Tucked away in the maze of warehouses in New York's Sunset Park is a clothing factory called Fashion Queen Management. On a normal day there, an army of seamstresses will produce military uniforms and bulletproof vests — a far cry from "fashion queens" — but since September 2015, a new set of hands have taken up shop in the back: a small menswear label called Landlord.
Landlord's chief executive Daniel Huang, 32, became the general manger of Fashion Queen six years ago when he was given the keys to the family business. "My father's been in manufacturing in New York since I was born in the late '80s in Chinatown," Huang said the week before his first presentation at New York Fashion Week Men's. "But everything fashion-related went overseas, so right now we're doing military contracts. I've always liked fashion though and have wanted to do something on my own."
Last year, Huang attended the Parsons MFA showcase out of curiosity with a friend and there he met Landlord's creative director, Ryohei Kawanishi, 29, and his pattern-maker, Naoki Masuda, 30, both from Japan. For his MFA thesis, Kawanishi presented a dress that was made out of a military-style backpack, and Huang knew he had found an ideal partner.
Kawanishi graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2011 and got a scholarship through Uniqlo to study at Parsons in 2013, when he moved to New York.
"I used to not really make wearable pieces; I was more into avant-garde as a student," he said. "After I graduated, I tried to find a way to survive off of my creative side, and totally didn't think about the business side at all. But at a certain point, I was like, 'Okay, this is difficult.'" Enter Huang. After one season working out the logistical kinks together, they were finally ready to present their label to a mass audience.
The name "Landlord" made sense for the pair not only because Huang is literally the landlord of the factory, but also because Kawanishi is inspired by readymades and everyday work uniforms. His thesis collection was named after Marcel Duchamp's "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even" and he looked to Isa Genzken's uniformed mannequins for spring 2017, which he showed on Thursday at Skylight Clarkson.
"Because we're an American label, I tried to apply more American influences," said Kawanishi. "European fashion is totally different, and after I moved here I realized America is more casual. I really enjoyed researching the idea of casual sportswear. Military is also strongly America, too. In Japan, where I'm from, American military uniforms are turned into Japanese streetwear."
The result for Landlord Spring 2017 is "fashion queen" meets military, with lots of neon pink, Instagram-friendly flash reflectors, and everything athleisure, of course.