Meet Vowels: The Made-in-Japan Streetwear Brand Opening a Cultural Research Library in Downtown NYC


Meet Vowels: The Made-in-Japan Streetwear Brand Opening a Cultural Research Library in Downtown NYC

Between the launch of Awake NY’s new performance series with Marshall and the opening of Fugazi’s coffee and clothing store on the corner of Orchard and Canal, New York City’s downtown streets are bubbling over with multi-functional, community-oriented streetwear outposts. Cutting the newest ribbon in the neighborhood, designer Yuki Yagi, founder and creative director of made-in-Japan alternative-luxury label Vowels, is entering the mix with an all-new showroom and research library that includes more than 2,000 books and magazines from the designer’s archival research, curated both independently and with collaborative colleagues and friends.

The space, located at 76 Bowery, is built “for people to come to escape the world and get back in touch with printed matter and a time where things were simpler,” Yagi told Hypebeast. His brand is guided by the Japanese philosophy of Shu Ha Ri (守破離), which states that “one must master the fundamentals of a creative practice before breaking those rules and reconceiving the form.” The Vowels store, set to open to the public on May 15, will exist as a vessel for people to accumulate said knowledge.

Yagi, who grew up between Kyoto, Japan, and New York City, credits his understanding of the world to the older people who guided him throughout his adolescence and showed him how to experience new cultures. With his research library, he says, “I want to do that for others.”


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“People love Japan, but if you’re not from there, you might not have the same cultural understanding as everyone else,” he said. “You may have an understanding of Daido or Araki’s work, but have you seen a first edition? You may not be able to really get a survey of their work as artists at a bookstore that’s selling you something. I want to make a place where you can check them out with your hands, not tucked away in some glass case.”

Outside of the research library — and, as is now customary for a Lower East Side streetwear brand, a coffee bar — the store’s showroom houses Vowels’ first capsule collection: a foundational lineup of staple streetwear cuts (think chore jackets, hoodies, Oxford button-downs, baggy and straight denim) defined by classic Japanese tailoiring. Yagi, who notes that he’s nostalgic for a time before logomania when people “felt a little more free to create their own sense of style,” designed the line to be worn throughout the week and mixed in with what already exists in his clientele’s closets.

“My goal with retail has always been to provide something beyond just selling clothes, so that’s pretty much what we’re doing,” he said. Hence, Vowels’ capsule can be viewed inside the showroom, and orders can be placed upon request; but the real focus of the location is engaging with Vowels’ fundamental pillars of Shu Ha Ri (守破離).

The Vowels showroom and research library will be open by appointment only, from 10 a.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Bookings will open via the brand’s webstore on May 15. Take a look inside the space in the gallery above.

Click here to view full gallery at Hypebeast