NEIGHBORHOOD: The Patchwork Design of Shinsuke Takizawa
- Words Jacob Victorine
- Date June 29, 2017
Of the trinity of cult streetwear brands founded in 1994, NEIGHBORHOOD may be the most singularly focused, at least at first glance. Founded by Shinsuke Takizawa in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo, Japan, NEIGHBORHOOD surfaced before retail shops—outside of Jun Takahashi and Nigo’s NOWHERE store—covered the area. Takizawa has shaped his brand with the concept of crafting clothes that pay homage to motorcycle riders and their culture—a cultish subculture in its own right. A rider himself, Takizawa’s main hobbies include customizing cars and motorcycles and playing bass guitar in a band—interests clearly reflected in the clothes his brand produces: “I don’t have a hobby that is not my work,” he said in a 2013 interview with Haven.
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Takizawa first came in contact with biker culture through 60’s American films like Easy Rider, which itself has become a major influence for the designer over the course of his career. As a young adult, Takizawa had a friend who lived near an American army base and was immersed in American motorcycle culture. This influence clearly rubbed off on Takizawa, as he grew long hair and started wearing motorcycle boots. In his early twenties, he purchased his first motorcycle—a Shovel Head FLH—that cost $8,000, which he had to pay off in 48 installments.
Yet NEIGHBORHOOD’s identity is not beholden to biker culture: “Most people assume my philosophy is based around motorcycles and a vintage lifestyle, but actually the real core of my philosophy is around function. I want people to buy our products because they’re useful, and from this I want people to use the products to develop their own personal style,” Takizawa said to Tim Little of British footwear brand, Grenson, in a 2016 interview focused on a collaborative line of boots and shoes. In the brand’s own words NEIGHBORHOOD strives to make “basic clothing created by digesting unique interpretations of elements from motorcycles, military, outdoor, trad, etc. and also suggesting this lifestyle.” Although not always explicit, there is also a sense of the punk DIY approach to Takizawa’s designs—particularly in the processes he uses. NEIGHBORHOOD specializes in faded, damaged, and repaired selvedge denim, work-wear inspired shirts and coveralls, leather motorcycle jackets, and pretty much anything that looks good pre-distressed or aged through years of wear.
Takizawa’s foray into fashion began as a form of self-expression and, despite NEIGHBORHOOD borrowing significantly from Americana, Takizawa initially looked toward London’s fashion and music scenes for inspiration; to this day, the designer considers the city to be the foundation of his design aesthetics. As a teenager, Takizawa idolized British punk bands like The Clash and the Sex Pistols and—like many fashion savvy teens in 80’s Tokyo—London designers like Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. After Takizawa was kicked out of fashion school as a 19-year-old for not attending class, he travelled to Paris and the U.K. where he experienced the culture he had fallen in love with firsthand.
When Takizawa returned to Tokyo he began working as a freelance stylist. Eventually, through a roommate, he got to know streetwear legend, Japanese Hip Hop pioneer, and future collaborator, Hiroshi Fujiwara, who convinced him to come work for his groundbreaking record label, Major Force. Takizawa became fascinated with Apple computers around the same time and, as he gained technical mastery, took over the design side of the record label, which included creating graphics for t-shirts and hoodies. It seems that his design stint with Major Force rekindled Takizawa’s professional interest in fashion design because he soon decided to borrow money to open the first NEIGHBORHOOD store—so named because the designer and his friends had formed a growing artistic community in Harajuku at the time.
Like a number of Japanese brands founded in the 80’s and 90’s—such as Keizo Shimizu’s Nepenthes—NEIGHBORHOOD started out by importing clothing from the United States. According to Takizawa, “both TET, my partner and designer of WTAPS, and I were completely amateur buyers so everything wasn’t planned out and was pretty irresponsible. I remember looking at a map of America and we found a city called Buffalo and said to each other, ‘Look! This city sounds pretty cool, maybe there’s something between there and New York!’” The pair ended up driving from outlet mall to outlet mall across Upstate New York, picking up outdoor clothing and RRL shirts. Unfortunately for the upstart brand, the American items failed to move. Out of desperation, they decided to screen print their own graphics which, to Takizawa and TET’s surprise, sold extremely well. This inspired Takizawa to produce the brand’s first original non-t-shirt piece of clothing—a vintage wash overall made in 1995: “When I looked at this jacket now, it may be a little poor in quality and roughly made, but you can still get a sense of our philosophy in it. Clothes that you can get a feeling from, from the first moment you put it on--that is my philosophy,” Takizawa said to i-D in a 2010 interview.
This idea of evoking—and invoking—nostalgia seems crucial to the mantra of NEIGHBORHOOD. Although Takizawa has said otherwise, much of his approach seems to value past over present, both in terms of inspiration and execution, so it’s not surprising that the designer feels nostalgic towards 1930’s motorcycles, the 60’s and 70’s Hell’s Angels, and the 90’s intersection of fashion and counter culture that inspired streetwear brands such as X-LARGE, Supreme, Undercover, A Bathing Ape, and Takizawa’s own label. As he’s explained in interviews, Takizawa feels the oversaturation of media since the 2000’s has made it difficult “to create an action with an impact,” which feels like an oversimplification since, by all accounts, NEIGHBORHOOD has benefited from the growing international attention given to Japanese designers over the past fifty years and the rise of streetwear over the past twenty.
Without the increased media attention NEIGHBORHOOD has received since its inception nearly twenty-five years ago, it’s doubtful the brand could have risen to its current heights. Over the years, Takizawa has significantly expanded his brand’s reach with an additional flagship store in Shibuya, shop-in-shop stores in Hanky Men's department stores in Tokyo and Osaka, and HOODS-branded shops in Japan and overseas in places like Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul. In 2009, Takizawa expanded the NEIGHBORHOOD brand as well when he introduced LUKER, a sort of sub-brand more literally influenced by British counter culture than its sibling.
Unlike many American designers, however, and despite his brand’s growing international success, Takizawa is not obsessed with constant expansion. “I never dreamt that I would still be doing this 17 years later. It’s been healthy and in the future I don’t intend for us to be a big global company,” he said in a 2011 interview. “As long as we’re satisfied with what we do and if we can maintain our current style I’ll be happy.” This outlook seems in keeping with the designer’s diverse and, at times, seemingly conflicting design philosophy that, for the past two decades, has shaped NEIGHBORHOOD: a brand inspired by biker culture but made for everyone, whose clothing references the past, but is constructed using modern techniques and cuts. This patchwork approach to design may very well be what has helped separate NEIGHBORHOOD from other biker-inspired and subculture-based brands. Of course, in the most literal sense, the brand is widely known by streetwear nerds for its meticulously faded and patched denim, but it is Takizawa’s willingness to pull from a wide range of personal, historical, and pop cultural references that keeps the clothing fresh in the minds of consumers and insulates NEIGHBORHOOD from feeling like just another heritage brand.