Rocksmith Designer Kenshin Ichikawa Discusses Brand Success and Wu-Tang Collaborations
“This is salmon, not pink,” says Rocksmith designer Kenshin Ichikawa jokingly. During the interview, it’s clear why the man behind the street’s favorite everyday wear is respected within the fashion world. He’s sharp and analytical when discussing Rocksmith, yet still very down to earth, embracing every question asked about his new work. The clothing brand is an extension of his ideologies, built on originality and intricate details .
Speaking with XXL’s The Good Life, Kenshin touches on the creative process behind the brand, their support for President Barack Obama, Spike Lee and more. —Christian Mordi (@mordi_thecomeup)
XXL: What is Rocksmith?
Kenshin Ichikawa: Rocksmith is a music lifestyle brand.
When did you know you wanted to make fashion a profession?
I wanted to be a designer since I was 16 or 17 years old.
The brand was born in Tokyo, but now calls New York home. Are there any elements tied into some of your lines that tie back to the original location of the brand?
My family is from Japan, but I grew up in Tennessee and Georgia, and I have lived in New York for the past 17 years. Going back and forth from Japan to the state sides since I was five years old really shaped my sense of fashion. I learned to focus on good quality details and good color palette.
How important is it for you guys to have this brand resonate with fans in an area like Tokyo which is also a fashion capital? What are some ways you tie other regions in that have influenced you?
Well our Ninjas category is our sportswear. I have family members who have delved deep into martial arts, and I deeper in my family I have members involved in the art in Japan as well. Ninjas overtime became our athletic wear.
Before you were working with Rocksmith were you working with any other brands? I heard you were working with Lemar and Dauley .
Yeah I worked with Kareem (co-founder of Lemar and Dauley) [over there]. I did a lot of patterns, cut and sew and the production aspect of it.
You guys have linked with 2dopeboyz for a collaboration. How did that come to pass and why did that make sense for you?
Online wise, as far as marketing and the way we do videos with artists and having that core central market where we reach out to the rest of the world, it made sense to link up with a like minded blog. Their content really corresponds with what we are with from the get. It made natural sense. For us really being a new generation of fashion, it makes sense to link with blogs.
Will we see another collaboration?
Hell yeah. I would do it all day if I had the time.
You guys have made it clear to use your brand to not just sit at the table as a spokesperson in the fashion world, but many other worldly issues. You linked with iconic filmmaker Spike Lee for a 2012 Presidential Election collaboration t-shirt to show support for President Barack Obama this past November. Why was it important for you guys to do this and link Spike Lee.
Well where Spike Lee is at in the game goes without saying. Also me and my partner Eric we grew up in the first generation of his early films. We are also pro-Obama and we believe everything he stands for. When the opportunity came up in only made sense to us. What Spike does with filmaking is what we are trying to do with fashion. We are still talking to him about future stuff too. Right now he is just really busy with projects, but I am really happy we were able to squeeze that out.
Lupe was one of the guys you had in your earlier lookbooks. What were your thoughts about his performance at Obama’s Ball and his comments in a CBS interview calling Obama “The Biggest Terrorist.”
Well Rocksmith as a brand is not with that. Maybe he is just in a strange spot in his career.
You guys also are frequent collaborators with Wu-Tang. Tell us a little bit of behind the scenes of how that came to pass.
Rocksmith as a brand and the founders myself in Erik, growing up listening to hip-hop it was one of my personal dreams to work with Wu-Tang. They are out generations The Doors, Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones if you will. That “W” is very recognizable. You would be very surprised what type of people recognize that logo. It goes from hip-hop to punk to everything. People in their 40’s, 50’s to their kids. Especially in fashion, they have such a huge stamp on it. I had a good friend who introduced us who runs a site named strictlyfitteds.com, he introduced us one day and it clicked. Originally it was just going to be one t-shirt. But Power and I just really had a good vibe going and we had a similar vision of how it was supposed to be executed. That nostalgia of Wu-Tang clan is as strong as it was ten years ago. This year is the 20th anniversary. People our age have kids now and their kids recognize Wu-Tang. I think they are the only group in hip-hop that can have such staying power, especially in this industry of fashion that is so throwaway.
Tell us a little bit about the current state of fashion, is the economy effecting the quality of lines?
The economy is crazy different. We change with the times, and we want to have our stuff out there. Naturally our prices are pretty reasonable. I try not to make price an issue for someone not to buy. I feel like it is more important to have loyal customers who consistently come to see what your new shit is.
How do you gauge success?
Well it is not how much money I have in my pocket, but my everyday experiences and feelings. If I get up and I am excited to get through the day. I still work late as hell, and I still get up and grind. In regards to money in fashion it comes and goes, its more about how much you enjoy it. You can be miserable and on a yacht.