Photography by Clément Pascal
Essay by Sam Wittwer

July 28 2016

There are some people, who, whether by luck or some universal guiding force, seem always to be in the right place at the right time. By all appearances, Shinsuke Takizawa is one of these people. He grew up in the mountainous prefecture of Nagano, and at a young age became captivated by the rebellious spirit of punk. By 19 he had made it to London, where he fell in with Nellee Hooper and the wardens of the new wave.

Back in Tokyo, Takizawa ran with the crew at Major Force records, at one point finding himself on tour with Public Enemy. He founded NEIGHBORHOOD in 1994, and has been running the wildly successful streetwear label from Tokyo ever since. Though the common thread of good fortune runs through anecdotes of Takizawa’s youth, the notion of him as casual cultural wanderer belies the hard work that has the made NEIGHBORHOOD a success over the past two decades.

NEIGHBORHOOD was established in 1994, and would go on to play a major part in the emergence of Ura-Hara. Loosely translated to ‘Hidden Harajuku,’ the movement was named for the small back streets on which Takizawa and his contemporaries began to open their shops and studios. In this tangle of streets, brands like A Bathing Ape, Wtaps, and Underground were creating garments that combined the attitude of the streets that surrounded them with the aesthetics of the distant cultures that inspired them. The inspiration was rebellion itself, and hip hop, club, and skate cultures were pervasive. These labels sought to be more than simply clothing brands: they were selling lifestyles and attitudes.

With NEIGHBORHOOD, Takizawa was interested in playing with the tropes of vintage motorcycle culture. Visions of Easy Rider and American chopper enthusiasts formed the basis for what would become the core of their style: clothing that feels like it has a backstory. NEIGHBORHOOD’s aesthetic, although still boundary pushing today, was especially remarkable at its outset. While Takizawa was developing his first pieces in the mid-nineties, most manufacturers didn’t even have the ability to produce the sort of subtly distressed denim and softly faded canvas the brand would become known for.

From its beginning, NEIGHBORHOOD has made a habit of looking outside itself for special projects. Takizawa pioneered the now ubiquitous practice of co-branded collaborations before there was even a term for them. These partnerships have spanned an impressive range of brands, from Adidas to Anarchy, Supreme, and Burton, and have resulted in everything from incense to T-shirts and camping equipment to snowboards. While the mix of products might seem non-sequitur, the collaborations form natural extensions of the friendships Takizawa has made since his formative years in Harajuku. A neighborhood, after all, is nothing without its people.

Shinsuke Takizawa
Hometown: Japan‚ Nagano Prefecture
Residence: Shibuya
Drink of choice: Non-alcohol beer
Favorite meal: Tacos
How do you take your coffee?: Black
Primary mode of transportation: Car and motorcycle

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Nagano prefecture where every-thing is surrounded by mountains. I lived there until I was 18‚ in that natural environment. I moved to Tokyo that year. This year marks the 30th anniversary of my time here. I have lived in Tokyo longer than anywhere else.

What did your parents do?

My parents own a Japanese soba noodle shop and manufacturer.

Did they have particular interest in art or style?

Maybe my creativity? They might have thought I had interest in fashion‚ music‚ something obscure‚ but I don’t think they were fully aware.

What was your first exposure to fashion?

I think I was interested in clothes from a young age. Well‚ maybe not—I had what I liked and not what I didn’t. My later interest was perhaps just a continuation of those preferences. In my teenage years‚ I was more conscious about fashion‚ especially when I first saw London style in the 70s. I was particularly interested in anything that expressed London street style: Vivienne Westwood’s Seditionaries boutique‚ World Ends‚ Johnson’s‚ Robot‚ Dr. Martens‚ and so on.

As an adolescent‚ did you participate or have interest in a particular subculture?

From age 16‚ I was captivated by punk-rock and underground music and I also had a hardcore live punk band. At that time‚ I was against everything and anything mainstream.

When were you first introduced to the Harajuku neighborhood?

The first time I went to Harajuku was about 1982‚ I think. My memory is a bit hazy. Harajuku at that time was influenced by London street culture and the atmosphere of area was a hybrid of London and Harajuku styles‚ which blended to create something entirely unique. On the one extreme‚ there was Rock n’ Roll and Ted (Teddy Boy) style and on the other were Garçons dressed all in black‚ and Punk and New Wave. It was a time where there was no information from outside‚ and that led to a naïve creativity of its own.

You traveled abroad in your youth—can you tell us about that experience?

I travelled with a few of my friends when I was 19. This was my first time traveling abroad and we went to Paris and London. We did not have much money and were no good at planning. It was a very typical trip for that time in your life‚ but the experience of it affected me tremendously.

In London‚ we stayed a few weeks at the home of Nellee Hooper and Milo Johnson of  Wild Bunch‚ which was very lucky. I remember the place was around Camden‚ and on the weekend we would go to The Wag (a very popular club at that time) and to a Soul II Soul party at The Africa Center. I was able to experience and feel the energy and vibe only possible at that time. Breakbeat and Rare-Groove were popular. Dub and Funk‚ too—it was a really nice moment in time.

Fashion and styling were also in flux. There were Adidas sneakers‚ tracksuits‚ Vivienne Westwood mountain hats‚ Kangol hats‚ Duffer jackets—everything was mixed-up to create its very own style. By now this has become very ordinary‚ but it was at its very beginning back then.

What did you find yourself doing upon your return to Japan‚ both personally and professionally?

First‚ I was a little shocked by the difference between the environments of London and Japan. When I returned home‚ I began to frequent clubs in Tokyo and started playing DJ sets. I became a stylist of sorts.

How did you get caught up in the Public Enemy tour?

In the early 80’s I was working for a record label company called Major Force. At that time Major Force released music from Hiroshi Fujiwara‚ Kan Takagi‚ Gota Yashiki‚ Toshio Nakanishi and Masayuki Kudo. When Public Enemy came to Japan‚ I toured with them throughout Japan for work.

How did your interest in American culture‚ particularly American motorcycle culture begin?

Thinking back on when I was younger‚ I was always very aware of my passion for motorcycles. As a matter of fact‚ all of the heroes and bad guys on TV were riding bikes back then. After going through my ‘London culture’ phase‚ I then got interested in bikes. When I was 22‚ my friend was living at the U.S. military base‚ and they were always riding (and fooling around) with chopper motorcycles there. At that time‚ the trend was racer style with two-stroke engines‚ but I started off restoring a Kawasaki and riding the chopper everyday. This was where it all began.

Until the time that you decided to begin NEIGHBORHOOD‚ were you doing any work in fashion?

When I was at Major Force‚ I worked on a project designing merchandise for the label. This is where I learned the basics of apparel design and business management. I actually entered fashion design school‚ but I quit after 4 months. I was more interested in meeting people from the fashion and creative industries at night clubs rather than learning to sew buttons on clothes.

It seems that you always happen to be in the right place at the right time. Would you agree with this?

Yes‚ perhaps my life has been lucky. But‚ certainly not everything is a product of luck. After all‚ if there’s no hard-work‚ humility and ambition in a person‚ nothing will become of them.

How did the idea for NEIGHBORHOOD come about? Why the name?

NEIGHBORHOOD started with three friends—we were riding motorcycles together. It was in 1994. Back then‚ the typical “motorcycle style” was a black T-shirt‚ leather pants‚ and boot-cut denim‚ which I could not go along with. I was wearing work-wear and white-T-shirts. I wanted to express my own style.

The brand name NEIGHBORHOOD is a reference to Harajuku. It was a place where young people started a brand; many people chose this place for their creative activities. In this way‚ it was “our neighborhood.”

Did you have goals or expectations in place when you started the line?

I did not have any specific goals. The Apple Macintosh had made graphic design and self expression more accessible. Ultimately‚ I was having fun with it and not thinking about much other than that. As long as I had enough money to do what I wished‚ I was satisfied.

Is there a particular piece or collection you can point to that directly relates to an experience in your past?

With NEIGHBORHOOD‚ the first clothing I produced other than T-shirts were work style denim jackets. I made them closer to ‘vintage’ by adding a distressed finish. Shortly after‚ I was able to incorporate advanced methods of distress processing and made few pairs of denim jeans.

This became a collection series called SAVAGE DENIM. Back then‚ the distressing or ‘damaging’ process was not at all a standard design practice‚ so it took quite a lot of time and effort to communicate what I wanted with the factory. Nowadays‚ they can produce the high quality we expect.

What is it about midcentury motorcycle subculture that has held your interest for so long?

It isn’t only motorcycles‚ but I am attracted to culture‚ style and products from the past. Always have been‚ always will. Why this interest? This is very difficult to answer‚ but I am simply not that interested in modern motorcycles or cars. I also drive modern automobiles—Mercedes—but this is more for convenience and easy riding‚ than because I adore the car. I do not feel the rush or exuberance when I am driving a modern car‚ and the silhouette of the body does not excite me either. But I do have to admit‚ modern cars are fast and powerful.

This is similar to my relationship with industrial products in my daily life‚ such as my iPhone‚ computer‚ and other electronics. I use these everyday because of convenience but not because I’m passionate about them.

Vintage cars and motorcycles come with a story and a history‚ and I adore these vehicles more than anything.

NEIGHBORHOOD does not mean to design only for motorcyclists. But Motorcycle culture and its complimentary lifestyle and history is good inspiration for the design process.

How hands-on are you in the design and production of the garments?

Right now we have four lines within the brands; NEIGHBORHOOD‚ SVG ARCHIVES BY NEIGHBORHOOD‚ LUKER‚ and NEIGHBORHOOD ONE THIRD. The design and production-planning are done by only two people‚ including me. Just as when I started‚ I still work hands-on creating graphics using Adobe Illustrator. The selection of fabrics‚ yarn and stitching remain part of my design and production process‚ too‚ so nothing has changed much in the past 21 years in terms of working tasks.

Neighborhood is a frequent collaborator with artists and outside brands. What is the importance of collaboration to you and to Neighborhood as a brand?

Ever since we started the brand‚ we’ve had collaborative activities. At the outset‚ though‚ the term ‘collaboration’ didn’t really exist. Rather‚ we used to call it “Double Name.” Many were based on the extensions of friendships such as with A Bathing Ape and Fragment Design.

To this day‚ the idea remains the same. By crossing products from two brands‚ some-thing more powerful can emerge and further‚ both fans of the brands can also cross over‚ these are some of the attractions of working on joint projects

What’s next for Neighborhood?

Starting a couple seasons ago‚ we broke the collection down into categories such Military‚ Heritage‚ Denim‚ and Outdoor. Depending on the season‚ the themes may vary‚ but this made it easier to express the way we think about our clothing. We’re also quite aware of the global market‚ so our categories make our brand more intelligible to different groups. I hope as many different people as possible around the world will check out our line.

What’s next for you?

I want to age well.