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GREATEST: Kozue Akimoto

Goth to punk. Tokyo to Paris. The fashion muse examines nomadic lifestyles and childhood dreams with friend and creative partner Eri Wakiyama.

Photography by Shoichi Aoki Styling by Reina Ogawa Clarke Interview by Eri Wakiyama INTRO: Graeme Campbell HAIR AND MAKEUP: Yoshiko Arai PRODUCTION: Sho Mitsui PHOTO ASSISTANT: Yosuke Shoji STYLING ASSISTANT: Riko Ikuta
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Model. DJ. Author. Actor. Kozue Akimoto’s stardom resonates far beyond Tokyo’s famous Shibuya district, but it was here that she honed her fashion lexicon while growing up in the Japanese capital. As Akimoto became acquainted with subcultures as varied as goth, punk and even Victorian-inspired “cutesie” movements like Lolita, photographer and past GREATEST collaborator Shoichi Aoki prowled the same pavements with his camera. Here, Aoki showcased Harajuku free style—the high-octane, anything-goes manner of dressing that involved multiple layers, accessories and a healthy disregard for wardrobe orthodoxy—to the broader world via FRUiTS Magazine, his Tokyo street style magna carta that was recently rebooted following a five-year hiatus.

The accompanying Aoki-lensed visuals spotlight some of Akimoto’s favorite Tokyo haunts, including her mentor Mitsuhiro Kubo’s cult streetwear mecca GR8. Joining the duo is illustrator Eri Wakiyama. A California transplant now based in New York, Wakiyama’s ethereal aesthetics have been tapped by the likes of Supreme, Fucking Awesome, Brain Dead and Miu Miu. She and Akimoto share a long friendship, having previously worked together on an exclusive badge that accompanied the release of Akimoto’s second book, Kozue 2017–2018.

Together, the three artists present a unique snapshot of the metropolis that continues to impact their lives and careers, with the conversation jumping from fashion to travel.

OUTERWEAR: Yohji Yamamoto Jacket / TOP: Yohji Yamamoto Shirt / DRESS: Yohji Yamamoto Asymmetric Dress / FOOTWEAR: Yohji Yamamoto Boot 'Black'

When we first met in Paris, I felt a bond between us, and we hit it off right away.

In Paris, everyone loved fashion or they worked in the same industry. We all had something in common. Today, these opportunities to see each other feel so special; you can’t take these things for granted. Being able to see friends abroad is special. It’s way more exciting than just getting food together in Tokyo.

We don’t talk every day. We don’t see each other every day. We don’t work together directly. But we understand each other. And the mutual connection we have is…I don’t know how to put this into words, but it feels really natural. I didn’t have to suppress myself at all to be friends with you. I often make friends from work, be it in Paris, Japan or New York. It’s different from everyday encounters.

The other day, you were like, “I’m in Tokyo!” And our friend was like, “I’m in Tokyo too!” It’s all last-minute, but sometimes everyone happens to be in the same place. Timing is a huge factor. No matter how badly you want to meet someone, there are so many people you miss because of timing.

When was the first time you went to Paris?

2013 was my first Paris Fashion Week. I just wanted to go see the shows. I was like, “Paris is where the real fashion exists!” I had no knowledge whatsoever, so I contacted the press people and told them what I wanted to see. They were like, “Why?” Back then, non-industry people didn’t visit shows like that.

DRESS: sacai Turtleneck Mini Dress With Satin-Bonding Back Panel / FOOTWEAR: sacai Boot 'Black' / ACCESSORIES: Margaret Howell Paraffin Cotton Canvas Bags

What I imagine being born and raised in Tokyo is like compared to what you’ve actually been through must be completely different. When I was learning about fashion in university, “Tokyo fashion” was always a topic: genres like cosplay or subcultures like goth, Lolita, gyaru.

Punk!

Yeah! Punk too. My father told me, “Eri, you can do whatever you want to, but you have to be the best at it.” In Japan, there are people who’ve made up their minds to live as Lolitas. Like, they are devoted and dedicated. If you’re punk, you go all the way. Did you belong to any type of genre?

I’ve been shopping in Harajuku since I was a child. I went through all the Lolita, goth and punk clothes, and I bought some pieces from those genres. But I was the daughter of a pro sumo wrestler, and I couldn’t go all the way. I couldn’t be extreme. I wanted to look punk, but people would be like, “Oh that’s Chiyonofuji’s daughter … ” I’d always notice and keep those eyes in mind.

Were your parents strict?

They wouldn’t say “no,” but Japanese people always talk behind your back, so I was always careful. Overseas you get to dress however you like. At the end of the day, you do what you want. But here in Japan, the more you stand out, the more hate you get.

You look powerful when you’re in Paris at a Comme des Garçons show. You’re saying that you’re trying to be low-key and not stand out, but to me it’s the opposite. You stand out in a good way! You look confident.

I do feel confident when I’m dressed in a certain “costume” like that. When you dress yourself in Comme or Rick, you need to have the appropriate mindset.

That must be so exciting and fun.

Oh, it is. It’s surreal. I get to do that because I’m a professional model. Since I get to dress like that in Paris, I feel like I don’t really have to do that so often here in Japan.

We don’t talk every day. We don’t see each other every day. We don’t work together directly. But we understand each other.

Eri Wakiyama

OUTERWEAR: Tao Comme des Garçons Jacket and Cape / DRESS: Tao Comme des Garçons Plaid Dress / FOOTWEAR: Tao Comme des Garçons Loafer 'Red'

But when you’re abroad representing CDG, you’re still Kozue Akimoto. You still have that strong identity and it looks like you. I think that’s key for creatives. You can be anywhere and do your thing. You can be influenced by other factors but you never bend or break to them. You’re you and that’s vital.

I’m not saying that I look good in every Comme piece. Same goes with anyone. You have a brand that you love, but you wouldn’t wear each and every piece from them. Of course, I’ll wear clothes I like, but people from the Comme pressroom will be so sincerely excited, looking at me and saying, “I’m looking forward to seeing how you style pieces from our latest collection!”

That excitement is so precious and rare. Not everyone gets that opportunity. You being able to make the best of that opportunity is so cool.

It’s fun and I love it—but I’m not going to do what I don’t want to, and I’m not going to lie to my fans. If I ever have to lie, that’s when I quit. If I faked it, you’d be able to tell. I don’t want to do something just for the sake of money.

Looking back on when you were a child to now, it feels like you’ve changed a lot, but in the end, you’re always you. That’s why you know which brands you want to work with.

It’s something I’ve had to learn. Japanese people are bad at saying “no.”

The word “no” doesn’t exist in Japan.

I often have to think about when to say “no.” I tell my clients what I think in my own words, and I never say anything to sound mean. I always try to make myself clear and explain my intentions. I’m responsible for every word I’ve said in the past, and I stand by them. That’s probably why my clients listen to what I have to say.

What are you working on other than modeling? Where do you see yourself headed?

I make accessories with beads, and I was knitting the other day … I think building my own company from scratch and making clothes would be a fun challenge. I have so much respect for people who’ve been making clothes forever. Take Tabis. I wear Tabi boots all the time, so I’d want to make Tabi socks.

What about when you were younger? What was your dream job?

Nothing. Oh wait—I’d hear what others would say and copy them. So if everyone said “florist,” I said the same.

TOP: Onitsuka Tiger Made in Japan Shirt / BOTTOM: Onitsuka Tiger Made in Japan Long Skirt / FOOTWEAR: Onitsuka Tiger Sclaw 'Black/White' / ACCESSORIES: Margaret Howell Headscarf

You wanted to be that because everyone else said so?

I never had any dreams. I didn’t think like that. Even modeling was a coincidence. I started modeling for a hair salon when I was in high school, and that led to a magazine shoot. I really liked fashion and makeup, so I vaguely imagined that I was going to work in the industry. Then I entered university, but I wasn’t sure if it would mean anything to me. Going to university in Japan is very different from university in the U.S. No one’s studying here. They’re just partying. I commuted to school every day for two hours from home, and that’s why I took it seriously.

I know what you mean. I went to fashion school to be a fashion designer but I somehow ended up more on the business side of fashion. I still work in the fashion industry, but I eventually went back to painting and drawing. That’s all I can do now. That’s all I’ve got. I can’t work for another company!

I couldn’t either. But you’re doing that now because of the choices you made in the past and the people around you.

My family wasn’t supportive when I said I wanted to work in fashion or art. Where I grew up, fashion didn’t exist. It was all tech companies. That’s probably why I wanted to do fashion, because I didn’t have it around me. I never thought I’d end up in New York, but I feel so blessed to have friends all over the world.

I feel exactly the same. I’ve grown up, and I can choose to go anywhere I want to on my own. That’s such a blessing.

You say “grown up,” but my room is like a kid’s room. I still have my collectibles from Nakano Broadway!

I don’t think it’s a child or adult thing. Yesterday I saw a friend and she was buying so many cute, fun toys. She gets inspired by them. That’s one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by you: You always surprise me in the best ways when we work together.

Shop Styles Inspired By Kozue Akimoto’s Looks