In Lockdown New York City
The COVID-19 outbreak left a huge impact on people’s lives and the world’s economy in this spring. Living in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., how did Daiki Suzuki spend his days during the period?
- New York City went under lockdown from March 22. Did you see any influence from the COVID-19 pandemic before then?
- I could identify signs of the outbreak, but there was little impact on our business. Garment factories were operated as usual and no one around me got infected. Everything seemed normal - until March 22. The whole society came to standstill after that. During the lockdown, all the factories were shut and our employees were banned to come to office. Though I first expected the citywide curfew to be lifted in a week or so, it continued until early June, when the city entered the phase one. It was really a tough time because the production of our Fall/Winter 2020 items was entirely suspended during the period.
- NEPENTHES NEW YORK has also been forced to be shut since the lockdown, hasn’t it?
- Yes, and what’s worse, we signed a new lease contract for an adjoining property to expand our store space just before the lockdown (wry laugh). We are now working hard to finish the interior work, but I think it will take some more time. So we are planning to soon reopen our store without using the new space. I guess we can complete the refurbishment around September at the earliest. I hope to open the refurbished store on September 9, because the original opening day of NEPENTHES NEW YORK was on the same day in 2010.
- How did you spend time during lockdown?
- I have papers to check every day, and had to work on prototypes for the next season. So I went to office almost every day by car to do those things. I also had to receive fabrics for the prototypes on behalf of our staff, so there were actually many things to do. I think I was busier than usual (laugh).
- It was the biggest accident since the launch of ENGINEERED GARMENTS in 1999, wasn’t it?
- Yeah, I cannot recall any bigger happenings. Even after the September 11 events, factories were normally operated although tanks were running on the streets (laugh). Throughout my 20-year long career in designing, I’ve never seen factories having halted operation for such a long period of time.
"BALANCE AND TUNE"
Although ENGINEERED GARMENTS has occasionally created seasonal collections without particular themes, the brand upheld a theme of ‘Jazz’ for its Fall/Winter 2020 collection, casting the members of New York-based Jazz group ONYX COLLECTIVE as models in their visual book and producing a concept movie with a Jazz man playing a double bass.
- Did you have any particular reasons or inspirations to create a collection under a theme of ‘Jazz’?
- Jazz is one of the things I’ve always wanted to use as a theme of my design. I actually had tried to make things with the theme once or twice, but did not satisfy with the result and gave up completing them. What made me do it again was a documentary movie about John Simons, a clothing store owner in London. (JOHN SIMONS - A MODERNIST) He and his store introduced American fashion such as the Ivy style to people in the city in the 1960s, and left a great impact on Mods of the time. He is also known as a fanatic Jazz fan. Listening to him talking about John Coltrane and Miles Davis in the movie, I got an idea to make a collection with Jazz as a theme. I thought it might be interesting if I could mix it with some Ivy style elements. By also adding influences from military clothes and workwear, the collection would be something that only ENGINEERED GARMENTS can create, I thought.
- The collection is titled as BALANCE AND TUNE. Where did it come from?
- I think it was back in November last year, after having decided the theme of my collection as Jazz, I visited Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village to see members of ONYX COLLECTIVE for the first time in about 18 years. There I saw a live show with another band by chance. The band consisted of three people, a bassist and a saxophonist who seemed in their 60s-ish and a pianist seeming in his 30s or so. The younger pianist used the phrase, BALANCE AND TUNE, when bantering on stage.
- In what context he used the phrase?
- What he said was like; As a less experienced player, he thinks balance and tune are both very important to neatly integrate improvisations by master members. Actually, it wasn’t his point. It just came up, but the phrase did remain in my memory. I thought it’s similar to what I find most crucial to make clothes. So I stole it (laugh).
Changes and Consistency
Suzuki’s studio was full of cool yet playful clothes, including matching jackets and pants inspired by the suit looks of Miles Davis and Chet Baker, blousons decorated with fabric tapes with musical notes, and a shirt with a trumpet embroidery. We asked him about changes occurred in him after making the Jazz-themed collection, and about his mood in the Fall/Winter 2020 season.
- Did you experience any changes after setting a particular theme?
- Talking about the collection as a whole, I adopt a fitted silhouette again, although roomy one was used for my past collections. The change is more obvious on our new jackets. Our signature Loiter Jacket and NB Jacket are now in a tighter silhouette to make them look like what Jazzmen used to wear.
LOITER JACKET - GUNCLUB
NB JACKET - CHALK ST.
LAWLENCE JACKET - HB
- Regarding jackets in this collection, you remodeled your Lawrence Jacket, too.
- I wanted to make a boxy jacket with a longer hem for this Jazz themed collection. It also features smaller lapels and a three-button front with more widely-spaced buttons. Because it may look too ordinary with a center or hook vent, I made it with side vents.
MADISON PARKA - FAKE MELTON
- Let me also ask about fabric you used. Although you liked to use natural fabrics for a quite long time, you’ve been adopting synthetic ones in the last couple of years. I think matching those fabrics with classical designs makes ENGINEERED GARMENTS more attractive. What kind of changes occurred in you before you started using synthetic fabrics?
- Personally, I’ve always believed that being stylish requires some endurance. I mean, a middle-aged man sporting a tweed suit on a scorching day in September looks sophisticated to me. What I design is therefore based on such an idea. But I do understand people who love comfortable clothes, too. So I recently dare to adopt synthetic fabrics if I like the texture and appearance. In this collection, for example, I find the fake melton fabric quite nice. It looks like real wool at first glance, but it’s actually 100% polyester, lightweight and easy-to-care.
SVR JACKET - FLIGHT SATIN
- You have also used flight satin fabric for some seasons. Since you made a MA-1 jacket with it, the number of flight satin items in your collection has been increasing over time.
- Even though I’ve been making clothes for such a long time, it is impossible to fully understand the characteristics of each fabric in one season. After having used it for some seasons and observed how it changes its appearance over time, you may be able to see what kind of clothes can bring out the advantages of the fabric most. It is the most interesting yet difficult part of fabric selection. And that is the reason why I repeatedly use same fabrics to make clothes.
The Future of EG,the Future of Clothing Design
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, quite a few people have been forced to change their lifestyles and values in life in just a few months. How about Daiki Suzuki? He told us about what he thinks right now as well as the future of ENGINEERED GARMENTS.
- Though economic activities have gradually been resumed, we are still not fully back to normal. Has your lifestyle also altered after the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Now I go to the sea to surf almost every day. I normally don’t stay in New York City during summer, and I’ve never frequented the sea so often. There are so many restrictions, of course, but my life is currently quite fulfilled in a sense (laugh).
- You mentioned earlier that you were busy making prototypes for the coming Spring/Summer 2021 season. Besides the suspension of production due to the factories being closed, has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the theme or design of your brand’s latest collection?
- Yes, I actually changed my collection theme completely halfway through. It was themed around ethnic and folklore styles at the beginning, with full of clothes made with exotic fabrics. But I thought it might not be the best option because the current situation makes it difficult for us to hold an exhibition to show fabrics we made to buyers in person. So I decided to clear everything and restart from scratch, although I’ve already received lots of fabric swatches.
- As your brand’s collection usually consists of many different clothes, I guess the decision forced you to do painstaking work...
- But there is something that I couldn’t have realized unless I experienced such an unexpected event. In the first place, I tried to make a collection themed on ethnic and folklore styles because I was kind of obsessed with the idea that I always had to design something new to have a major impact on the market. I decided it only for strategic reasons, so the idea was far from what I really want to do through making clothes.
- You mean you unconsciously gave priority to business?
- Yes. However, while considering such things after the COVID-19 outbreak, I kind of realized that it doesn’t really matter. So I decided to back to basics and started to find out what kind of clothes I like and can make better. As a result, my Spring/Summer 2021 collection became full of clothes that all look alike (laugh). Everything in the collection are similar to what I wear daily. But I think the biggest advantage of our brand is that we can make such similar types of clothes look different from each other by adding some changes on the details and fabric. In that sense, I can say that the collection clearly shows the characteristics of ENGINEERED GARMENTS (laugh). I hope you like it.
Translation : Aya Takatsu