Expanding The Empire

Will.i.am, Fashion Designer?

The Black Eyed Peas singer and political activist has collaborated with a Japanese designer on a line called Rynshu, which he seeks to grow in the United States. Corbin Chamberlin reports.

Beyoncé, Pharrell, Kanye West: we’ve seen it before. Singers have a long history of branching out to start their own clothing lines—and it’s not always a resounding success. Now Will.i.am—frontman of the Black Eyed Peas and political activist—steps into the fray, joining forces with a Japanese designer to produce a line for both men and women.

The singer met Masatomo Yamaji, the designer of the Japanese brand Rynshu, after filming the music video for “Can’t Get Enough” in Tokyo in March 2011, when he stumbled into the shop with a few of his band members. Captivated by the clothes, Will.i.am requested an on-the-spot meeting with the designer. Instantly, the pair hit it off—so much so that four months later Will.i.am walked in Rynshu’s June 2011 runway show in Paris. “I attended a number of shows, and this is the one show where I was inspired to walk the runway because of the outfit Rynshu created for me to wear,” Will.i.am told The Daily Beast by phone. “Rynshu is the coolest Japanese guy I’ve ever met. He’s an amazingly talented designer.” That first encounter has flourished into a fruitful (and barely publicized) fashion collaboration between the two men, which is now in its third season.

After they met, Will.i.am quickly asked Rynshu to collaborate on a line together. “I cheerfully accepted his offer,” Yamaji tells us. Fashion isn’t a totally new realm for Will.i.am: he aspired to be a designer as a child, and attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles before becoming a singing sensation. In 2005, he presented his signature line, i.am, at the Magic Apparel Trade Show in Las Vegas.

But to pull off a successful collaboration, Will.i.am and Yamaji had to overcome a challenging language barrier. “I don’t speak much Japanese, and Rynshu doesn’t speak much English,” Will.i.am says, “But we communicated and exchanged ideas using universally understood terms like cool, fresh, crazy, and dope.”

For their first collection, the autumn-winter 2012 line, Will.i.am and Rynshu showed tailored jackets, slit-sleeve capes (for men and women), puffer-trench coats and plethora of harem pants in every conceivable format; embroidered, grommets, gold lame, and striped in black and white. All of the looks were partnered with Matrix-like combat boots, pants tucked in.

It’s still not completely clear how much input Will.i.am has had in the design process for the line. “This is a secret,” Yamaji tells us, but concedes that Will.i.am picked from Rynshu designs and weighed in on his choice of color, pattern, and materials.

But just because Will.i.am is involved in the line doesn’t make it a commercial success. As of now, the label is being carried only in Lior in Las Vegas, H.Lorenzo in L.A., and Jimmy’s in New York. When we called one retailer who carries the line, the off-the-record salesperson said, “People don’t get it. It’s a hard sale.”

When asked who the line is for, Rynshu explained to us that he wants to appeal to a consumer who isn’t “satisfied” with basic style apparel. The second collection, for spring-summer 2013, replayed their tight-fitting jackets in a multitude of metallics, prints, and embroideries. There were also more gender-distinguished items: sleeveless blouses for women and sharp suits for the guys.

When asked what Will.i.am has brought to the line, Yamaji says that he has helped bring exposure in the U.S. But for their next collection, he says, “It’s about ‘red carpet.’”