Komakino Is as Cultish as the Joy Division Song It’s Named After

Some designers simply are their brand. In an apartment high above London’s Dalston district, Federico Capalbo perfectly embodies the avant-garde men’s label Komakino, which he launched in 2007 with co-designer Young-Jin Kim. Dressed all in black, with the retro-industrial sounds of Coil in the background, he possesses a certain affable contrariness.

Not that he cares for such reader-friendly reductiveness. When asked to define the Komakino man, the Central Saint Martins grad looks pained. “I don’t know,” he replies. “I always have problems answering that question.” Others might describe Komakino’s aesthetic as a collision of conceptual austerity, military utilitarianism and the youthful cultishness of the Joy Division song the label is named after. But let’s stick to the designer’s own words…

Could you explain the inspiration for the new autumn collection?
I believe more in creating the identity of the brand. For autumn, only the shape of the tailoring evolved. We narrowed it a bit, especially because we’re working with heavier fabrics for winter, like nylon and doubled-faced wool. We used very light linen fabric for the last spring-summer collection.

Color-blocking comes across strongly…
What we try to do is introduce one or two colors each season, like blue or brown. We don’t like to mix too many colors together. We’re minimal in design and the color palette.

What are the defining influences?
We refer to youth and teenagers in a wider sense. It’s that element of vulnerability and strength at the same time that defines a boy in his teenage years, I would say. Being sure about certain things, yet obviously unsure, at his young age. I see it in quite a romantic way, which is why we reference music a lot, yet at the same time transferred to a more mature age. It’s that time of being aware of something and you start to build your own system.

We’re listening to Coil at the moment. Do you listen to music when you design?
Of course. We listen to music all the time. I mean, Komakino is from the Joy Division song.

Another big influence?
Yeah, there are certain bands we grew up with and constantly refer to. They’re part of us, I would say. We made a film for the spring ’11 collection and we were lucky enough to use Coil music before Sleazy [Peter Christopherson] died. It was really flattering for us because he gave us some unreleased material. We had a presentation in London for autumn ’11 and the band Raime created a soundtrack for us. We try to get in touch with artists we respect to soundtrack our work.

Does film interest you as well, since kino is part of your name?
Definitely. In translation Komakino could be “the cinema of shadows.” We are very interested in making films to present our work as I think it’s a fascinating medium. And with the exposure you can get through the internet, it’s very communicative. We were very lucky to work with Dennis Schoenberg and since last season we’ve been working with an Italian artist called Matteo Giordano. We are already planning to work together on our graphics next season to present the collection as a film or an installation. For spring ’11, in addition to the film, we had an exhibition in New York in an art gallery. So we’re very interested in whatever medium is around as a way to express and pull together the many different influences that we have.

Looking around your studio, I see you’ve got Thee Psychick Bible. What is that?
It’s by Genesis P-Orridge from Throbbing Gristle.

Sounds dark.
Yes, we like the subversive energy of the outsider. It’s what we express in our collection. But I wouldn’t define myself as dark, I just have dark tastes. I’m quite joyful actually. I even listen to pop music. 

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