As the brainchild of Keizo Shimizu, Needles was one of the first brands under the wider Nepenthes company. Inspired by his love and admiration of American made products, film and popular culture, the label explores the juxtapositions of American and Japanese shapes and fabrics. With over three decades of experience and experimentation, Needles is now a globally coveted menswear label with a distinctly contemporary streetwear aesthetic that’s constantly evolving. Needles designs utilise lightweight fabrics, smooth textures, technically crafted materials, and bold vintage-inspired prints.
Nepenthes was conceived in 1988 by Keizu Shimizu after the designer had tried to source something that was not readily available In Japan. Determined to fill the gap in the fashion market in Japan, Shimizu founded his own brand with humble beginnings in a small space in the off beat, little-known area of Aoyama, Tokyo. Shimizu enlisted the help of Daiki Suzuki soon after the brand’s inception, and the company later opened its first brick and mortar retail space in Japan in 1989. Shimizu stocked the shelves of his first store with pieces from Ralph Lauren, New Balance, and L.L.Bean that he bought at factory stores in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Freeport, Maine. What had initially been a distinct style that was strongly informed by classic Americana products soon turned into a re-imagined way of collaborating with lesser known brands, artists and designers, and into the creation of further Nepenthes diffusion lines, like Needles. Needles was initially created to support imported items in the Nepenthes shop. Soon Shimizu and Suzuki began imagining the future of their own brand, and the pair began collaborating and developing original pieces that represented their unique, eccentric sartorial sensibilities. Shimizu’s frequent trips to America became scouting missions for sourcing vintage dealers, manufacturers, and fabric mills. He says he used his “sense of smell” to treasure-hunt for scores of deadstock denim, military pants, and rugged fabrics—things that would end up in the Nepenthes store.
By the time Shimizu had created Nepenthes and Needles, he had already gained a wealth of experience within the fashion industry. Shimizu was first introduced to fashion by his parents during a back-to-school shopping trip in Shinjuku, but it wasn’t until he was flipping through the pages of a “Made in U.S.A” catalog that he became obsessed with all-things American. Specifically inspired by the way that American youth dressed, Shimizu became enamoured with the effortless, stylish, and cool trends of the United States. Although his first store was in Tokyo, Shimizu was quick to launch an office in Boston, Massachusetts before relocating to New York City in 1996.
By the 1990s, American factories were shutting down and production was moving overseas. Highly sought-after U.S.-made clothing became harder to find, and Needles was soon conceived as a way to fill the gap in the market. Shimizu started Needles in Japan, and Suzuki moved to the U.S. to open a Nepenthes outpost and launch Engineered Garments, which he continues to run out of Manhattan’s Garment District today. Meanwhile, Shimizu’s vision for Needles expanded quickly and gloriously. Shimizu launched the clothing label with one piece: a simple, relaxed loose-fitting suit jacket that was inspired by a design that Miles Davis had worn in the 1960s. From humbling beginnings, Needles has since expanded its range to include styles beyond that first suit jacket. Needles collections now span a range of styles and influences from American and Japanese culture, with a distinct influence from street style and vintage style codes. Shimizu has drawn heavily from the beauty he finds in films, actors, musicians and artists. One of the most popular designs from the brand has come from Needles Sportswear. A sub label of the brand, Needles Sportswear makes the instantly recognisable matching tracksuits, designed with straight leg pants, funnel necklines, zip closures and the iconic butterfly embroidered logo to the chest, a logo inspired by a tattoo on Steve McQueen’s chest in the film Papillon.
Rebuild by Needles was another sub-label launched by the brand in 2012, with collections of menswear apparel that’s been recreated by stitching multiple vintage and deadstock pieces together. The rest of the collection is an inventive medley of Ivy League Americana, hippie-dippy patterns, Cobain-esque grunge, and traditional Japanese arts- and-crafts motifs. It’s a tricky combo, but one that Shimizu has spent the better part of 30 years perfecting. And now the most stylish kids across the globe are catching on.
Today Needles is a globally coveted brand that offers a highly referential yet ultimately singular concept of modern menswear. Here at Incu we stock all of the best selling styles from Needles, including the famous Needles track suits and vintage-inspired remade t-shirts, shirts, and trousers. Shop all the latest designs from the newest Needles collection, or browse other top brands like Engineered Garments, A.P.C., and Blue Blue Japan.