Japanese racing royalty Mai Ikuzawa’s black book of style
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
My personal style signifier is my haircut. Kiyoshi Inoue of Inoue Brothers is the only person in the world who cuts my trademark bob. It gives me a good silhouette, with a sharp signature. I’m always into a silhouette – whether in fashion or the profile of a person. I also have a personal tagline: “Drive Italian, wear Japanese, drink Mexican, kiss French.”
The best book I’ve read in the past year is a deep-dive into our family’s racing history, Type 7 Volume 4: Team Ikuzawa Edition, published by Porsche’s lifestyle magazine and ERG. My father Tetsu Ikuzawa started privateer racing team Team Ikuzawa after he retired from active racing in the ’80s, and I’m now reviving the brand. Dad – who was nicknamed “lone wolf” – became famous not because he was a racing driver for Ferrari or Honda, but as a private entrant into the sport – and he beat all the official car manufacturers’ “works teams”. The shipping box takes after a Tamiya model kit and is handpainted. It’s truly an art piece.
The last thing I bought and loved was a Bamford London Skater Snoopy watch, which has a customised black bracelet. I’ve been a huge Snoopy fan since I was a child and it’s great when your friend shares a fetish for Snoopy. I’d love to do a Team Ikuzawa x Snoopy x Bamford product one day.
The place that means a lot to me is Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. My father was a bit of a ladies’ man – we were not a conventional Japanese family – and I’ve been nomadic since I was a child: born in Tokyo, English boarding school, then London. Even now, with two children of my own, we continue to move around. But Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is brilliant for our very high-energy family – my husband is the co-founder of Black Crows skis – and adrenaline and nature are the best way to keep us all happy and balanced.
The podcast I’m listening to is The Economist or Financial Times in audio, which is part of my sleeping ritual. I can’t sleep in silence, probably because pit-lane and engine noise were my lullabies as a baby. It’s amazing how much news content I can absorb in my sleep.
My style icon is Hiroshi Fujiwara, who in my opinion brought streetwear to Japan. His attention to detail is exceptional; his customisations always elevate a product. I find he’s a man of very few words, but with encyclopedic knowledge on any subject, from deep-sea creatures to some random politician or movie.
In my fridge you’ll always find nail polish and tequila.
The last music I downloaded was The Wild Bunch, a loose collective of English musicians and DJs based in Bristol. They were the beginning of trip hop and a truly rich era of creative music that you feel in your spine when clubbing.
I have a collection of helmets, from full-face to cycling ones, and all the ski helmets of course. I have historical ones from my father, which I still wear. There are open-face helmets from the ’60s, and full-face ones from the ’70s and ’80s. I also have full-face motorcycle race helmets with dark visors, some motocross ones and normal street helmets, including a really beautiful one by a now-defunct Parisian brand called Ruby. I also have a super-cool helmet by Eley Kishimoto. I wear the brand’s clothes all the time and my house in London is full of Kishimoto interiors pieces.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is Team Ikuzawa die-cast toy cars. I recently found one in a tiny, geeky model shop in Geneva. It was covered in dust among all the other beautiful Ferraris, Porsches and Mercedes SL Gullwings. I instantly recognised my father’s old racing cars. They’re beautiful – my father was also a designer like me and his attention to detail on his race-car liveries is exquisite.
I’ve recently rediscovered a London A-Z map and the joy of map reading. The whole process is so of its time: carrying mountains of road maps in the car, crossing borders and changing currencies. There’s also the interaction with a co-pilot friend who tells you where to go. Road trips were so damn magical with paper maps.
An indulgence I would never forgo is the silence of snowy mountains – it’s the ultimate therapy.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a bespoke classic race suit by Fyshe, which is a near replica of my father’s vintage one. Even the embroidered patches are FIA-approved fire-retardant.
An object I would never part with is a wire-frame art piece by Benedict Radcliffe, modelled after my bright pink souped-up Toyota Celica – a Fast and Furious-era customised car that I had imported from Japan in the 2000s. Featuring Powell Peralta G-Bones skateboard wheels, the model is a custom‑made, one-off piece.
The best gift I’ve given recently were some Team Ikuzawa ashtrays and lighters that I had made. I don’t smoke, but ’80s motorsport was all about tobacco. It has this nostalgic feeling. I remember when my father was sponsored by John Player Special, our house stank of JPS cigarettes because he kept packets of them at home, even though none of us smoked!
And the best gift I’ve received is a pair of Emily Frances Barrett earrings that are designed around actual cigarette butts preserved in resin. Emily is not exactly a smoker but smokes the butts herself to make them realistic – they are all individual art pieces. I’m always attracted to things that are quite punk, anarchistic or provoking. I was slightly hesitant to wear them, especially as I have young children, but they’re really fun and beautiful.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Daniel Arsham. I’m very emotionally attached to his work, from Pokémon to cars. I connect with that cultural nostalgia. He’s always pushing the boundaries, transforming and challenging himself and never scared to do things – like starting a clothing brand or becoming a creative director of a basketball team.
My favourite room in my house is the garage. It’s the toy room. We’re not people who sit in front of the TV – we ride bikes, go skiing, go on road trips to track days and the remote mountains for back-country skiing. So this is where all the gear is kept.
The beauty staple I’m never without is the water-based perfume Al Kassir by Officine Universelle Buly. I really love Buly’s range of fragrances and the packaging is fantastic. And my Asian beauty secret is lightly applying nappy-rash cream, from Weleda or Bepanthen, to the face. It’s the best for healing spots and blemishes.
My favourite building is Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower. It resonates deeply with Japanese culture and our connection with orderly small spaces. This building, though now demolished, was pioneering Japanese design that dared to be different.
My beauty and wellbeing guru is Sarah Chapman. She only does facials, which are so thorough, highly intensive and completely bespoke. I have them once a month and it was a game-changing discovery.
My favourite app is Trello. I am a woman of endless to-do lists and this is a gem for categorising tasks around work, family and personal stuff. I also use Line, the WhatsApp of Japan. It’s my sanctuary, where I can hang out with a handful of my very best friends from Japan. And Nintendo Switch Parental Controls, a true must for parents. I quite like having this overarching power over my pre-teen son. “Brush your teeth or I turn off your Nintendo!”
In another life, I would have been a racing driver. I always imagine another scenario: what if my grandfather was not an artist, my father not a racing driver and I didn’t spend my youth in a pit lane? Ironically, I think my father wanted to be in the arts, but he ended up being a racing driver. I’m vice-versa: I ended up being a creative director, although I wanted to go into racing.
The works of art that changed everything for me was the whole Brit-art movement in ’90s London. It had a huge impact on me and made it feel like a great time to be in London as an art student at Central Saint Martins. It was an exciting time to run my own design agency.
The best bit of advice I ever received was “Living well is the best revenge.”