Their Encounter with British Culture through Music and Fashion
Apart from their four-year age gap and background difference, both Keizo Shimizu and Daiki Suzuki became deeply captivated by American clothing and lifestyle after being inspired by Made in U.S.A. Catalog* during their teen years. So, what made the boys who longingly flipped through fashion magazines and frequented imported clothing stores with love for American culture expand their interests into British culture? This interview starts from them talking about their encounters with culture in the Old Country. * A legendary magazine book published by Yomiuri Shimbun in 1975. It introduced American lifestyle to Japan like a catalog.
- First of all, please tell us about what drew you to British culture?
- Keizo Shimizu (KS) : My strongest trigger was music. I guess it’s same for you, Daiki?
- Daiki Suzuki (DS) : Yes, I was really into it in my twenties. British rock was the only music I listened to for a while.
- Who were your favorite musicians at that time?
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN『PORCUPINE』(1983)
- So-called post-punk bands like Echo & the Bunnymen. Around that time, we could learn about British budding musicians at the quite early stage, because the information on the U.K. music charts usually came to Japan before the States.
- TSUBAKI HOUSE began to host London Night parties* at around the same time.* Japan’s first rock DJ party started in 1980 by music critic Kensho Onuki.
- How was your encounter with British music, Shimizu?
- Although British bands I first listened to were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd blew my mind more.
- You had a mature taste (laughs).
- A boy in my neighborhood had an amazing knowledge on overseas rock music for that time. I think he was six or seven years older than me. He taught me lots about genres of music I didn’t know such as hard rock and progressive rock. Among all those bands, Led Zeppelin sounded way more radical and seemed to have a different type of coolness from other musicians for me.
- I also got shocked when I listened to Led Zeppelin in my early teens.
- The Bee Gees was also my favorite band, though their music genre was different. The reason I started to listen to their music was a movie titled Melody which was released when I was in my first year of junior high school. Because Mark Lester, the leading actor of the movie, was the same age as me, I became a big fan of him (laughs) and began listening to the Bee Gees as they did the soundtrack of the movie.
- My idol at that time might be Paul Weller. I went to the Jam’s gigs at Nakano Sunplaza for the third year in a row (from 1980 to 1982), wearing a M-51 parka decorated with lots of badges (laughs). I thought Paul Weller was the coolest man not only in terms of music, but also in terms of fashion.
- Shimizu, were there any British musicians who had influenced on your view of fashion?
Playlist listed in the image book of <NEEDLES> 2011 Fall Winter
- It was Mick Jagger. I love his off-duty styles in the 1980s the most. He once wore a black tailored jacket on his Royal Stewart tartan shirt for a magazine feature. It was perfectly cool. He’s been dressed in so many different clothes both on and off stage, and I like all of those regardless of era.
- Mick Jagger was seductive, even for men, like David Bowie.
- And Bryan Ferry, an ex-member of Roxy Music. There was a DJ bar called Tommy’s House in Nishi Azabu then and cool people gathering there were all dressed like Bryan Ferry. The style was like wearing an over-sized shirt with a pair of double pleated trousers. Of course, there were also stylish American musicians, but the way they wore their clothes was more casual. So, I wasn’t influenced by their styles.
- I remember that you inserted a playlist only containing British music in NEEDLES’ concept book made for the FW2011 collection. In the list, there were songs made by the artists you just mentioned. I think such a way of expression reflects your love of music really well.
- I selected the songs to make it like a soundtrack of the collection.
- The playlist was very well-selected.
The First-ever Exclusive Product in the U.K. from the First-ever Trip to London
After meeting with each other at a renowned American casual clothing store, REDWOOD, in Shibuya in the 1980s, the two got reunited at NEPENTHES, a store established in 1988 by Shimizu. Suzuki then moved to the U.S. while Shimizu remained in Japan to run the store. Under such a management system, they had brought numerous unknown U.S.-made brands and designer clothing from America to their store in Japan, and uniquely showcased those products there. And later, in need of further inspiration, they decided to make their first trip to London.
- In some interviews, you guys mentioned that you had first become aware of American clothing through the Ivy League style and Made in U.S.A. Catalog. Which British brand or clothing drew your attention for the first time?
- Coats from GRENFELL and BURBERRY were my favorite staple when I was young. It was a type of garment called “a stand-collar coat” in Japan. I also loved British country fashion. Around the time when I moved to Tokyo, wearing a Harris Tweed horse riding Hacking jacket with change pockets on a MARGARET HOWELL shirt and dinner jeans paired with TANINO CRISCI’s jodhpur boots became a dominant trend among the coolest people in the city. So, to dress like them, I bought a deadstock Sea Island Cotton shirt at a store I had found by myself.
<ENGINEERED GARMENTS> x <BARBOUR> GRAHAM from 2018 Fall Winter Collection
- For me, it might be BARBOUR. Although I’ve known the brand’s signature wax jacket since high school, it was too expensive for a student. And also because I was a bit suspicious about the wax coating, I didn’t buy it at that time. I believe the brand applied about three times more wax to the jacket than they do now. The fabric was totally greasy around that time.
- Only a few people in the town wore BARBOUR jackets back in those days. If I wore the jacket on a packed train, I would get apparent sour looks from other passengers (laughs).
- You also used to wear CROLLA clothes often. I think it was a brand established around 1981. They had produced interesting clothes such as a dress shirt made with Indian embroidered fabric, combining exotic materials and patterns with traditional British clothing.
- The brand’s style of designing clothes - adding some innovative touches to classics by using unique patterns and elaborate details - has something in common with your designing process.
- Yes, it does. There were so many emerging designers in London around that time. My favorite ones among them were; Vivienne Westwood, Katharine Hamnett and Paul Smith. I found them cool because they reinterpreted British traditional clothes with their own unique and playful styles.
- Both Daiki and I love such styles after all.
- When did you travel to London for the first time?
- I traveled there earlier than Shimizu. I think my first trip was in 1991. I lived in New York around that time and travelling to London was relatively cheap from there. A round-trip airfare with three nights’ accommodations was around 300 dollars, I think. So, I traveled there just for fun and then fell deeply under the charm of the city. There were, of course, many difficulties as well. Their English sounded totally different from the language I knew (laughs). Anyway, I got so excited after the trip that I earnestly told Shimizu that the age of London was coming. I even revisited the city in the following year. It was in the end of November 1992 and I arrived on the day Freddie Mercury passed away. I remember it was snowing and Queen’s songs were played everywhere in the town. Shimizu traveled to the city with me soon after that, right?
- Yes, it was in 1993.
- So, you had never been in London around the time when you worked at REDWOOD or opened the first NEPENTHES store.
- Around that time, I so much enjoyed buying clothes in the U.S. for our store because my knowledge on American clothing was also limited. That is why I didn’t think travelling to London was necessary for me, even though I paid attention to British trends and had favorite British brands.
- But we did have kind of business connections with British brands at REDWOOD. When people from those brands visited Japan, we had meetings with them.
- True. We carried some British brands such as GYMPHLEX in the store.
- Were there any stores or brands that impressed you in London?
- I must say it was KENSINGTON MARKET in South Kensington.
- And Hyper Hyper, a store located across from KENSINGTON MARKET. There were groups of young, talented designers who ran small shops together, so we directly negotiated with them and purchased clothes from some of those brands, including ROCACHA TAILORING who used to make 50s-style knitwear.
- Yeah, they were there then. And a brand called OLD TOWN. They are still in business. When we travelled to London in around 1996, we visited a number of vintage clothing stores in Portobello and Camden, too.
- It was rather to find inspiration for our design than to purchase clothes for our store.
- Because British vintage clothing stores carried different stuff from ones in the U.S., I really enjoyed visiting there. We once saw Paul Weller at Portobello Market, didn’t we (laughs)?
- We did. Daiki seemed to want to shake hands with him, but Paul walked into a store. After keeping his eyes on the store for a while, Daiki murmured “No, I cannot go...” and gave up waiting .
- Because of the regrettable experience, I could talk to Thom Yorke of Radiohead with no hesitation when I saw him at Liberty (laughs).
Current collab. shoes with〈TRICKER'S〉, The two on the left is made for <NEEDLES> while the rest is designed by <ENGINEERED GARMENTS>
- Not too long after that, we began to visit some manufacturers in the U.K. such as a shoe factory in Northampton and a small knitwear factory. So that we could gradually start to make our exclusive products in the U.K., while purchasing ready-made clothes there
- What was the first exclusive product you’ve made in the U.K.?
- Well, I think it was a pair of shoes... It was too long ago to remember (laughs).
- I think it was shoes made with TRICKER'S. If I’m correct, we first ordered the shoes at a shoe trade show in Las Vegas and then made contact with the brand by ourselves to visit their office to place an order for exclusive shoes. I also cannot remember so well, though (laughs). It was before we started ENGINEERED GARMENTS.
- Were there any stores carrying TRICKER'S shoes in Japan at that time?
- There were a few, but we made our own exclusive products with them at a really early stage. Our selection of their products was also slightly different from other stores. We carried more suede shoes when country footwear caught on big. Later we began to make a series of exclusive shoes decorated with crazy patterns and asymmetric designs with the brand, too.
- That means TRICKER'S had never made shoes with crazy patterns or asymmetric designs before you ordered those. How was their reaction when you placed the order?
- To my surprise, they were pleased with that and immediately went to ask people working at their factory whether they could realize the design. It was really smooth. Maybe TRICKER'S also enjoyed making it, I guess.
Launching their London Office to Start Full-scale Buying
Twenty years before the opening of their London store, NEPENTHES had temporarily run their office in London from the end of the 1990s. Their relationships with British brands and factories became even closer with the local office.
<NEPENTHES LONDON> Shirt made in the past by <RAYNER & STURGES>
<NEPENTHES LONDON> Sheepskin coat made in the past by <WESTED LEATHER>
- Please let us know the reason you opened a new office in London at that time.
- Because our acquaintance who used to work at REDWOOD as a part-timer moved to London, we asked him to support our buying activities like a correspondent in London. That is how it all started. We also launched a new label, NEPENTHES LONDON, at the same time and the number of our exclusive and collaborative products made in the U.K. had gradually increased since then.
- Around the time when we opened NEPENTHES LONDON, I think I traveled to London almost once a month. The airfare to the city was fairly affordable at that time and we didn’t have to pay for an accommodation as we had our office there (laughs).
- We especially focused on shoes. Besides TRICKER'S, we had collaborated with most of shoe brands in the U.K. Although we could make Moccasins and cowboy boots with American manufacturers, the best place to make dress shoes and country shoes is the U.K. in the end. We were also trying to bring out our uniqueness by carrying shoes made in the U.K. and other European countries, because more and more stores in Japan started to handle American work boots. Making exclusive shoes might be the best way to express the idea, we thought.
- What kind of exclusive products have you made in the country other than shoes?
<NEPENTHES LONDON> Meshed Belt made in the past by <ANGLO LEATHER>
<ENGINEERED GARMENTS> B2B Jacket from 2014 Fall Winter Collection
- In collaboration with RAYNER & STURGES, we made a shirt for NEPENTHES LONDON by adding our unique touch to their signature product. We also have worked with WESTED LEATHER to make a motorcycle type jacket and shawl-collar sheepskin coat. For the collaboration, we made a trip to a sheepskin supplier in a remote countryside by ourselves.
- Speaking of outerwear, we also collaborated with MONTGOMERY for a duffel coat.
- And a Guernsey sweater. As for accessories, we made a woven leather belt with ANGLO LEATHER along with a quick release belt which we still carry at our stores.
- After making some exclusive products in the U.K., did you find any differences from the U.S. in the process you made those?
- There wasn’t a big difference, but I felt that British manufacturers were more careful and particular about details because the size of each brand or factory was smaller in the U.K. There were also many bench-made factories in which one craftsman worked on a product all the way through.
- If we make an exclusive shoe, for example, most of the American brands we’ve worked with asked us to order at least 120 or 144 pairs at once. But manufacturers in the U.K. accepted it even when our order quantity was about 10 pairs.
- You mean you could make your exclusive products more easily in the U.K.
- Yes, because we could place a smaller quantity order to realize what we wanted to make. But the price was higher (laughs). Nevertheless, we found it nice that we could make things as we wished even though it was a bit pricey because the size of our business was not so big back then.
- Speaking of the relationship between NEEDLES and the U.K., all the images on the aforementioned concept book of the AW 2011 collection were taken in London.
<NEEDLES> Duffel Coat made with a leopard pattern blanket from 2011 Fall Winter Collection
- I didn’t have a particular reason for that, it was just a whim (laughs). But we actually had more British style clothes in the collection such as a duffel coat made with a leopard pattern blanket, and therefore we decided to take photos for the concept book in London.
- You have also designed some British style clothes for ENGINEERED GARMENTS such as the B2B jacket. Have you always been inspired by such traditional British styles, too, Daiki?
- I have. The British country style is my favorite. It’s a kind of style made with corduroy, tweed and work boots. Although we can find similar things in the U.S. and the lifestyle there is almost same, British-made products are slightly different. The country style in America is more casual and sporty, while people would wear a shirt and tie under a hunting jacket in the U.K. I find such a difference very interesting.
Opened in February, 2019 as the Brand’s Second Overseas Branch.
On February 15th of 2019, NEPENTHES LONDON was launched in Euston, London as the brand’s second overseas store, following the first one in New York. Located in a corner of Woburn Walk, a shopping street designed in 1822 by architect Thomas Cubitt, the sophisticatedly decorated store gently welcomes you with a series of products carefully selected from the latest collections of all the NEPENTHES brands along with their original sealed bottle plants that hold timeless beauty inside. The space has already established its presence with its distinct “NEPENTHES” style, while fitting perfectly in with the street that still retains a Georgian appearance.
- When did the idea of opening a store in London come up?
- Daiki and I had been talking about it since way back. We wanted to open our stores in New York and London.
- Yes. Even before we established our own brand, we had talked with each other about having stores not just in Japan, but also overseas.
- You just marked the brand’s 30th anniversary. Was achieving such an important milestone one of the main motivators for you to take real action to open the store?
- Yes, I think so. And in recent years, NEEDLES has been getting more popular overseas, following the success of ENGINEERED GARMENTS. So, we thought it might be the right time to open our store in London. To be honest, however, we didn’t think twice before we decided it. The idea just popped up in my mind; “Why don’t we open a store in London?” It was like when we launched NEPENTHES NEW YORK. At that time, Daiki found a good place for that and we were like; “Okay, why not!” When we are about to start something new, there is a moment that we suddenly get excited about it.
- Please let us know the reason you chose Euston to open the store.
- Since over twenty years ago, we’ve stayed around there whenever visiting London. So, it’s a familiar place for us. But it doesn’t mean that we initially planned to have our store there. After making our minds to open a store, we visited some other areas to see how they were like, but didn’t feel quite right. And finally, while strolling around our hotel, we found the street and got attracted. Luckily there was a vacant space there, so we made the decision.
- Did you have a specific image of NEPENTHES LONDON such as the atmosphere or size in your mind before finding the space?
- Not really. We actually didn’t mind if it wasn’t a roadside store. But I thought it would be good if the place was away from the city center and other clothing stores. Just like our other stores and NEPENTHES NEW YORK, it should be a store that people who understand the idea of NEPENTHES would come all the way.
- Our first store was also located in a remote place.
- There was no people on the nearby street (laughs).
- Many people worried about us, saying “Are you sure that you opened a store there!?” (laughs).
- NEPENTHES LONDON would be a bigger challenge than opening a new store in Japan, I think, but you keep sticking to your own style. Is that because you know that people will accept the world of NEPENTHES even in other countries?
- Yes, when we opened our store in New York, I was already enough convinced that we could run our business overseas. And now my confidence is even more reinforced.
- Since the opening of NEPENTHES NEW YORK, I’ve also had a feeling that we can launch our store in America or in Europe if condition is right. Though there is a ten-year gap between the openings of our first and second overseas stores, I had no misgivings when Shimizu told me that we would open a new store in London.
- Although there is still some possibilities that our style wouldn’t work in London (laughs), I think it’d be better than failing to run a store in the central London. It’s more like us.
- Okay Shimizu, but we just opened the store (laughs).
Talking about the Future of NEPENTHES and the meaning of “a store” for them
While looking back on the 30 years they have spent together to explore something new, what do the designers who just finished opening a new store in London see in the future? To conclude this interview, we asked them about the future of NEPENTHES, a brand that keeps changing to remain unchanged.
- You now have a new hub in London. Please let us know if you have any future plans for NEPENTHES as a next step.
- Personally, I think it would be nice to have more stores, although we don’t have any concrete ideas about it. The new store might be located in foreign countries such as Los Angeles and Paris, or we might build a completely different type of store in Japan instead.
- Having more stores often involves taking risks. Do you think the fun and pleasure of opening a new store exceeds such risks?
- For us, it all started from a store and our stores are still the fundamental of everything we do. At the beginning, our store carried imported products we had purchased by ourselves. But as other clothing stores began to sell similar stuff, we began to make our exclusive items instead.
- So, for you, your stores come first above all while clothes you make are just one of the elements in it.
- Distribution is very important, of course, but we can show not only clothes but also the entire world of NEPENTHES through our stores. In that sense, our stores always have a special meaning to us.
- During the interview, I felt that you are more excited about the opening of NEPENTHES LONDON than anyone else.
- I can’t wait to see how people in the U.K. and Europe will respond, because it will allow us to see NEPENTHES and our brands from a different point of view.
Text : Daisuke Inoue
Translation : Aya Takatsu
Photography : Akira Yamada
born in 1958 in Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture, is the representative of NEPENTHES and the designer of NEEDLES.
born in 1962 in Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture, is the representative of NEPENTHES AMERICA INC. and the designer of ENGINEERED GARMENTS.