Mai Ikuzawa – Break with convention

JANUARY 25, 2023

It’s easy to want to think differently, to want to see the world in a different way, going beyond the normal way of doing things.

Different to be different maybe.

But it’s altogether another thing to be a naturally creative force, establishing a way of thinking and doing that is not necessarily taught, instead it’s a projection of natural character, upbringing and experience.

With an international upbringing swathed over a diverse background in motor racing, mountain culture and a cosmopolitan urban life, Mai Ikuzawa is that force, exuding a vision that naturally emanates from her heritage and DNA.

Photo: Gustav Wiking

The daughter of Japanese motorsport hero Tetsu Ikuzawa, Mai grew up around the paddocks and racetracks of Japan and Europe, spending more time with mechanics and carburetors in her young years than most adults will ever in a lifetime. Alongside the oil and grease, her grandfather, a well-known Japanese artist and painter, introduced an artistic perspective that left a permanent mark in her genes.

It is this mix of heritage and insight that has given her that unique ability to comfortably straddle worlds that would normally collide.

Unbeknown to her at the time, following her father to races planted a seed that would later blossom as a fully-fledged car devotee, “I was always around racing cars and garages, and thought nothing more of it. But then something clicked, and I realized that the world of the car was in my head. From my late teens my circle of friends were all forged around cars and driving.”


Her father, a very talented racer whose driving spoke for itself, was also admired - admittedly with a curiously raised eyebrow - for introducing a new style and fashion to the rather conservative pit lane. But what stood him even further apart was that he was a Japanese driver in Europe. It was unexpected, bucking the trend and conventional thought of the time.

It was also the catalyst that took Mai from her native Japan to Britain, being enrolled in Harry Potter-esque boarding schools from the age of nine, “The language was clearly a barrier for me to begin with, but it may have also helped me stand back, observe and interpret things in a way that later fed my interest in creativity.”

The mid 1990’s in London were an incredibly dynamic time, and right in the centre was St Martin’s Art college, which took a radical approach to art and design, and became the natural stepping stone for Mai and her aspirations to work in the creative industry, ‘’I dreamt of working in advertising and being part of the creative industry, and at first it was exactly what I thought. But it quickly dawned on me that I had almost no control of my ideas, which is why I decided to join a small East End creative company which introduced me to a new way of working.”

Photo: Gustav Wiking

It was the motivation to go her own way and she soon started her first creative agency, from her bedroom. Starting out on her own, with no restrictions, meant her creative flair and relentless desire to fight stereotypes would start to make a lasting impact, especially on the car industry, where she brings a new energy.

“I soon became an expert in the industry, one who could bridge across the automotive sector, action sports, and luxury brands to create new segments and opportunities for my clients. The industry is still dominated by men, and I continue to challenge it to position woman equally in automotive and active street culture. As such I have earnt myself a bit of status not only as a Creative Director but have become a sought-after speaker and a member of leading selection committees in the industry. In addition, in the 2000’s I was part of a significant fashion media revolution, like the infamous alongside global movers and shakers such as Hiroshi Fujiwara, Pharrell Williams, Nigo, Yoon Ahn of Ambush and KAWS, and continuing to write and contribute for various car magazines like Intersection.”

Photo: Gustav Wiking Photo: Frederike Helwig & BorromeodeSilva

Mai’s own choice of cars is a perfect illustration, no more so than her fully tuned-up bright pink Toyota Celica that belonged more to the streets of Fast and Furious, than a weekend in the British countryside, and the rally-spec’d Subaru Impreza WRX sti chosen for Chamonix. Adopting and enjoying the British sense of humor has been an essential ingredient, as Mai explains, “I often get boxed in with this delicate Japanese aesthetic, but with the mouth of a truck driver. Which makes me laugh and I am happy to defy convention.”

It’s a convention that the name Ikuzawa is constantly challenging, bridging the gap between ideas and worlds. And along with managing her flourishing international creative agency, relaunching her father's 1980s brand, Team Ikuzawa, Mai is a keen skier and spends time most of her time with her family in Chamonix.

©Ikuzawa Photo: Gustav Wiking

It’s another step which has defied the norm, evident from the response from her ‘urbane’ connections and the subsequent raised eyebrows. “In a way I ‘had’ to do it, as I wanted to be with my family as this is where we would prosper best. But there is no hardship involved in living outside the urban sphere. Quite simply, to be in and near nature is the ultimate luxury.”

It’s a truth that may conflict directly with a life of cars and motorsport.

But that’s down to perspective, and convention.

Take the Ikuzawa way!

Photos by: Gustav Wiking, Tom Shaxson, Frederike Helwig, BorromeodeSilva & ©Ikuzawa


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