Interview with Kio Inagaki of Yellow Rat

Yellow Rat is the creation of Kio Inagaki, a Japanese transplant to Mar Vista, California. First and foremost a surfer and enthusiast for all things that the culture represents, Kio’s been turning heads within in-the-know circles thanks to his well-cut take on original, ’50s inspired clothing. Vintage surf wear remains the key reference point for Kio’s designs; for us it’s a brand that has its roots in this bygone scene but remains wearable in a modern context. We’re big fans of the peg trousers that Kio has been producing as well as the short sleeve shirts. There’s not many people out there creating anything remotely like what he’s doing – let alone as authentically. Although it seems Kio’s happy with the brand maintaining a comfortably low profile within the fashion world, his pop-up boutique at NEPENTHES New York last month inevitably drew interest from those who hadn’t previously heard of the brand. So while Kio is admirably nonchalant about the whole thing, perhaps 2014 is the year of the Yellow Rat…

Kio, where does your interest in surf wear (particularly vintage) come from?
The inspiration comes from California beach culture of the late ’40s through early ’60s. I’m a surfer myself and I used to collect surf trunks from this era and Yellow Rat was born in an attempt to replicate those, and evolved to recreating the whole fashion style from this time.

What is it about ’50s / ’60s surf culture that interests you? Do you feel that, aesthetically, this is coming around again?
Both in surf and in beach fashion, it was the Golden Era. It was the beginning of the surf culture and their style was plain-simple yet completely original. There was no surf brands, mass-producers, or none of those fancy trends. And that still inspires me. I really don’t pay much attention to trends, so not sure if this is coming around again. But I understand if people are starting to get sick of those mega brands, and begin to pay attention to what is actually stylish.

What are the key design points of surf wear of this era?
I think that retro designs are very detailed and stylish. It’s not made to be “efficient” or “functional”. The silhouette is very unique. Fabrics are not neccesarily stretchy or lightweight, but typically very rich in texture.

How do you feel about the modern surf industry?
It’s great that it evolved to the point where it is now. But it really has nothing to do with me.

Kio doing his thing

How did the recent NEPENTHES pop-up come about?
“Surfer” connection.

How about the YR x nanamica x THE NORTH FACE collab?
A “Surfer” connection. Just kidding.

Barry McGee is one of our very favourite artists. How did he end up doing graphics for Yellow Rat?
A “Surfer” connection. Haha.

But this one is actually true. We met in the water at Malibu a long time ago and been close friends ever since.

All the Youtube videos posted on the blog are top notch – be that music or just random snippets. Where do you find them?
I’m just the biggest sucker for those.

Favourite surf spots?
Good question, I won’t tell.

How did you wind up in Mar Vista, California via Japan?
I started paddling and landed on the coast of California. Don’t have more energy to paddle back home.