Despite being a native of Japan, Daiki Suzuki is the designer behind some the best Americana-inspired clothes out there today. After some years in America as a buyer, Suzuki founded Engineered Garments in 1999, which has continued to produce beautiful and utterly unique collections every season since. With intricate construction, vintage influence, and modern panache, he has been the driving force behind a bold and fresh take on American workwear, and his efforts have not gone unnoticed.
All of Suzuki’s clothes strike an exceedingly delicate balance between vintage prep and blue collar workwear. Classic suits, madras blazers, weather-proof outerwear, and simple oxfords are all unstructured, wrinkled, and built to last. And not only are the pieces individually impressive in this uniquely rugged way, but they are styled with an unexampled eye as the tough outerwear pieces pair with rumpled, boldly-printed suiting to create looks that defy strict categorization. Suzuki’s aesthetic blends lived-in and pulled-together with effortless ease.
In addition to designing collection after collection of rugged, compelling clothes for Engineered Garments, Suzuki was the creative director of Woolrich Woolen Mills from the line’s inception in F/W ‘06 to its S/S ‘11 season and launched a separate collaboration with Levi’s in 2008 after receiving the GQ/CFDA award for Menswear Designer of the Year. Suzuki has since continued his uniquely engaging designs for Engineered Garments while also collaborating with iconic British shoemaker Tricker’s and opening an American branch of the cult Japanese retailer Nepenthes, which opened in the Garment District in the fall of 2010. With an impressive body of work and a strong foothold in the menswear retail market, we spoke to Daiki about his experiences so far and what he has up his sleeve for the future.
Your work at Engineered Garments and Woolrich Woolen Mills has a strong and bold vintage look completely unlike other workwear-inspired labels. How do you feel your designs stand apart from the others?
I really don’t look at other designers’ work so I wouldn’t know how I stand apart from the others. Design for me comes from my experiences.
All of your Engineered Garments pieces for F/W ’12 – especially the outerwear – are rugged but in an acutely stylish way. What fabrics are you drawn to, to strike this balance?
Navy Wool Serge used for NYPD Uniforms, stamped by Metcalf the manufacturer. Navy 20oz Melton, also used for uniforms and Navy Camouflage custom made for me by the Woolrich Mill in PA from a WWII Duck Hunting Camouflage using grey, navy and black.
In January 2011, Tyler Brûlé said in the Financial Times that "the workwear era has come to an end.” From your and other workwear-inspired labels’ continued success, it’s obvious that it hasn’t gone away. What’s your take on the future of workwear and how does it affect your idea for future Engineered Garments lines?
Workwear has been one of our important and mainstay elements for Engineered Garments design and fabrications and will be the case for the future, it’s not a trend or a fad for me.
Nepenthes is an established brand in Japan, with beautiful stores in Tokyo, Osaka, and Sapporo. What prompted the decision to open Nepenthes in the U.S.? Was there a different approach in the New York store as opposed to the Japanese stores?
We always wanted to open our own store in NY. Since most of us came from some aspect of retail, having our own store is a big dream for us. It just came at the right time and place. We have five shops in Japan and our store here in NY now. All of them operate and run differently because of the cities they’re in and they have been performing well this way.
What are the positives and negatives about having your store in the Garment District?
Positives are that the shop is close to our office and the factories we use and for now there aren’t really any negatives.
How do you decide what labels to carry alongside Engineered Garments, both here and in Japan?
For our shop in NY I would like to show things we are doing in Japan that people here do not know, specifically Needles and South 2 West 8 and really anything that will compliment Nepenthes as a whole and of course specific for our NY shop and NY customers.
The years leading up to your final season at Woolrich were extremely busy, designing for Woolen Mills and your own line, plus a collaboration with Levi’s. It’s been noted that you are in the studio early in the morning to late at night. You also work on the weekends. With this busy schedule, what is down time like for you?
What do you have in mind for the future of Engineered Garments and Nepenthes? You’ve focused on your own label for the past seasons; do you have the desire to continue this or are you interested in more collaborations for upcoming seasons?
Same for the future really but at the same time would love to try something new, it could be some collaborations or something else…