Hat-Down or Sneakers-Up? Poggy Talks the United Arrows x New Balance 997.5
With his wide-brimmed hats and unique take on sartorial streetwear, Motofumi ‘Poggy’ Kogi is renowned as one of the dappest dressers in the game. Ensconced as creative director of the Japanese retail powerhouse United Arrows & Sons, Poggy’s cultural influence is profound. Back in 2008, Beauty&Youth (a division of United Arrows) released a hybrid 997.5 collaboration with New Balance. The mythical nature and latent influence of that moment has conspired to perplex the internet ever since.
You grew up in Sapporo, in the far north of Japan. How did the local environment influence you?
Growing up in Sapporo had a huge impact on my personality and sense of style. As a child I loved making igloos and snowmen. Although I feel my imagination has declined since then, when I would make anything and everything with snow, it’s thanks to the snow that I can be creative now. [laughs]
It’s funny, I don’t remember what I wanted to be when I grew up. I stopped trying to play music and sports, and I wasn’t particularly bright either, so when I discovered fashion in high school, I finally found something I could really focus on. I used to think I was stylish and different from others in my hometown, but once I moved to Tokyo, I was shocked that there were so many people who were more stylish and stranger than me.
How did you adapt to your new life in the big city?
At first I tried to act like I was a high-spirited and slightly weird person, but I think the people in Tokyo saw right through that facade. Back then I admired people who were different from the crowd and I longed to be like them, which is why I went to Tokyo in the first place. But then I realised how cool the so-called normal and hard-working people in my hometown were. It made me think a lot about who I really am, and once I understood that, I stopped trying so hard to be someone else.
You started out working the retail floor. Has that experience stayed with you now you’re the creative director?
It’s the sales staff who actually explain the appeal of the brand and products to customers at the store. I also think it’s imperative to try and understand the feeling of selling something. That experience is still valuable in my work as the creative director now. It’s important to always remember the lessons I learned from talking to customers.
What does your average working week look like? Are you hands-on creatively?
Actually, I spend a lot of time in business meetings talking with brands and creative people about what we can do together. It’s that constant communication that makes it possible to create unique merchandise. Creativity and communication are often regarded as being separate things, but I believe communication equals creativity.
You’ve obviously been studying Japanese street style for a long time. How does the style of 2018 compare to previous eras?
On a global level, there are some aspects of contemporary Japanese style that are interesting, but unfortunately, there are also areas that are lagging behind.
Americana has long been embraced in Tokyo. Does that explain the appeal of New Balance as a brand?
Compared to the current trend of automation and global production, New Balance is sticking with its ‘Made in USA’ range of sneakers, which is appreciated by Japanese people. But we also understand that New Balance is an authentic brand and that the company’s aesthetic sense is unique.
The Beauty&Youth colab with New Balance was famously adopted by one of the biggest hip hop stars back in 2014. What do you recall about the shoe and that time?
Yes, that big-name star used to wear Japanese street brands like Original Fake and PHENOMENON, so we were happy and surprised when he chose items from our in-house line. The ‘Beauty&Youth’ 997.5 was only sold in Japan, so it is a rare sneaker that is not easily found. It’s curious and interesting that the shoe is so well remembered today.
And now the colourway has been refreshed with the Kith collaboration on the 997S. Do you dig the new hybrid designs?
This is not just a reissue of the old shoe, it's a new hybrid 997S style that I really like! I met with Ronnie Fieg a few years ago and he asked me if we still had any of the United Arrows & Sons sneakers in stock. Our conversation made me also think of the 997.5. Then, last year, some people suggested that we officially relaunch the shoe, so I checked with my staff and we started the collaboration with Kith.
You’re very highly regarded for your sartorial standards. Do you put on your sneakers or your hat first?
It’s not a case of choosing one way or the other. It’s more like I check my schedule for the day and what I have planned and who I need to meet. Then I decide if it’s hat-down or sneakers-up!
Must be hard work getting dressed every day.
Yeah, it’s tough being Poggy, but it’s also so much fun.
This feature was originally published in Sneaker Freaker's New Balance 997 book. For a look at the 997's history, read about its journey to cult status or check out our interview with designer, Steven Smith. Delve into the minutiae of the 997 back catalogue with Matt Kyte, or hit our interview with Ronnie Fieg to see how he reimagined the 997.