Interview By Joanna Kawecki of Champ Magazine / Photography by Shin Hamada
For the latest collaboration, Converse & Japanese label Neighborhood have recreated the iconic One Star 74 & Chuck Taylor All Star 70. Both are influenced by functional motorcycle design and feature all black colourways of canvas and leather. Ahead of the release, we spoke with Neighborhood's Shinsuke Takizawa on the ideas behind the designs, his approach to functional customisation and his own personal thoughts on connecting with the international motorcycle culture through the power of social media. Whilst the creative spirit in Harajuku remains, it's what you least expect about the neighbourhood that is the most fascinating for Takizawa.
Date: April 2017, 7pm.
Location: Neighborhood Office and Garage, Tokyo.
What were some of the main inspirations for the new collaboration?
Some of my main inspirations for Neighborhood are old signage, old parts and old motorcycles, but this time with Converse, my inspiration and focus was a little bit more modern. I always listen to many, many types of music. From punk rock to heavy metal, even slash metal. That image is what I had in mind. And, even though I don’t do it myself, skateboarding too.
The Chuck Taylor All Star 70 features an additional leather strip across the front, what was the reason for this design?
Shoe damage happens usually quite fast with regular use, and particularly on a motorcycle, the upper foot is regularly used by the shift gear. When you’re riding with a regular shoe, the regular sole is a little soft and not as strong. Traditionally, Converse is already a good shoe. So by using a little more leather, we tried to make it a bit of a more boot style for more support. When you shift up while riding, you have to use the upper part of your foot and it’s more protected and in more of a sturdy position. I designed the strap on both sides, because English motorcycles have their shift gears on the right side, while in the US it’s located on the left.
How did this idea come about?
Naturally, I already had the idea just from riding. So that when I was designing, it didn’t feel like I had designed it as it was already a logical idea.
On your design for the Chuck Taylor 70, the new shift leather shoe strap provides a function, but why do you have the text, 'Shift'? It's an interesting design element visually.
Nowadays boats, airplanes, and other industrial vehicles, when you look at the font of the words that they use, it kind of elicits this kind of text. Instructional and cautionary. These types of tags…
Why did you choose to design it on the Chuck Taylor and not for the One Stars to include the front leather shift strap?
The concepts are a little different. Music, different bands, and a certain image. When I first saw the One Star I had an idea, ‘When am I gonna be able to design this?’ because I had that style, so it’s a different concept and it’s more influenced by music and style. But I’ve always wanted to design a One Star.
How did the idea for canvas and suede upper, or the foxing strip (which seems a bit thicker) with the NBHD slogan come about?
Since our brand started in 1994, I already had this kind of approach and thought it was something close to our identity. It’s true the original foxing strip is usually a bit slimmer, whereas this one on the new CTAS 70 is thicker. For using canvas and suede, I just really love it for this model. I could’ve chosen all-leather, but it’s kind of already been done. The idea that I had in my head was more of a motorcycle-inspired design, maybe something that says “Chuck Taylor Motorcycles.” So I wanted to take an authentic, traditional piece (or thing) and modify it. Then, I realised I wanted a more original style, so by using both I was able to do the leather and canvas mix.
It relates back to your own custom approach with bikes too. What have you customised on some of your bikes?
I love customising everything, but since I like races, I think of things that have a purpose in racing. Things that have a reason to be customised, I customise. This is what I find most interesting.
When did you start Jurassic Paint?
Maybe 6 or 7 years ago. It's just a project between myself and those around me; the friends that are interested in the same things.
Being interested in vintage and well-made design, what personally inspires you?
Of course vintage clothing, cars, and bikes interest me. But by using a modern, ordinary lifestyle product and taking that concept with the vintage is what makes it more interesting for me. Just like this [shoe]. The outside may look old but the inside is very high-tech. Just like a new, modern engine in a vintage bike. The engine is the main necessity.
What’s are the things that most interest you about motorcycle design?
Since I’ve studied motorcycle history and the styles of the different eras, even though they’re gone/over, the links between the designs of each era are very interesting. I think the ‘40s and ‘50s are the most interesting. Just like the iPhone now, industrial products were convenient and designed incredibly well. Even the thinking that went into the design process at that time was complex. It wasn’t just “where am I going to ride to/how far am I going?”, but also “I want to feel excited when riding.” These kinds of products interest me.
On the weekend, where do you usually ride?
Recently, I haven’t been able to go far or anywhere special, but races are definitely fun to go to. Last year in California, there was a race on Pismo Beach called “The Race of Gentlemen.” Only bikes and cars made in the ‘30s and ‘40s are allowed in this race. A long time ago, there were many kinds of races, but this one on the beach is the best to catch models from this era.
Do you remember the first time you bought your first pair of Converse?
I remember it vividly. It’s a very funny story. It was maybe in the ‘70s, as a kid buying shoes…The exact model I don’t remember but it could have been the All Star. But in that specific store, the sole was super thick like a platform. I bought them, but I never actually wore them!
Just for the archive! Do you remember your first bike?
When I was twenty years old I used my own money to buy my first bike. It was a 250cc Kawasaki, which I customised.
When visiting America, what were some of the early events or places you visited during your travels?
I went to the 'Speedweeks' event at the Daytona Speedway. I’ve been to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally..events like that. However, with the onset of social media, I’ve been able to connect with others in not only the fashion industry, but those interested in the culture. I was even invited to be part of the 'Born Free Motorcycle Show' through social media. That may not have been possible back in the days before social media.
What does the international motorcycle culture mean to you?
Of course it’s a community that we all enjoy being a part of. But, moreover it’s a style, a lifestyle. And since it’s a hobby for many, I can meet tons of people I’ve never met in my life before. That’s amazing. Now through social media like Instagram, I get to connect with even modern bike and/or car enthusiasts. This is very different from the old days. Before social media it was just about visiting people, looking up phone numbers in the phone book, meeting at motorcycle events, those kinds of things.
Converse holds a sort of DIY image, but do you also think that there is a sense of freedom in the image as well?
Yes, there is a sense of freedom, but there’s also something else. In my mind, Converse is the main/model image of not just a sneaker, but an idea itself. What I mean is, when you think of denim, you think of Levi’s. [So when I think of Converse, it sparks this deep idea/image in my mind.] So it’s not just a shoe, it’s on its own; Converse.
Since Neighborhood started in 1994, how do you think the Harajuku community has changed from then to now?
To be honest, from 1994 to now, nothing has really changed. Obviously, the world has changed around us and the brand has grown, however the spirit of the Neighborhood brand remains the same. Even the things we do have barely changed. I am getting a little older now, but myself and those around me are into the same things we were into in the ‘90s. Sure, many people have branched out and do a variety of things now, [but deep down inside] we haven’t changed much.
Do you still think that there’s that same creativity?
The neighbourhood itself (Omotesando/Harajuku) has definitely changed and grown. There was no iPhone in the ‘90s. Nevertheless, the people who wanted to create things back in the ‘90s definitely had a great time and still have fun [making their creations.] So, not much has changed. But something that I find also very interesting is that near Harajuku, there is a lot of the homeless in Yoyogi park who make their homes with our [dense] Neighborhood cardboard boxes. The same ones we use to pack and ship our products. Occasionally, I even take a lot of the clothes that I don’t wear myself to Yoyogi Park and give them to the homeless there!
Of course! Like a neighbourhood in itself...
The Neighborhood x Converse Collection will launch in-store & online Thursday 6th April 2017.