Masaya Kuroki, co-founder of Maison Kitsuné: "We thought a Kitsuné resort or hotel might be a good idea"
On building a lifestyle empire
As the saying goes, 'all good things come in pairs'.
Masaya Kuroki and Gildas Loaëc are perhaps, the embodiment of the jocose adage. With their backstory interwoven with electronic duo Daft Punk, good vibes and slick tunes are naturally the heart and soul of this lifestyle brand. Add on a chain of concept cafés, a preppy dose of schoolboy sartorial sensibilities, and you've got Maison Kitsuné: A harmonious mash-up of music, fashion and silky, hot cuppas.
Co-founder Kuroki was recently on our shores for the brand's Parisien Tour 3. A worldwide celebration of their most prominent tenets — music and fashion, the occasion sees DJs on deck spinning in-store to the release of the tour's capsule clothing collection. Held at the multi-label boutique Manifesto and rounded off with a raucous club night after, the transnational shindig on its Asian leg will ultimately cavort across three continents.
But, their tour is not the only aspect of the brand that's primed to conquer the world. Maison Kitsuné most recently welcomed a new city and two boutiques to its ever-expanding repertoire — a second store in Tokyo, and its first in Hong Kong. Next up? London and Los Angeles.
Armed with insouciant Parisian charm, the Tokyo-born and French-bred Kuroki sat down with Buro 24/7 Singapore pre-party and discussed potential new ventures, a time before Kitsuné, and of course, the founders' history with electro kings, Daft Punk.
Kitsuné is our lifestyle. It's us, it's me, and it's Gildas.
Tell me about your background, and how you met co-founder, Gildas Loaëc?
I'm from Tokyo and I moved to Paris with my mum when I was 10 years old. I used to be a skater and I was working in a vintage store. Gildas ran a record store and it was the hot spot to hang out at that time. That's where we both met Daft Punk and Phoenix, actually. They're great artistes, but they were not officially Daft Punk and Phoenix then. That's how we all met. Gildas stopped his record store business and started working for Daft Punk after. I on the other hand, was studying architecture in Paris and by the time I graduated, Gildas was already a manager for Daft Punk for quite a few years. It was then that we thought of doing something together. We wanted to launch a lifestyle brand, but at that time, we didn't know this was the term for it. We simply looked to our daily lives for inspiration and that made sense to us. Kitsuné is our lifestyle. It's us, it's me, and it's Gildas. It's how we live and what we like: Music, fashion and coffee.
So it started with music first, and then fashion.
Yes. I mean, we didn't know how to go about designing a collection in the past. Neither of us studied fashion. This was about 14 years ago and Gildas knew more about DJing. We started making compilations as a music label, and we toured the world to promote ourselves — to get people to listen to our records. As far as fashion goes, I would say it's about seven years now that our designs resemble a proper collection. We've just learnt along the way, and I still am learning and constantly getting inspired by people. I'll see something and think, why not do this next year?
As you've mentioned, you're trained in architecture. Do you think that gives you a different design perspective?
Not at all. It gives me a way of thinking in terms of planning a collection, projects, and also how to make ideas happen. I think no matter where you come from, everyone has great ideas, but not everyone knows how to turn them into reality. That's what I picked up from architecture: How to make things happen. Be visual, put down ideas, and be structured with time and budget.
Is there a story behind choosing the fox to represent the brand?
Here's what we thought: There is already the crocodile for Lacoste, the horse for Ralph Lauren, and the bird for Le Coq Sportif. So, why not a fox?
Fair enough. Best not to overthink it. Does music influence your clothing collections?
I love listening to music like everyone else, and I love Kanye West, Justin Bieber — who's a great artiste — and Adele... I'm listening to all the good music and we're definitely not underground. It doesn't directly inspire our designs but it creates an environment to work on the collection. It's more about the feeling — listening to different kinds of music everyday and all our artistes. That said, we don't try to connect music and fashion that much as they each have their life of its own. Some of the artistes we sign, they wear our clothing organically and they like it. We don't force them to do so.
But, people do think that you're the cool kids...
Excuse me, I'm 40 years old (laughs).
Okay, definitely not a kid, but you can still be cool.
Well, thank you. That's true, Jay Z is 40 years old and I do think he is still the coolest guy ever. But, at the end of the day, that's not a goal we have in mind. We're simple and not trendy. We're entrepreneurs. We now have two stores in New York and four in Paris, and we have a large store we just opened up in Tokyo, and one more in Hong Kong.
Aside from these four cities, are you looking to expand anywhere else soon?
Sure. Los Angeles and London are possibilties. Perhaps, a second store in Hong Kong as that's doing great so far. Maybe also a Café Kitsuné in Singapore. That could be cool. We watch all cities and wait for opportunities.
As of now, you guys are stocked at Manifesto here. What do you love about the store?
I think Walid ZaaZaa who owns Manifesto is great.
Zaazaa: He doesn't remember me...
Kuroki: I do remember you. We've met before this.
Zaazaa: We have a friend in common — an old friend of yours. I met you a long time ago at my friend's place.
Kuroki: Oh, yes! That's why your face is so familiar. It was in the 19th arrondissement, behind Gare du Nord train station.
Zaazaa: Yes, yes. And this was before you did Kitsuné. You used to do graffiti...
Kuroki: Don't say that! Don't mention my street life, okay? That's personal (laughs).
Okay, no following up on your street life. So, if you had to match the Parisien Tour 3 collection to a soundtrack, what would it be?
Oh, good question. I'll say pop. Yeah, it's always going to be pop. Something bouncy and happy. What a good concept... maybe I should do that the next time. We should produce a track for the Parisien Tour!
Awesome. What are the current songs that you can't get enough of right now?
Beau. They're two girls from New York that we've signed on to our label. They have really great songs.
How do you go about discovering new bands and music?
Through constantly streaming and listening. There are no tips or secrets to that, in my opinion. Be curious, open your ears, and you'll stumble upon something cool now and then.
And, what is the one item from previous Kitsuné collections that you can't stop wearing, and why?
Hmm... our shirts and trousers. Our men's chinos are great, and also the jeans. I think we've become quite good with our menswear collections and in particular, the bottoms. Of course, we've also been doing great shirts for many years now. When people think of Kitsuné, it's the shirts that come to mind first. Both have really good fits.
What is your favourite memory from touring Japan with Daft Punk and Gildas?
About 10 years ago on tour in Tokyo, they had a pyramid structure on stage that was simply crazy. They were perched on top of it and that show was insane. Because I know them, and how they really are, to see them on stage as Daft Punk is a different experience. It was really a magical show and blew my mind. Truly awesome.
You're also known for your clothing and merchandise collaborations. Are there any coming up that you're able to share?
That's a lot of information to give you (laughs). No, but actually, there's nothing official coming up yet. We're trying to focus on our own collections right now. Last year, we did a lot of big collaborations, like the ones with Reebok and Shu Uemura. It was so much work, so this year we're trying to focus on our own stuff . We did a pre-collection for the first time by showing a little bit of womenswear during the menswear season, and it was a lot of hard work and something we've never done before. That was a challenge and we were so focused on that.
Where do you see the brand in the next five to ten years? How do you see Maison Kitsuné growing and evolving?
Slowly but surely by expanding our retail presence. We would perhaps expand in USA, and then, why not London? They have the highest rent in Europe, but we've already entered Hong Kong — the most expensive city — and it's working. We've managed to somehow do well there so it's a good sign. Definitely, also more new projects and coffee shops. Sometimes, these ideas just hit Gildas and I and we chat about it. For example, we thought a Kitsuné resort or hotel might be a good idea, but I would say we need the right timing. We've made so many mistakes before, which don't get me wrong, is essential. You don't learn if you don't make mistakes, and we're definitely working hard. We keep trying.
The Maison Kitsuné Parisien Tour 3 capsule collection is available at Manifesto, located at Capitol Piazza, #02-19.