To shop at Nepenthes New York, you have to find it first. I mean that figuratively, sure—it has a certain if-you-know-you-know secret clubhouse quality about it, despite magazines like this one touting it as one of the coolest menswear stores in the country for years now. But I also mean it literally. Its storefront is so unassuming, camouflaged along a sleepy stretch of Manhattan’s Garment District, that I still walk right by it at least once every time I go, even after close to a decade of semi-regular visits. Yesterday, that search got a little bit easier, with Nepenthes raising the curtain on its first-ever online shop.
Prior to this week, Nepenthes’ website was little more than a regurgitation of its Instagram feed: photos of staffers styled head-to-toe in the latest gear from Engineered Garments, Needles, and South2 West8—the store’s trio of excellent in-house labels—alongside drop dates for the brands’ latest collaborations with the likes of Tricker’s and Reebok. It felt refreshingly lo-fi, as beguiling and mildly opaque as the shop itself. The point, according to Nepenthes owner and EG founder Daiki Suzuki, was to compel customers into more personal interactions.
“We actually had a plan to go online many years ago,” Suzuki told GQ via email. “We tested our e-commerce platform in 2010 but it was postponed.” Only they never wound up revisiting the idea, because the shop was doing well on foot traffic alone, and anyone outside New York who wanted its wares was welcome to make orders over the phone. “It’s an old fashioned style,” Suzuki explained, “but I thought this type of human-to-human communication felt more intimate.”
Unfortunately, the pandemic quickly made those in-person connections impossible, and one of the last vanguards of physical retail in Manhattan was forced to dive headfirst into the murky waters of e-commerce. According to Suzuki, the whole operation came together in just three weeks, which explains why the site still feels a little bare bones at the moment: a few pages of clothes from each of Nepenthes’ main three brands, and not much else. But the current layout is only temporary, he says, and there are plans in motion to make it feel more like the special experience of shopping at Nepenthes IRL—which hopefully will include a take on the store’s teeming second-floor shoe section, the best place to shop for freaky and beautiful footwear in all of New York City. (So far, the web version consists of just a single pair of paint-splattered sneakers.) The brick-and-mortar Nepenthes will be getting a minor facelift, too, with some long-planned renovations set to proceed as soon as the lockdown is lifted.
For now, though, it’s just nice to have a hidden gem like Nepenthes back in any form during these very weird times—something to hold me over until I can get back out to Midtown and walk nearly a full block past the door like a moron all over again.