What was the collaboration between ENGINEERED GARMENTS and IPPUDO?
The collaboration in late 2014 between ENGINEERED GARMENTS and IPPUDO which was reported in various web media. A very popular fashion brand born out of US work wear insisting on MADE IN NEWYORK produced the uniform of IPPUDO New York shop (IPPUDO WESTSIDE). The unexpected news that suddenly came about showcased a visual image of a uniform not seen at Ramen shops before and it shocked the fashion world, especially the fashion conscious within Japan.
Two years has passed since then. Designer Daiki Suzuki and assistant designer Kenta Miyamoto of ENGINEERED GARMENTS reflect on the story behind the project and the details of the uniform hidden behind the huge impact it gave at the time. What is it that comes out of the collaboration between ramen and fashion which is still burnt clearly in our memory?
WORDS by SHOTA KATO PHOTOGRAPHY by HIDEKI ANZAWA
ENGINEERED GARMENTS has in recent times collaborated with VANS and TIMEX but the tie-up with IPPUDO was a little different to the usual collaboration in that it involved creating a uniform for a shop in New York, IPPUDO WESTSIDE. Looking back, what kind of project was it for you, Mr. Suzuki?
The response especially in Japan was huge so I do remember it well. I believe collaboration can be mainly divided into two kinds. One is when you have a personal attachment to a thing and the other is when you have attachment to people. With IPPUDO it was definitely the latter. Of course “IPPUDO” was famous and I have eaten Ramen at its New York shop. But what I can say for sure is that this collaboration would not have realized if it wasn’t for the passion of IPPUDO New York shop staff, Yusuke*.
※Yusuke is a staff at IPPUDO NY. Daiki Suzuki calls Nakamura by the name Yusuke with deep affection.
For sure. We would not have accepted this offer if it wasn’t for Yusuke. It was like we had to respond because of the enthusiasm which Yusuke showed.
I heard that Mr. Nakamura frequented Nepenthes store in New York and was a fan of ENGINEERED GARMENTS.
When Yusuke came to our office for the first time and asked to have a uniform made we were just about to start up a new season and were very busy. I wanted to say yes but I could not say when it would be possible. I did mention to him at the time, “Let’s make it happen when the timing is right”. I think it was about a year later that the uniform was completed.
For us a lot of 20～30 clothes is too small to make. And to manufacture it in New York, the cost will also rise. So, in the beginning, all I could give him was a negative response that the cost will be high for a uniform. Still Yusuke spoke to his boss about our predicament and told him that he wanted it made no matter what. After several discussions the deal was finalized.
I would like to ask you about the idea behind the uniform. In Japan people were saying, “It looks so cool for a Ramen shop uniform!” Usually people expect from Ramen shops some tough-looking men folding their arms, but what was the thought process behind the uniform?
It had to be durable, washable and become better with age. At first we had an idea of a denim but because Yusuke was a fan of our clothes we did have an idea of what he was looking for.
The general concept behind the design was that of an American workwear.
Exactly. With American workwear you conjure up an image of denim, brown duck and natural drill colors but we wanted to used navy rather than those traditional colors of American workwear.
You mentioned navy but you are using a subdued navy color, aren’t you?
For example, in France workwear are mostly royal blue. Even with those blue you have to make it a different tone. So we arranged to order this navy color from the fabric store which is making fabric for this uniform. By the way, with the stitching of an uniform it was often the case to use contrasting colors, like for navy use a white stitching, but we tried to create something cool and new by using a black stitching with the navy, which we were fond of at the time, while retaining the original workwear image.
You are using a lot of triple stitching which is the staple of workwear detailing?
Yes, we are making serious effort in those areas as well. If I have to do it anyway, I wanted to put every stake into this opportunity and made something cool and interesting, you know, which is too good to wear at a Ramen shop. The cost will obviously increase but they understood that.
ENGINEERED GARMENTS had from its inception the basic theme of “clothes for working men”. Compared to other collections are there any difference in the creation process unique to this industry?
With regards to the project with IPPUDO, because it all started with the discussion we had with Yusuke, IPPUDO made sure that his image of an uniform was reflected. What was surprising out of all this was that the creative process once it started did not just happen but Yusuke had a say in even the minute details. When the prototype was ready he took it back and gave us feedback from the chefs and waiters. With the repeated process of receiving feedback and making adjustments accordingly, it was finally created.
I see. So, from a practical stand point feedback from the Ramen shop staff was given.
What I remember is, when we made the prototype of the jacket the pen pocket was in the middle. Then a request was made to have it moved to the side. We made it in the middle imagining an American overall but IPPUDO told us that it was better for them to have it to the side. Also, there was a request of wanting a print with a Ramen as a motif.
Also, with the apron, the length was too long with the ones we normally make in our collection. These practical attention to detail was born out of the many discussions we had. When IPPUDO staff take orders from customers sometimes they have to kneel down. The thought of having to make the apron length shorter so that it is easier to bend down did not occur to us.
Previously we made an apron for a certain restaurant in New York and the length of that apron was long as well. An apron is a typical workwear item and we want to make that into a fashionable, interesting style. We are creating clothing from the viewpoint of pursuing something cool and interesting so, to put it frankly, practicality is not what is important for us. We like to feature the intricate detailing of workwear of the old and add some fun to it so, with our normal collection we look for the impact it gives when worn.
When you think about it, to create a uniform is just the reverse. But, I feel the basic idea is the same as any other collection. Do you have any other approach unique to IPPUDO?
One of their requirements was something that would last one year, so we used a 6.5 ounce cotton of twill fabric. We’ve made the ventilation under the armpits better so the heat escapes easily making it more comfortable in the kitchen during summer time.
While living in New York were there any uniforms that had a lasting impression?
Personally I like uniforms that is workwear, especially, workwear from the 1920’s and 1930’s. There was a shakeout of workwear in the 1940’s and 1950’s and 60’s and beyond saw the era of mass production. An era arrived where all they thought about was how to do away with the intricate details that had been done previously and make as much as possible with minimal cost. Workwear prior to that was really interesting. So called designers did not exist and what was created at the time was what was needed.
In Japan all work uniforms are made with a set of rules. You have to wear them at work like school uniforms but in New York most of the staff at small cafes and coffee shops wear just an apron over their normal clothes. I think they are really good with such a natural styling and show some kind of effortless attraction. Some staffs have full on tattoos on their body so in Japan that is something that will not be welcomed.
Uniforms they wear at meat shops and electrical appliance stores are so unbelievably cool that I want to have them. Especially forwarding agency UPS has a uniform of T-shirts and shorts which is undeniably cool. Even those working in a garage wearing overalls have their upper half dropped down which makes it cool also. It’s straight out of a Herb Ritts photograph. In that sense, I have yet to see a cool uniform worn at restaurants. Well, Hooters come to mind but cool? I think it’s a bit different (with a laugh)
It is like costume play in a sense but very American and it is very high in terms of degree of perfection (with a laugh).