Kitsuné may have started as a record label over 10 years ago, but it's been gaining momentum as a fashion brand more recently. Last September, it showed its charming, Parisian-meets-preppy wares during New York Fashion Week for the first time, and while founders Masaya Kuroki (a former architect) and Gildas Loaëc (once Daft Punk's artistic director) decided not to show this season, they are unlikely to lose that momentum anytime soon.
Kuroki and Loaëc were in town during NYFW in February for a party to celebrate a new Kitsuné music compilation and the arrival of the spring 2015 collection at its New York flagship, which is attached to the hip Nomad Hotel. It was there that we sat down to chat about the brand's ambitions — both short and long-term. They were also in town to check on the progress of their second New York store, set to open imminently on Rivington just off of Bowery, across the street from Freemans Sporting Club and hip, beautifully-designed new ice cream shop Morgenstern's, whose proprietors are apparently interested in collaborating with Kitsuné. "I’ll ask, 'Why is that so expensive, your ice cream?' and he’ll ask, 'Why is your cashmere so expensive?'" joked Kuroki.
Part of the founders' (and their brand's) charm is a certain self-awareness. Kuroki is admittedly confused when he sees teenagers at his store, or when young fans approach him. "I’m like, how can you afford [our clothes]?" Indeed, a fairly simple cashmere sweater might set you back $600. But the brand's dedication to details, quality and having almost everything made in Europe (for now at least) has been working for them. Currently, it has five retail stores — three in Paris, one in Tokyo and one in New York — all of which exhibit that attention to detail. Kuroki and Loaëc like to mix cultural elements and defy expectations, so a Paris store might have Japanese tatami elements, while a Tokyo store might have French molding. Kuroki says he wants the Lower Reast Side store to feel a bit more feminine, because it's in such a masculine neighborhood.
They're making a big push for retail growth in 2015 — besides the additional New York store set to open at the end of March or early April, they'll open a fourth location in Paris, a second in Tokyo and their first in Hong Kong. In early 2016, they'll open a third store in Tokyo (where they've actually bought a whole building). They've chosen these markets strategically: They see Paris as a home base, as part of their identity. "It's nice to have a strong foundation in Paris," says Loaëc, who spends most of his time there. Though, establishing themselves in that city has not been easy, and he explains that getting retail space has been difficult, "since we are an independent company, not having a family business and not [being] part of a big group like Kering or LVMH." Kuroki is based in Tokyo, where Kitsuné's following grew rapidly early on. The city's concept stores — shops that sold clothes, coffee and music all in one place, pre-Colette — inspired the way the duo wanted to grow the brand.
The Japanese fanbase initially latched onto the music coming from the record label. "We toured and deejayed in Japan and spent so much time there in the early days to present the line and talk to people," explained Loaëc. Influential boutique United Arrows was an early supporter of the clothing line, and local fans of the music seemed to also gravitate towards the clothes (if they could afford them) as they became more widely available. Japan is now Maison Kitsuné's largest market.
More recently, the founders noticed tourists from Hong Kong buying their clothes in Japan — hence the decision to open up shop there next, following a pop-up shop during Art Basel, which will take place in Hong Kong for the first time the week after next. New York is a market that they're focused on building out, and Kuroki said they chose the less retail-heavy Flatiron and LES neighborhoods over the Upper East Side or SoHo, chiefly because other stores aren't there. "We don’t see ourselves in SoHo with all those big brands," he said. They plan to show at NYFW again in the fall.
Business strategies aside, Kuroki and Loaëc are natural observers of what's cool, and tend to go towards it. According to Kuroki, Tokyo is the new New York as far as being the coolest city in the world, and it has apparently become a big shopping destination for wealthy hipster teenagers from L.A. Hong Kong is also "very cool," he says, adding that there is "so much creativity there."
In addition to the store openings, Kuroki and Loaëc are in discussions for a holiday collaboration with Japanese beauty giant Shu Uemura -- they'd follow up Karl Lagerfeld, who debuted a Choupette-themed collection last year.
It may not be long before Kitsuné has a cosmetics line of its own, if it's something they want: The fact that the brand has attracted such a large global following without any real investment into marketing beyond social media suggests that it has a lot of potential. Kuroki and Loaëc look up to brands like Comme des Garcons and Ralph Lauren for their ability to withstand the test of time and appeal to a wide range of ages and cultures. When asked why they chose a fox as their logo, Kuroki explained, "There’s already the horse; there’s already the crocodile ... it’s too ambitious to say that we will be next, but maybe one day in a vintage store, we will see our fox. In between an old Ralph Lauren polo and an old Lacoste polo, there will be a Maison Kitsuné polo. That would be awesome."
Might as well invest in one now to sell on Ebay later. You can snap up this one for $170 at Net-a-Porter.