shopping experience. Drawing from his skills for concept retail, the designer has made hospitality his new-found obsession and as such cannot be experienced through the internet – travel is the only means.
The creative has expressed interest to design a hotel floor, something that could come to fruition in the near future. The only question left is, what’s next? To dismiss Hiroshi Fujiwara’s monumental influence within the music and fashion industry is to ignore the shift of ’80s hip-hop culture. Maturing with the modern era of digitised advancements, Fujiwara is undoubtedly leading the likes of Virgil Abloh, Kim Jones (a known close friend) and Riccardo Tisci, who look to the streetwear realm to reinvigorate the heritage of its houses. With more than three decades of experience, the name of Hiroshi Fujiwara is not his biggest attribute – he was never one to associate the name with his business ventures – but it’s his legacy of collaborations and fellow brands that have been spawned as a product of his lightbulb moments. Expect many more to come.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE OCTOBER 2019 EDITION OF ICON AUSTRALIA.
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