Keizo Shimizu

Keizo Shimizu Needles Interview

Interview:
Nico Jacobsen

30 years ago, Keizo Shimizu opened a business called Nepenthes in Tokyo, Japan. Much like the fascinating plant that shares the store’s name, the enterprise continues to grow, amply fed by Keizo’s seemingly endless passion and inspiration. It has now evolved far past any physical location or singular direction, becoming, instead, the holistic representation of a specific lifestyle, with Keizo always gently steering it into new territory. One of the many brands to blossom out from under the Nepenthes umbrella is Needles, a unisex brand for which he is the sole designer and creative director. Mixing his love of nature and his fascination with various American underground movements, he has created a line which occupies a unique space in the modern world of fashion, and it will surely continue to do so, given its unrivaled quality and reverence for details.

Nico:

You went to the famous Shinjuku location of the department store Isetan as a boy, and frequently went thrifting in the Harajuku district when you first moved to Tokyo as a student. Do you still get inspired by shopping around the Japanese capital?

Keizo:

I haven’t gone shopping in Tokyo at all since I started working in fashion. The only time I go to the stores is generally when I’m abroad.

Keizo Shimizu Needles

N:

You’ve moved to the Japanese island of Hokkaido — a place world famous for its uni as well as many other delicacies from the sea — in order to fish more and deepen your bond with the outdoors. Is it possible to describe in words how appreciation for nature affects all aspects of Nepenthes as a company?

K:

I go to Hokkaido almost every month, but I don’t live there. I’ve been in Tokyo the whole time since I originally moved here. I don’t know if I can describe this well in words, but it inspires me to have two completely different lifestyles at once — the inconvenient life in the big nature of Hokkaido and convenient but busy life in the big city of Tokyo.

N:

As far back as I can remember, Needles lookbooks always featured a few women’s looks alongside men's, but now it seems to be an almost 50/50 split. Is that more of a business decision, or are you finding more joy in designing women’s clothing recently?

Keizo Shimizu Needles

K:

Needles has been a unisex brand from the beginning. It’s been more focused on a unisex angle recently, as well as presenting more of a woman’s way to wear the brand. It’s too difficult for me to design a full women’s range.

N:

Only a few of your collections have concrete themes, but can you tell us about a few of them, and how they shaped their respective seasons?

Keizo Shimizu Needles

K:

Freestyle always is and will forever be the theme of Needles. We rarely set a season’s theme because once you do, it limits what we can do and also how you can wear the clothes. It might look to some like we just do the same thing over and over because we don’t change what we make depending on the theme. We make similar things, yes, but it is actually always changing though the use of different materials or how it fits, being dictated by what best fits the current moment.

N:

Over three decades ago in the early days of your store, Nepenthes, you were revolutionary in how you approached buying, combining sportswear like Reebok and Nike with outdoor heritage gear like Arrow Moccasin. Is this a dichotomy you still aim to break down in your designs?

K:

That has been the basic idea since the beginning of Nepenthes and I still think about it. However, we are in the 30th year of Nepenthes now, and since we’ve got some experience, I wouldn’t even call it a dichotomy anymore.

N:

Can you tell us a little about the first garment you ever produced and/or designed?

K:

The Double Ring Blucher Moccasin and Gladiator Moccasin from Arrow Moccasin for Nepenthes, and the Miles Jacket for Needles.

N:

When I was working at Nepenthes New York, I remember that you and Daiki Suzuki (designer of Engineered Garments) would frequently travel to the American Southwest for inspiration and to buy Native American Hopi jewelry, something you also stocked in your original Nepenthes location. Can you tell me a bit about how that culture influences your work? What about that region continues to mystify you?

K:

I’m not sure if I get much inspiration from Native American culture. However, I don’t know why, but I’ve always admired their jewelry and rugs.

N:

There are probably no two patterns used in fashion with more differing politics than tie-dye and camo, yet they are used in equal measure in your collections. Do you ever think about the inherent politics of the garments when you are crafting them?

K:

I’ve never thought about them from a political perspective. I use them just because I think they’re cool in the context of fashion.

  • Portrait Photo: Courtesy of Nepenthes
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