The Other HIDDEN Gems of Nepenthes

Now that SOUTH2 WEST8 has gone the way of Needles trackpants, what's next?

A Supreme collaboration is almost a double-edged sword, depending on the brand (or the artist). It’s cool when the brand pays respects to OGs like longtime LES-based artist Clayton Patterson or photographer Nan Goldin (whose underrated collab featuring transgender photography was absolutely slept on).

It’s also nice when they put on up-and-comers like graf writer SANCHEETO and tattooist Keegan Dakkar. But it can be bittersweet when Supreme blows up a brand you’ve been on for a long time. And honestly, that’s a strange notion: That a Supreme collab is a nail in the coffin instead of the ultimate co-sign.

But hey, a Supreme collab didn’t necessarily make Sasquatchfabrix uncool or any more mainstream. And to a certain extent, the same could be said for UNDERCOVER and COMME des GARÇONS, two labels who have carved out their own respective weird niches.

Speaking of weird niches, Kaname Nagaoka’s SOUTH2 WEST8 is all about that. Founded in 2002 in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo, it began as a shop dedicated to the sport of Tenkara fly fishing. What separates the Japanese-born practice from its Big Bass Pro Shop counterpart (including American fly fishing) is it uses a rod without a reel. As the video above shows, instead of reeling a fish in, you sort of get a bite then yeet it out of the water.

It evolved into a full-on lifestyle line, especially developing a following for its goldenrod bags made from Sunforger canvas, a tough fabric that Engineered Garments borrowed for some insanely durable Vans Authentics back in 2013. The reason they could do that? Both are subsidiaries of Nepenthes, the Japanese parent company that also owns Needles and a few other very specific brands.

Engineered Garments continues to make gear that toes the line between “I’m better than J. Crew” and “workwear forever” dudes, and Needles has long been blown up, not only collaborating with everyone from AWGE, the Philadelphia 76ers (via Philly boutique Lapstone & Hammer), but even appearing in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

So yeah, clearly all owners of Needles tracksuits need to give them some time to breathe. That’s another reason certain Nepenthes fans loved SOUTH2 WEST8, they also make some pretty chill tracksuits, decent fleece tops, and other slight flips on workwear staples. Their SS21 collection includes a sick pair of patchwork camo fatigue pants.

But of course the banger pieces are made from mesh that’s been dyed in psychedelic patterns, the material being a nod to fly fishing nets, but also stylishly impractical, expensive items like the modular Bush Trek Jacket that’s about as close as you can get to spending money on the emperor’s new clothes. Sometimes the flex is copping expensive jackets that don’t actually keep you warm, but look fire.

Still, if you’re thinking of letting all your SOUTH2 WEST8 garms go on Grailed now that the price might go up for so-called “early adopters” who want to buy older pieces so they can say they “liked it before the ‘preme collab,” it’s totally fine. The Nepenthes rabbit hole goes much deeper, and there are some other labels worth being on your radar.

RANDT

Engineered Garments designer Daiki Suzuki started RANDT (sometimes R and T, since it began as a label called Rough and Tumble) as a way to make really weird shirts. That’s kind of the Nepenthes way, Engineered Garments began with insanely good pants (the story goes that a pattern maker said the pants were so intricate the garms weren’t designed, but engineered), and then became a whole collection.

The same goes for RANDT, Suzuki used it as a way to make oxford shirts with weird asymmetrical plackets, then expanded into easy-wearing sportcoats, trousers, and boxy tees. Their Studio Pant and Studio Jacket are the ultimate “non-suit suit,” balancing that casual and dressed-up vibe in an ideal way, like something an artist would wear.

AïE

Speaking of artists, AïE is a weird acronym for “Arts In Education.” Equal parts inspired by skaters, punk, and well, art, it was established in 2017 by Daiki Suzuki’s former design assistant, Kenta Miyamoto.

It’s actually the progression of what used to be the Nepenthes New York in-house line, which used to be designed by Angelo Urrutia. That’s a story for another time, but what separates AïE from its considerably more conservative brand siblings is its full-on, balls-to-the-wall approach to color and pattern. Miyamoto never met a fabric he wouldn’t patchwork.

The Conspires

Here comes a new challenger! The newest brand under the Nepenthes umbrella, The Conspires is the brainchild of Daiki Suzuki and Keizo Shimizu, the founder of Nepenthes and founder of Needles. I suppose when the owner of the company says “hey dude, we’re collabing,” you sort of can’t say no?

In addition to the Nepenthes store, independent shops like Haven in Canada and Manhatta in New York, picked up the inaugural season. The elastic waist pants, mohair button-down shirts, and hybrid coach/chore jackets are a little bit of a vibe. There’s also a reversible boa fleece leopard coat that’s an early contender for future grail.

4SDESIGNS

Remember Angelo Urrutia from a few paragraphs back? Well, this one’s kind of a cheat. But he left Nepenthes after serving as the brand director and consigliere of Engineered Garments for over a decade, and recently launched his own label called 4SDESIGNS.

It’s already become a favorite of fashion editors and in-the-know shop guys. He’s also made the rounds on a few podcasts talking about his approach to design. Basically Urrutia is a savant when it comes to fabrics and visual references, and his latest SS21 collection even includes an homage to The North Face Mountain Jacket, except made from an insanely pricey ventile, with embroidered silhouettes in the spots where patches would be. Low-key and brilliant, which is an apt way to describe the line.