Keizo Shimizu is a pioneer in men’s fashion that continues to defy stereotypes with a personality as authentically passionate as he is creatively free. Shimizu is a designer that has his heart in the reverberations of what fashion means both culturally and personally - translating that love into a message.
The son of a movie theater owner and a gifted seamstress, Shimizu had an active interest in fashion from an early age. When in junior high, he happened across a copy of Men’s Club Magazine that introduced him to Ivy Style. The monthly magazine became his bible and he digested every issue, reading them cover to cover and memorizing sections. Additionally, his father brought home movie magazines that showed windows to American style and when the “Made In U.S.A. Catalog” was published in Japan, it changed his sense of fashion in a profound way.
There were Levi’s 501s on the cover and over 3000 US made products in the book, most of which had never been seen in Japan. Shimizu took off his Ivy Style blazer and trousers in favor of blue jeans and a flannel shirt.
In America, we take the freedom and exploration of style for granted, but in Japan, dressing this way was revolutionary and often troublesome for the older generations. “American Graffiti” played in his father’s theater in Shimizu’s first year of high school and he decided to pass on opportunities to play competitive baseball because he didn’t want to shave his head. He was already determined to work in the fashion industry and express his individuality through his excitement for clothes. “The way American students wore their clothes looked so free and it made me think that there wouldn’t be any rules to be cool.”
But as a young student, he didn’t have the money to pursue his passion. To solve this, he got his motorcycle license and commuted every morning and holiday to pick grapes as well as saving his lunch money to purchase clothes. He felt greater sustenance from gaining his individuality than through a mere meal.
After graduating from the Bunka Fashion College and working for VAN, Shimizu got a job working at a menswear store which eventually led to opening Redwood in 1982, selling American casual clothing and footwear that sent him on buying trips throughout the US. In 1988, Shimizu launched Nepenthes to distribute unique and diverse brands from all over the world to a global community of style enthusiasts. When clothing manufacturing began leaving America in the 90’s and it became harder to get genuine products, Shimizu looked to his native Japanese manufacturing to start a house brand for Nepenthes and to continue the American traditions he loves.
Further changes in the American fashion world had Shimizu and co-worker Daiku Suzuki discontented with what was being put out; they had a different vision. Suzuki would go on to form Engineered Garments and Shimizu created Nepenthes’ house brand Needles.
Needles is the journey of Shimizu’s passion. Connected to the best manufacturers throughout the Nepenthes’ empire of cool, Needles is a no-compromise view on what clothing should be - both personal and as a place of connection. Blending and deconstructing western and military Americana, sportswear and standards, the rebellious spirit of Needles is the simultaneously eccentric and handsome collections from Keizo Shimizu. With a lifetime in the fashion industry, Shimizu is still challenging fashion with tireless ardor.
Read more about Needles here or here from our Back-Story archives.