Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The magic Red Box

Ministerial boxes, informally called red boxes, are used by ministers in the British government to carry their documents. Similar in appearance to a briefcase, they are primarily used to hold and transport official departmental papers from place to place. They are not to be confused with the parliamentary despatch boxes from which speeches are given in Parliament, although ministerial boxes are also referred to as "despatch boxes" in government documents.

"Ministers are permitted to use ordinary lockable briefcases to transport information which has been classified ‘Confidential’ or below. For information with a higher security level (such as ‘Secret’) they are required to use dispatch boxes, which offer a higher level of security, and which are usually red. However a travel version of the despatch box is also available in black, which offers the same level of security as a red despatch box, but is designed to be less conspicuous. In practice Ministers use despatch boxes for transporting the majority of their documents due to the greater level of security they offer."

The design of ministerial boxes has changed little since the 1860s. The boxes are manufactured in London by Barrow and Gale. Covered in red-stained rams' leather, they are embossed with the Royal Cypher and ministerial title. The 2–3-kilogram (4–7 lb) boxes are constructed of slow-grown pine, lined with lead and black satin and, unlike a briefcase, the lock is on the bottom, opposite the hinges and the handle, to guarantee that the box is locked before being carried.

The colour red has remained the traditional covering of the boxes. The lead lining, which has been retained in modern boxes, was once meant to ensure that the box sank when thrown overboard in the event of capture. Also bomb-proof, they are designed to survive any catastrophe that may befall their owner.

Exceptions to the red colouring are those carried by the government whips, which are covered in black leather. Discreet black boxes are also available for ministers who need to travel by train.

One box cost £865.43 in 2010. Between 2002 and 2007 the British Government spent £57,260 on new boxes. In 1998, a Whitehall initiative began to replace document boxes with an extensive intranet.

Other red boxes of note are the ones delivered to the British Sovereign every day (except Christmas Day and Easter Sunday) by government departments, via the Page of the Presence. These boxes contain Cabinet and Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents, most of which the monarch must sign and give Royal Assent to, before they can become law

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sunday Images / The triumph of the fair island knitwear

 “Fair Isle is a traditional knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colours. It is named after Fair Isle, a tiny island in the north of Scotland, that forms part of the Shetland islands. Fair Isle knitting gained a considerable popularity when the Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VIII) wore Fair Isle tank tops in public in 1921. Traditional Fair Isle patterns have a limited palette of five or so colours, use only two colours per row, are worked in the round, and limit the length of a run of any particular colour.
Some people use the term "Fair Isle" to refer to any colourwork knitting where stitches are knit alternately in various colours, with the unused colours stranded across the back of the work. Others use the term "stranded colourwork" for the generic technique, and reserve the term "Fair Isle" for the characteristic patterns of the Shetland Islands.”

On tiny Fair Isle, a cottage industry enjoys the sweet smell of success
The Shetland island’s knitwear designers are quietly pleased at the attention they won when Chanel was obliged to say sorry for copying their designs

 Karl Lagerfeld leads models wearing Fair Isle designs at Chanel’s Metiers d’Art show in Rome. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Kevin McKenna in Shetland
Sunday 13 December 2015 00.04 GMT Last modified on Sunday 13 December 2015 00.06 GMT

On Fair Isle, the 10th-largest of Shetland’s 15 inhabited islands, the locals don’t permit themselves to gloat even when occasion gives them reason to. So, this weekend, there may simply be a quiet nod here and there and some little tugs of acknowledgement that might say “well done”. But there is no doubt that the island, home to fewer than 60 souls, has just scored a remarkable victory, and one that may yet have huge and beneficial consequences.

Last week Mati Ventrillon, a craft textile designer who has lived and worked on Fair Isle with her young family for eight years, forced an apology from Chanel after she discovered that the French couture giant had used some of her unique Fair Isle knitwear designs in its recent Metiers d’Art show in Rome. She immediately took to social media to air her grievance, asking if this was “endorsement or plagiarism?”.

Chanel acknowledged that it had erred and issued a full apology, crediting the designs as the creation of Fair Isle textiles specialists. What chance did a French fashion house have when pitted against several centuries of Scottish heritage and tradition on an island whose very name signifies the highest quality of designer knitwear?

Mati Ventrillon at work in her studio. Photograph: Mati Ventrillon

Ventrillon, it seems, is now happy to let the matter rest, but she also believes the incident has turned a welcome spotlight on the ways of a world far removed from the high-octane rhythms of French fashion.

“In the end some good may come of the whole episode,” she told the Observer on Friday afternoon, as the last glimmer of daylight disappeared across the water on this northernmost outpost of Britain. “Not only did they issue an appropriate apology and correction, they also carried an article about the history of craft textiles and knitwear on Fair Isle, and the skill and dedication that have been handed down through generations of women. Millions of people might now become aware of what it is we do here, and how much it helps to sustain this place.”

A genuine patterned Fair Isle jumper is considered an authentic work of art. These garments will take, on average, more than 100 hours each to hand-knit – and that’s before you factor in the time spent on designing them. This is an intricate and highly skilled process, involving arranging the traditional patterns and the five colours that typically characterise these threads.

It took Ventrillon more than four years to study and practise the techniques and patterns that were first used by the women of Fair Isle and the wider Shetland islands two centuries ago. Her desire is to eventually establish an industry on Fair Isle that will offer products to all parts of the market, rather than just to the luxury goods sector, with its bespoke online customer base. “In this way, I will be able to offer to islanders training and employment that is both sustainable and organic.”

Wool and knitted textiles are enjoying something of a renaissance in the world of high fashion. Perhaps that’s what led Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel researchers to this tiny hothouse of textile creativity in the first place. But while wool and garments made from it have been a staple on Fair Isle for generations, a group of edgy knitwear companies in London – with names such as Unmade and Wool and the Gang – are turning the traditional model of purchasing fashion products on its head. Using computer programming, online technology and the power of crowdfunding, these cutting-edge collectives are using wool – that most traditional of yarns, often associated with dozing grandmothers in rocking chairs – to challenge the accepted economic rules of fashion retailing.

Ben Alun-Jones, one of the co-founders of Unmade, reflected last month on estimates that 10% of all the clothes being made in the world go straight to landfill, which is, he says insane.

“We seem to have lost something in mass production, where you are making things for everyone, but everything is made for no one,” he said.

Wool and the Gang, meanwhile, has a global battalion of 3,000, mainly female, casual knitters, who use the company as an agency to supplement their incomes.

On Fair Isle, Ventrillon sustains a lifestyle that marries the wisdom and craftsmanship of the ages with online technology. “I have a waiting list of online orders that is 18 months long, and so I have had to close it,” she said. “My customers interact with me at every stage of the creation, right through to the design. They know that they are getting a genuine garment made entirely on Fair Isle, in a process that uses our unique patterns and techniques but allows them to play a part in the crafting.

“I don’t buy into the concept that big global fashion house equals bad, and small traditional craft-making equals good. There are many opportunities for mutual beneficial partnerships between the big houses and small community-based enterprises.”

Elizabeth Riddiford of Exclusively Fair Isle is one of three commercial hand-knitters on the island. “I have been a Fair Isle hand-knitter and hand-spinner since moving here more than 30 years ago.

“I learned the intricate patterns and techniques of real Fair Isle knitting from experienced local Fair Islanders who were all born on the island in the early 1900s and who, along with their sisters and cousins, had been taught to hand-knit by their mothers and grandmothers from when they were toddlers,” she said.

“The tradition of Fair Isle hand-knitting is still practised and passed on by mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers to their daughters on Fair Isle today, although nowadays this is mostly for the pleasure of knitting for family members and friends.”

Earlier on Friday, Ventrillon had other duties to attend to. Another thing that knits this tiny population together is its community spirit. So she has trained as a firefighter and forms part of the team that daily attends to the island’s airport.

“In this place,” she said, “helping each other is a duty – and a pleasure which stitches us all together.”

Two Photographs of myself wearing “Fair Island“ which are circulating in the Internet


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Kamakura Shirts / The Power of creative nostalgia and the revival of the true "Button Down" shirt.

In 1993, Yoshio Sadasue and his wife Tamiko quietly opened a small luxury shirt store in Kamakura, which was once the ancient capital of Japan. Driven by their mottos “Quality shirts at affordable prices” and “Bringing great style to the Japanese people”, they have strived to provide shirts of superior quality, made in Japan.
The Ivy League style is in our soul. Japanese craftsmanship is at our heart. We have traveled a long way to arrive in New York City, the source of our inspiration.
After many years of dedication and determination, we have fulfilled our dream, opening our first store in New York City, the spiritual Home of the 1960s Ivy League style that first inspired us.
Along the way, we have learnt so much from the finest traditions of British tailoring, and the quintessence of the Ivy League look from the States.
However, those days are now long gone, and we are now in an age where mass-production and standardization in the name of efficiency and productivity have almost destroyed the art of fine crafting. Shirt making has been no exception.
Actively resisting this trend, we have succeeded in crafting beautiful shirts with taste and elegance. Meticulous Japanese craftsmanship and techniques of precision make this possible.
We take pride in creating shirts that bring joy to life. We create shirts that satisfy the yearning for good taste. We craft each of our garments with the greatest care and the deepest sincerity.

Yoshio Sadasue
Chairman, Kamakura Shirts New York Inc.

Since then, Kamakura Shirts has grown rapidly and the brand has become synonymous with the highest levels of quality at a fantastic price. We have been fortunate enough to accumulate a large number of loyal customers who recognize the special blend of quality and value. In 2012, staying true to our founding spirit, we opened the doors to our New York store. Now our next goal is to become a firm favorite with New Yorkers and customers all around the world.
The Ivy League style is in our soul. Japanese craftsmanship is at our heart. We have traveled a long way to arrive in New York City, the source of our inspiration.
After many years of dedication and determination, we have fulfilled our dream, opening our first store in New York City, the spiritual Home of the 1960s Ivy League style that first inspired us.
Along the way, we have learnt so much from the finest traditions of British tailoring, and the quintessence of the Ivy League look from the States.
However, those days are now long gone, and we are now in an age where mass-production and standardization in the name of efficiency and productivity have almost destroyed the art of fine crafting. Shirt making has been no exception.
Actively resisting this trend, we have succeeded in crafting beautiful shirts with taste and elegance. Meticulous Japanese craftsmanship and techniques of precision make this possible.
We take pride in creating shirts that bring joy to life. We create shirts that satisfy the yearning for good taste. We craft each of our garments with the greatest care and the deepest sincerity.

Yoshio Sadasue
Chairman, Kamakura Shirts New York Inc.

From Kamakura to New York

We made a decision to open a store in New York. The grand opening was October 30th, 2012, and we decided to open the store at 7 in the hope that we could help those business men who had forgotten their ties or stained their shirts with coffee in the morning. However, on that day New York experienced a hurricane for the first time in 60 years, and our opening took place against a backdrop of flooding and blackouts. It was 7 am and there were no trains nor buses nor taxis around. Visitors who had gathered in the city from all over the world were trapped in their respective shelters. Only the nearby McDonald’s and our own store appeared to be open. Nevertheless, tourists who had been forced to extend their stays came to our store in need of clean shirts and we achieved record sales.

New York has had a long history in clothing. If we are to survive here, we need to utilize our prize asset – the spirit of ‘omotenashi’. Of course our shirts and ties are of the highest quality. But if we are to stand a chance outside of Japan, all we have left is our mentality: the spirit of caring for others. A merchant can only do business by responding to demand, and fulfilment of wants is guided by the heart and not by the body.

The first point of ‘omotenashi’ is to keep a well-tidied store. The store needs to be clean, with its products ordered, and to smell pleasant for all. We must sense what the customer wants and present an appearance and conversation that is relaxing for the customer.

The culmination of all this is ‘O-MO-TE-NA-SHI’. It was ‘omotenashi’ that allowed us to acquire an amazing 4000 loyal patrons in just one year. Our ‘omotenashi’ was valued highly by the local customers as ‘great service’. We received many emails thanking us for the level of service that even luxury stores could not offer. We were able to demonstrate how enjoyable shopping can be.

We, Japanese, went to New York to sell clothing. While we may have been looked down upon initially, we were able to deliver first-class service that captures the spirit of Japan.

Ametora Interviews: Yoshio Sadasue of Kamakura Shirts
Yoshio Sadasue is the Founder and Chairman of Japanese apparel company Kamakura Shirts. Long before starting the company with wife Tamiko, Sadasue worked at legendary Ivy style brand VAN Jacket from 1966 until its 1978 bankruptcy. I sat down with Mr. Sadasue back in January 2013 to learn more about working at VAN Jacket and its legacy on the Japanese menswear market.

W. David MarxFollow
Tokyo-based author of “Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style” (Basic Books, December 2015). Co-founder/editor of Néojaponisme. wdavidmarx.com
Feb 8, 2016

How did you end up at VAN Jacket?
I joined VAN Jacket in 1966 at age 25. My father’s clothing shop in Hiroshima was an official VAN Jacket retailer, the best selling shop throughout the Chūgoku Region and Western Japan.
After college, I got a job as an electrical engineer. But I eventually decided that I wanted to be a merchant like my father, and he told me to join VAN. During college, I was so focused on studying that I never made time to think about style, but he was able to use his influence to get me a job at VAN.
When I joined in April 1966, VAN was not a very big company yet. But the products were flying off the shelves. Things that came in in the morning would be all be gone by the afternoon.
I stayed at VAN for 12 years, from 1966 to the bankruptcy on April 6, 1978.
What did you work on when you first entered VAN?
I was in charge of distribution. I was not very stylish so they threw me in the warehouse. I worked there for six years. That allowed me to know all the clothing that came in and what was selling well.
When did you first hear about VAN Jacket?
When I was studying at college, my father told me that his store was going to become a franchise of VAN Jacket, and that the guy who ran the brand, Kensuke Ishizu, was redesigning his store. The new store was supposedly very beautiful, but since I was in Tokyo studying, I didn’t really know what was going on. So when I got home, I was shocked. The store was gorgeous, and the goods on sale were very fashionable.
What kind of clothes did you personally wear before entering VAN?
During college, my father would send whatever was leftover from the store each season to me at my dorm. Sometimes the top and bottoms didn’t match.
I mostly wore a simple cotton blouson jacket, and I had these bulky jeans that were so stiff you almost couldn’t put them on. I hated them, so often I just wore the pants from my suit. I also wore a British-style dress shirt. There were a lot of shirts like that in the market, made for businessmen.
But at the time there was no such thing as “style.” No one sold style, and no one was conscious of how to coordinate clothing. It was just: a top, pants, a white shirt, a necktie with a print or not. No one at the time knew anything about dressing stylishly or dressing cool.
What was the apparel industry like in the early 1960s?
The war had just ended, and there was no real apparel industry. Wholesalers out in the countryside just made copies of whatever they could find. There were no clothing stores, just meriyasu-ya that sold T-shirts, underwear, and pajamas.
Businessmen went to tailors. From the Meiji Period onward, there were 60,000–70,000 tailors in Japan who made British-style suits. So you’d break up the suit, just wearing the jacket or just wearing the pants with a shirt. Or the pants with a knit vest or cardigan.
Fabric was expensive. All the textiles made by Japanese spinning companies would be exported, so there was very little good wool for clothing. Most of it had to be imported from Europe.

Why did VAN’s American style, rather than European style, catch on in Japan?
Most of the films we watched were American. When we watched American movies, we were amazed by the lavish American lifestyle. This was a time when the average Japanese home didn’t have an electric refrigerator. No one had butter or cheese in their icebox. And so in American films, the characters would open the door to the fridge, and it was like, wow.
Young people had great aspirations towards America. And right at the time when everyone decided they wanted to catch up to the American lifestyle, VAN introduced Ivy clothing to young people. That lit the flame, and sales exploded.
What were VAN’s first hit items?
Shirts, chino pants. Shetland and lambswool V-neck and crewneck sweaters. Cardigans. The most basic items sold well.
We sold suits at the time, but they didn’t sell well because they were expensive and kids did not really go out in suits. People only wore VAN suits at New Years or for big events like o-miai (matchmaking dates). Most preferred a navy blazer with cotton or flannel trousers.
Japan is very humid. I would expect cotton to sell best.
Yes, we sold a lot of cotton sweaters with the same design as the wool sweaters. Or madras and seersucker jackets. Shorts also sold very well.
Was it a radical thing to sell clothing to teenagers at that time?
Yes. No one ever thought to sell to youth. Kids didn’t really work part time jobs like they do now, so they had no money. But Ishizu felt like he had to target youth for his brand to expand.
The problem was that the clothes were very expensive. So he first targeted the children of wealthy families.
Did you start to wear VAN clothing when you became an employee?
When I joined VAN, I had no money, and since I had only worked as an engineer, I didn’t know anything about clothes. Honestly, everyone made fun of me at work. But when I would go out in a VAN outfit — madras blazer and bermuda shorts — people would turn their heads as I walked by. I could suddenly get into clubs for rich people and exclusive hotel pools even though I didn’t even have ¥100 to my name. They’d see my clothes and let me in. I’d only be able to afford a single Coca-Cola all day but when I wore VAN I looked rich. I would wear the VAN badge on my blazer, and everyone would look back and say, ‘Do you work at VAN?’ I was suddenly very popular.
When I wore VAN, I looked rich. I think that’s why Ishizu’s strategy worked. VAN’s strategy brought together the desire to be rich and the desire to catch up to America.
So how did the Miyuki Tribe afford to wear VAN?
The Miyuki Tribe kids were all spoiled brats. They had money, ate good food, and could buy nice things. Only rich people could go to Ginza cafes and drink tea. When the Miyuki Tribe appeared, they looked like a group of rich kids.
Normal kids who had no money, saw all of that and aspired to join the Miyuki Tribe. So they’d save up, buy something from VAN, and then be accepted into the group. A lot of people wearing VAN bought a lot of it as a way to get in the group.
They all showed off their clothes in Ginza, like a fashion show. It was a very peculiar scene. Ivy style — madras shorts and long socks and coin loafers — was very unique clothing at the time. You couldn’t wear it to work or school. No matter how many times people saw the Miyuki Tribe’s clothes, they would say, Are you all crazy? Finally the PTA and school boards started pressuring VAN to not sell clothing to teens.
And schools started banning button-down shirts.
Yes. The rich cult who wore VAN was ballooning into a really big business, and all the parents and mothers saw these kids in clothing they had never seen before and said, what is this button attached to the collar, it’s wrong!
So they banned button-down shirts. Some kids took off the buttons so they could wear the shirts to school. Schools also banned the VAN shopping bags. All the grown-ups thought bringing the shopping bags to school would get in the way of studying.
Even with that, though, it’s hard to imagine now that the Miyuki Tribe would be a law enforcement issue.
Yes, it sounds unbelievable now, but at the time there was no such thing as “clothing” (fuku). At work, you had to wear a navy blue suit with white dress shirt and black plain toe shoes. No wingtips, no penny loafers. You couldn’t wear button-down collars. Wearing a pink shirt was inconceivable, and even blue was questionable.

Yoshio Sadasue dancing (in middle front) at a VAN Jacket party. (courtesy of Kamakura Shirts)
In Japan, Ivy became very much about the rules, compared to America, where it was a nearly unconscious style.
The Japanese didn’t know about Western clothes, so we’d have to tell them, save up money, buy a button-down shirt, then buy this kind of tie, then this kind of vest, then a jacket. For a navy jacket, you need gray pants. If you didn’t teach them piece by piece, they’d go off into some crazy direction.
So Ishizu wrote and introduced to Japan a rule book of when, where, what to wear. And he brought together the VAN franchisees and taught them how to coordinate VAN Jacket clothing. That way, the owner of the store would be able to say to a customer who didn’t know much about clothing, that jacket doesn’t match that vest nor those pants. And you have to wear shoes like this, and you can’t wear white socks with a suit. VAN stores passed on all that knowledge — based on rules.
What was the office culture like at VAN?
VAN was called the “Ishizu School.” Ishizu thought that people learned more quickly and could bring out their true talents when they were having fun. So he said that VAN should be everyone’s playground: they should do what they want, even start up new companies.
How did VAN change the Japanese clothing business?
VAN was the first time that fashion became a business, so it became the first business model for apparel. Wholesalers used to just take the shirts, sweaters, jackets, and pants made at some other factory and sell them to a retailer, but from VAN they learned that if they infused them with the consciousness of Western fashion, they could charge much higher prices. This caused a rush of businesses into the apparel industry. A lot of companies appeared that copied VAN Jacket — “three letter companies.” [ed.: JUN, JOI, JAX, YAN etc.] They made the same things cheaper than VAN and that led to a market boom.
By the way, the word “apparel” (アパレル) wasn’t even used in Japanese until about 1966, I believe. Before that you just talked about tonya (問屋, wholesale merchants).
Tell me about the VAN franchise stores.
VAN Jacket started in Ōsaka, and then opened some stores around the Ōsaka area — one store per year. Ishizu always made sure to do it in a way where there would be no competition between stores, and each store could prosper. He always took extreme care in choosing which stores could sell VAN, looking for ones that would order a lot of product, pay on time, and were run by people with an extremely strong sense of management. So there would be one store in Takamatsu, one in Tokushima, two in Hiroshima, one in Okayama.
I guess my father happened to pass the interview, and Ishizu allowed him to sell VAN. And once the goods sold well, VAN helped him build a new store.
But as VAN’s revenues needed to increase, they went from just one store per city to three. Then four. Slowly the sales for each store started to go down — and then it all took a turn for the worse.
Didn’t Tadashi Yanai from UNIQLO’s father also have a VAN shop near your father’s?
Yanai’s father’s company Ogōri Shōji had a shop called Men’s Shop OS in Ube, Yamaguchi. He saw my father’s store and went to VAN and asked to become a franchisee.
Tadashi Yanai helped out at OS as a college student, so he knows VAN and Ivy really well. That’s why UNIQLO’s merchandising uses Ivy as the starting point. And when VAN went belly up, Yanai realized that he couldn’t keep Men’s Shop OS like it was. So he started Fast Retailing.
Did VAN face competition from American imports?
Real American brands didn’t start showing up until VAN went bankrupt. Brooks Brothers came in 1979. Gant came in 1991.
In the 1970s, Onward Kashiyama went to NY to make a partnership with J. Press in order to compete against VAN. They continued to work together even after VAN went under.
The trading company Nichimen [currently Sojitz] went out and quickly got the license to McGregor, but they only really sold golf gear like jackets and chinos. McGregor didn’t get into the business of doing total fashion coordination like VAN.
Didn’t VAN have a Gant license at some point?
Toyobo had the license to make GANT and sublicensed GANT’s shirts to VAN.

Ishizu did not like the idea of organizations or management. So none of the early VAN employees understood accounting very well. The plan was always, just make the clothes you want to make by the deadline, have them all sell out, and then everyone would go drinking. That worked well for a while, but then the company got bigger and bigger, and when that strategy stopped working, VAN needed better management and auditing. That made tur company stricter and stricter.
By that point though, Ishizu was interested in his new businesses, like Orange House (interior goods shop), Green House (gardening store), the VAN 99 Hall (a theater). He bought a farm. He would only get involved in the businesses founded by employees pursuing their personal dreams. For example, he helped someone import the Italian furniture brand Arflex. That made all the employees start to dream about doing the next thing. And even those new ventures did well, so everyone thought, whatever we do will make money.
Meanwhile, the management team decided to make VAN a ¥100 billion company. But you can’t get to that scale just through marketing. You have to know how to stock goods, and no one in the company knew how to do that.
Maybe Ishizu thought, since I’m just selling American style, I don’t need to think deeply about the core business ethics — sales will solve all of our problems. If you start from there, though, you’ve never thought about what to do when sales go down. Everyone just assumes that you’ll have strong sales forever. So when VAN’s revenues started going down, everyone was confused. That’s not supposed to happen. Ishizu was a superstar as a creator, a designer, and someone who could read future trends. But he was a total washout at “management.”
Did VAN go beyond Ivy League clothing in the 1970s?
We knew that Ivy was a temporary trend, and people would tire of it. In the late 1960s, when London’s Carnaby Street was popular, we worked with a department store in Florence, Italy to introduce the Mod look and European fashion under the brand Mr. VAN. When the “jeans revolution” happened and hippie style came in, VAN helped bring jeans to Japan by starting Wrangler Japan with Toyobo and Mitsubishi. That was 1973. And when the department stores would not sell jeans, VAN started a lot of specialist retailers like Shop & Shops.
Whatever the case, we knew we needed to move beyond just being VAN, which was 70% of our sales. But as much as we tried to create a brand bigger than VAN, we couldn’t get anything going.
In the mid-1970s, the hippies ushered in an austerity boom and a jeans boom, and fashion was going a little crazy. Renown started to rule the menswear world by selling D’urban suits with [French actor] Alain Delon. That hit perfectly since all the housewives loved him and wanted to turn their husbands into him. Renown suits sold like crazy.
From there, Ivy lost its electricity and charm. VAN’s only saving grace was that it was famous. All the people who had worn VAN in their youth became adults and felt like VAN was their “hometown.”
What was Ivy fashion like in the 1970s?
Ivy ultimately came to be called “PTA fashion” because it was the clothes that your father and mother would be most relieved to see you wearing. The clothing was interesting but not really that strange anymore. In the early years, the Miyuki Tribe and Roppongi Tribe were called delinquents, but a decade later, their eccentric style became the most basic look that your parents liked. And that meant Ivy no longer functioned as “fashion.” And that also meant that VAN did not need to be the one making it. Anyone could make it — it was just a button-down shirt with cotton pants with a jumper and sweater and navy jacket. Any company could imitate that. That is when VAN’s brand power started to decline.
I think Kent (VAN’s adult-oriented labe run by Toshiyuki Kurosu) went to about ¥5–6 billion, but all the other brands went under completely. Mass merchandisers said that they wanted to sell VAN, so we made a sub-brand called VANred with a red label. We sold that at [big box retailer] Yokado. From there the name VAN became really obsolescent. And everyone at VAN knew it.
When did things start to go bad financially?
From when I joined in 1966 to about 1976, sales were really good. The peak was ¥13.5 billion, but we were supposed to hit ¥30 billion. And we started selling so much stuff that everything got crazy.
Our goods always sold well at department stores, so there were almost never any returns. Then we told them, you don’t have to buy anything anymore, we’ll just do consignment. And everything was still selling well there, so we’d never see any returns.
But outside of the big cities, we would bring them 100 things and they could only pay for 70. So the Tokyo sales team started taking everything to department stores. But then every department store had VAN, which increased the competition, and goods started coming back. And then the returns went way beyond expectations.
But with the need to get sales up, they started to make even more stuff and then even more came back. That vicious cycle started from 1976.

What have you learned from VAN Jacket for your own business, Kamakura Shirts?
When I decided to do things myself, it was 1991, and I started the store in 1993. At first, I only sold shirts, but I slowly added jackets and pants until I sold the full wardrobe. Menswear goods sell extremely slowly, so if you expand too quickly, you’ll go bust. The same thing happened to VAN Jacket.
Right now order-made shirts makers like Kamakura Shirts sell shirts in many colors, but is that a recent thing?
Button-downs finally received true citizenship in the early 1980s when Ivy fans all said, we want to wear them to work! But no one really made them in Japan. If you went to a shirts store, they could make a button-down, but they didn’t sell them at department stores. They were only about 5% of all shirts. All the shirt makers who made button-downs failed. For a long time, everyone thought that you couldn’t sell button-downs.
After VAN went under, I think people started to better appreciate VAN’s clothing. When I started my shirt store in 1993, I thought I would succeed if I made button-down shirts. I knew that VAN Jacket once sold 600,000 button-down shirts in a year, so people must still want button-down shirts. That’s why I made my little shop.
Right now, what percent of the shirts sold at Kamakura Shirts are button-down collar?
Around 40%.
What is the legacy of Kensuke Ishizu and VAN Jacket in Japan today?
Ishizu created the entire business of fashion brands and brought forward the very idea of selling “lifestyle.” He was the one who realized that you can’t just sell clothes, you have to sell the whole atmosphere around them.
After the bankruptcy in 1978, 1,000–1,500 really well-trained people at VAN went into other apparel companies. Those companies didn’t really understand fashion very well, and suddenly, they had someone from VAN Jacket, who was treated like a god. Ishizu was responsible for nurturing and training all these people. After the bankruptcy, he felt responsible to the people who graduated from VAN and invited anyone to come by his office to see him.
I think Mr. Ishizu was a one-in-a-century person for the apparel industry. He did something revolutionary. He invented the thing called the “fashion business.”

Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style / W. David Marx

Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style
DEC 5, 2015

Tokyo, September 1964: A squad of plainclothes police descend on the tony Ginza shopping district and round up hundreds of Japanese youths who had outraged local businesses. Their crime? Loitering in what was then outre style — button-down shirts, skinny ties, suit jackets and chino pants. These delinquents were the miyuki-zoku (Miyuki tribe) and they idolized one thing: Ivy League fashion.

Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, by W. David Marx
296 pages
Basic Books, Nonfiction.

Yes, they were preppies. Tokyo was about to host the Olympics and these kids were causing alarm by rejecting their 19th-century gakuran (high-collar) school uniforms. The Ginza panic seems incomprehensible today, but this is one of the fascinating accounts in W. David Marx’s unique archeology of Japanese menswear fashion, “Ametora.” The term is Japanese shorthand for “American traditional” and the book traces the cultural history of American trad as well as jeans and streetwear in Japan — how they were imported, exploited and sometimes radically modified. The result is, as Marx observes, “a highly illustrative episode of how culture globalizes.”

From gyaru (gals) to French maids, Tokyo’s wild vogues have caught international attention over the past decade or so and there could be no better guide to hacking one’s way to the source of this fashion Amazon than Marx, a Tokyo-based Harvard grad who has long blogged about style at Neojaponisme.com. According to Marx, the adoption of American styles in Japan began with one man, Kensuke Ishizu (1911-2005). The Okayama-born founder of clothing company Van Jacket is most known for “Take Ivy,” the 1965 photo book he commissioned of American students walking about on prestigious Ivy League campuses, decked out in letterman sweaters, sports jackets, madras shorts and penny loafers. In addition to this bible for the East Coast collegiate look in Japan, Ishizu also stoked youth interest — and clothing sales — via a magazine called Men’s Club. It enumerated in excruciating detail the finer points of dressing Ivy. Neckties had to be precisely 7 cm wide, but slanted jacket pockets were a no-no “anti-Ivy technique.”

Aping looks from the United States wasn’t without its ridiculous moments. Men’s Club featured a 1959 photo of wannabe Ivy Leaguers looking more like businessmen in porkpie hats than big men on campus. When enthusiast Toshiyuki Kurosu and other Take Ivy authors snuck into Harvard to do research and take photos, they expected to see students in three-button jackets, regimental ties and wingtips — instead they were in cutoff shorts and flip flops.

“This was people having to adopt a completely foreign culture from zero and then actually sell it to other people as a package,” Marx says over a beer in Shibuya. “They were trying to sell to kids who had no clothing whatsoever other than their school uniforms.”

Marx first became interested in Japanese style after experiencing the streetwear craze in Tokyo in the late 1990s. He was so shocked to have to wait three hours in line to buy a T-shirt at A Bathing Ape that he later wrote his thesis on the chain, which is also chronicled in “Ametora.” It was a chance encounter with a former Van employee years later (while getting his cordovan oxfords polished, of course) that opened up introductions to the surviving Take Ivy pioneers.

“There was absolutely no culture of fashion when I was at Harvard,” Marx says. “People have this image of it as this place where people still dress like the ’60s. You’re lucky if people are wearing clean T-shirts with their sweatpants.”

Gaps in understanding didn’t dent the success of the Ivy look in Japan as Van sparked a revolution in Japanese menswear toward a more casual, individualistic aesthetic. Van enjoyed tremendous success until its bankruptcy in 1978, but countless styles sprung up in its wake: surfers, hippies, rockabilly greasers and bosozoku (biker gangs), not to mention offshoots like the takenoko-zoku (bamboo shoot tribe), who loved to dance in public in garish kung-fu outfits.

Indeed, entrepreneurs like Masayuki Yamazaki made a mint in doing exactly the opposite of Ivy — preaching ’50s hoodlum styles (sometimes called yankii) and putting a Tokyo backwater district called Harajuku on the map with his vintage shop Cream Soda, which counted John Lennon among its customers. As Marx writes, the retro rockers weren’t just imitating foreigners: “They used American influences to terrorize the public — regent haircuts, Hawaiian shirts, dirty jeans — but abandoned them when right-wing garb offered greater potency.”

Probably Ishizu’s greatest legacy today is the global success of Fast Retailing, the clothing firm behind the Uniqlo casual wear chain. Founder Tadashi Yanai’s father ran a Van franchise in Yamaguchi Prefecture and some of Van’s dedication to selling cheap, smart-looking clothes can be found in the Uniqlo ethos. Fast Retailing represents in a sense the full flowering of ametora. Also significant is the recent passion for Ivy style by fashion-conscious Americans tired of rampant casual wear. Style blogs in the U.S. began posting scans of Take Ivy in 2008, and when it was published in English in 2010, it sold over 50,000 copies, also appearing in Ralph Lauren and J. Crew outlets. Americans were turning to Japan to rediscover what they had lost, and the ironic circle was complete.

Sartorially savvy and rigorously researched, “Ametora” is a smart account of Japan’s engagement with America through the lens of menswear. Even if you don’t know your brothel creepers from your brogues, this book is a pleasure to read and an essential manual for decoding contemporary Japanese culture.

W. David Marx, a writer based in Tokyo, is the founder and editor of néojaponisme.com. He is the author of Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, from which this essay is excerpted. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2015.  
 On May 24, 2005, VAN Jacket founder Kensuke Ishizu died at the age of ninety-three. By then millions of Japanese men—students, employees, executives, and retirees—were following Ishizu’s principles of Ivy as their basic style. Ishizu taught the 1960s generation how to dress, and they passed down those sartorial lessons to their children.

The Climb of Ivy
The styles of the American Ivy League transform the fashions of 1960s Japan.

By W. David Marx

0n April 28, 1964, a new magazine called Heibon Punch appeared on Japanese newsstands. The cover illustration showed four boys dressed in the style of American Ivy League students—blazers, short cotton pants, loafers, sharply parted Kennedy haircuts—chatting to another boy in a red sports car. Punch’s pages taught teens how to dress in this so-called Ivy style.

Heibon Punch was an immediate success. The debut issue sold 620,000 copies, and within two years circulation hit one million. The first wave of Japan’s postwar baby boom was entering college right as it launched. Compared with the frugal youth who came of age immediately after World War II, the baby boomers wanted to play in Japan’s newly emerging consumer society and could afford to. Heibon Punch became their guide.

The excitement around Punch sent young men to the most famous retailer for Ivy fashion: the clothing company VAN Jacket’s flagship store, Teijin Men’s Shop, in the Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo. There they bought their own button-down shirts, madras blazers, cotton chino pants, and penny loafers. Soon teenagers in these clothes started to park themselves on Miyuki Street and stay all day. They became infamous in the press as the Miyuki Tribe (miyuki-zoku).

The term zoku means “tribe” in Japanese, but the postwar usage connoted a delinquent subculture. Before 1964 a few youth tribes invented unique styles but almost always as an organic extension of their lifestyle. The Thunder Tribe (kaminari-zoku) bikers dressed in leather proper for a motorcycle ride, while the Sun Tribe (taiyō-zoku) partied on the beaches in bright coastal clothing. The Miyuki Tribe, by contrast, learned to dress directly from the mass media—a youth brigade drafted straight from the models in Heibon Punch.

Parents did not approve of their sons wearing stylish American clothing, so young men snuck out to Ginza with their Ivy duds hidden in rolled-up paper bags, then changed in cafe bathrooms. The paper shopping bag became a vehicle for VAN to promote its brand. The company had started providing the sleek paper bags to retailers featuring its logo in a red box at the bottom that stretched around the side. These bags flooded the streets, and young shoppers came to fetishize the logo. Youth who could not afford to buy anything from an official VAN retailer carried around an old rice bag with a VAN sticker on top.

As the summer of 1964 progressed and schools let out for vacation, teens swelled the Miyuki Tribe’s ranks, ballooning to two thousand members each weekend. The Olympics were being hosted that year in Tokyo, and the media demonized the Miyuki Tribe as a national embarrassment. Even teens who liked Ivy style pleaded for distance from the Miyuki fad. A sixteen-year-old high-school student in Ginza told reporters, “We hate being called members of the Miyuki Tribe—we’re Ivy.”

Parents moved to ban Ivy style at schools. Parent-teacher associations sent formal requests to VAN retailers to stop selling to students. In many small towns, schools prohibited teens from carrying a VAN bag or entering shops that sold the brand. But young men defied orders and lined up outside of menswear shops just to grab discarded cardboard boxes with the brand’s logo. A few maverick companies, meanwhile, got in on the action. Home-electronics company Sanyo worked with VAN to create a line of gadgets—the Sanyo Ivy Razor, the Sanyo Ivy Dryer, and the Sanyo Ivy Junior Tape Recorder. The word Ivy, after years of work by promoters in Japan, was synonymous with cool.

The beginning of the widespread adoption of American style in Japan can be traced back to a single individual, Kensuke Ishizu, founder of VAN Jacket and father of Japan’s Ivy style. Ishizu was born in the southwestern city of Okayama in 1911. It was the end of the Meiji era, a period that marked Japan’s transition from feudal society to modern nation-state.

The Meiji era began in 1868. For the previous 265 years the Tokugawa military government had enforced a sakoku, or “closed country” policy, to isolate Japan from the rest of the world. This seclusion came to an end in 1854 when U.S. naval commodore Matthew Perry and his fleet of warships demanded the country open its borders to trade. Four years later the shogunate signed a series of treaties with Western powers that threw Japan into economic and cultural chaos. Determined to get the nation back on track, reform-minded samurai took control of the government in 1868 under the banner of Emperor Meiji. During this so-called Meiji Restoration, the country’s leaders worked to adopt Western technologies and lifestyles, believing that a more modern Japan could fight off additional American and European attempts at colonization.

Before the Meiji era, members of Japan’s high-ranking samurai caste wore their long hair in topknots, strolled dirt roads in robes, and demonstrated their status with two swords tucked into their belts. By the first decade of the twentieth century, the country’s rulers attended bureaucratic meetings, banquets, and gala balls in three-piece suits and Napoleonic military uniforms. Imported clothing styles became a source of prestige.

Even before Western fashion supplanted traditional costumes, Japanese society had long used clothing as an important marker of status and position. To maintain social order, the Tokugawa military government, which began in 1603, micromanaged the nation’s vestments, regulating materials and patterns to certain castes. Only the nobles and samurai—a mere 10 percent of the population—were permitted to wear silk. But not everyone followed these rules. When farmers and urban merchants began to accumulate more wealth than their samurai betters, they lined their standard cotton robes with silk in an act of subversive panache.

After 1868 the Meiji government moved men into practical Western dress. In 1870 the emperor cut his hair short and donned a European-inspired military uniform. A year later, the Haircut Edict instructed all former samurai to lop off their topknots. The military adopted Western uniforms, with the navy imitating the British and the army imitating the French. In 1885 Tokyo’s Imperial University put its pupils in black gakuran (or tsume-eri), closed square-collar jackets and matching pants. The enduring symbol of the early Meiji era was the Rokumeikan—a French Renaissance–styled hall where Jap­anese elites dressed in formal ensembles, danced the waltz, and mingled with wealthy foreigners. From the 1890s onward, urban white-collar workers wore British-style suits to work.

Kensuke Ishizu’s childhood coincided with the subsequent Taishō era, when the growing middle classes were joining elites in adopting Western customs. By the time Ishizu was in his teens in the 1920s, Japan was under­going rapid changes in social mores. The notorious mobo and moga—“modern boys” and “modern girls”—stood at the vanguard. After the devastating 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, many Japanese women adopted Western dress for better disaster preparedness. Moga, by contrast, played with Western culture as style—wearing silky dresses with short bobs. Their mobo beaus slicked back long hair and wore flared wide-leg “trumpet pants.” Every weekend, mobo and moga flocked to Tokyo’s lavish Ginza neighborhood and strolled its well-lit brick streets. These youth liberated style leadership from the upper classes and took it in unauthorized directions.

In 1929 Ishizu moved to Tokyo to attend Meiji University. He rejected the utilitarian gakuran school uniform and instead ordered a three-piece suit in brown-green tweed—at the cost of half a professor’s monthly salary—matching it with white-and-brown saddle shoes.

The mobo/moga moment would be short-lived: worried about the rise in leftist radicals, the government reversed course on liberalization in the early 1930s. Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department launched a campaign to clean up juvenile delinquency, pledging to close every dance hall in the city. Law enforcement swept the streets of Ginza for overly fashionable youth. The police arrested anyone doing anything suspiciously modern—going to cinemas, drinking coffee, or eating grilled sweet potatoes on the street. Regardless, in March 1932 Ishizu was married in a high-collar morning coat and a custom-ordered ascot.

In mid-1939 Ishizu, now twenty-eight, left with his family for the Chinese port city of Tianjin to become sales director at a department store, soon taking over clothing manufacture and design. Tianjin, situated on the East China Sea, hosted a diverse group of nationalities. Ishizu frequented British tailors to learn trade secrets, heard war news at the local Jewish club, and bet on jai alai in the Italian concession.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Japanese government systematically rolled back all Western influences from local culture. The public heard daily propaganda about the savage crimes of the “devilish Anglo-Americans.” New regulations demanded that companies remove English words from brand names and advised against writing words horizontally. While Ishizu wore his high-end three-piece suits, Japanese men back in Okayama lived in practical, khaki-colored uniforms called “citizen clothing” (kokuminfuku)—an early parallel to Communist China’s Mao suit.

In August 1945, while serving as a naval attaché in Tianjin, Ishizu heard the emperor’s radio broadcast announcing the Japanese surrender to Allied Forces. The Nationalist Chinese prevented any mass violence against the former occupiers, but they ransacked the glycerin factory where he had been assigned during the war. Ishizu spent most of September 1945 locked in a former Japanese naval library.

In October the U.S. First Marine Division arrived, coming ashore to an impromptu victory parade. Looking for Japanese men who could speak English, a young American lieutenant broke Ishizu out of the library. Ishizu and the lieutenant became friends, the American regaling Ishizu with stories of his undergraduate life at Princeton. Ishizu heard for the first time about something called the “Ivy League.”

On March 15, 1946, the Americans put Ishizu and his family on a cargo ship back to Japan. He took only a backpack, leaving behind the modern equivalent of $27 million in cash. At the end of March 1946, Kensuke Ishizu returned to his hometown of Okayama, which was completely burned to the ground.

Ishizu became the menswear designer for a high-end clothing showroom in Osaka. The late 1940s was an odd time to manufacture expensive menswear. Japanese spent forty times more on food than on clothing. Women continued to wear the baggy, high-waisted monpe farming pants they wore during wartime. Pilots who had been in line to perform kamikaze missions wandered around in brown flight suits.

In this fashion vacuum of garment shortages and rationing, the first group in Japan to readopt Western style were the Pan Pan Girls—streetwalking prostitutes who catered to American soldiers. They wore brightly colored American dresses and platform heels, with a signature kerchief tied around their necks. They permed their hair, caked on heavy makeup, and wore red lipstick and red nail polish. Pan Pan Girls’ jackets had enormous shoulder pads in imitation of officers’ wives. Prewar Western fashion and customs had entered society through the male elite and trickled down. But the first to wear American-style clothing in postwar Japan were women—and prostitutes at that.

Following the American way of life looked like a way out of despair. Prewar interest in Western culture was an aesthetic choice and status symbol—now it was also a means of self-preservation. Kensuke Ishizu had a business advantage in this new Japan where everyone hoped to imitate American lifestyles. He built up a network of the top sewing talent in Osaka and stockpiled fabrics and zippers through an American soldier who shopped for him at the post exchange. Ishizu turned out top-notch garments that got the attention of not just others in the garment industry but also law enforcement. His product was so good that the police apprehended him for a short time on suspicion that he was illegally importing clothing from abroad.

At the end of 1949, Ishizu started his own business, Ishizu Shōten (“Ishizu Store”). Although still few in Japan could afford to buy new clothing, Ishizu was confident that the market would return.

Proximity to the Korean Peninsula made Japan a key manufacturing base for the American military effort after the Korean War began in 1950. These boom times encouraged the urban middle classes to finally revamp their wardrobes. Ishizu pursued an alternate business model to the traditional practice of made-to-order suiting: ready-to-wear clothing. Tailoring was expensive and time-consuming (one suit cost a month’s salary), whereas off-the-rack clothing could get a larger volume of garments to an eager public. Ishizu pumped out saddle shoes as well as cotton flannel shirts and indigo work pants under a faux American brand called Kentucky.

Ishizu Shōten found its most profitable niche, however, in high-end sport coats for rich elites. An Osaka department store gave Ishizu Shōten its own corner, and Ishizu found a loyal customer base in wealthy suburban families. As the business grew, Ishizu wanted a more memorable brand name, so he rechristened his company VAN Jacket, borrowing VAN from the title of a comic book.

A major barrier remained: it was taboo for men to show interest in fashion. When white-collar workers first donned Western suits in the early twentieth century, the garment was meant as a modern and sober uniform, not as a means of self-expression. Any tweaks or customization to the basic formula implied vanity. If the suit’s wool looked rough, a tailor would turn the fabric inside out and sew it back together. The basic male wardrobe went to extremes of conformity: a single charcoal-gray or navy-blue suit, dark tie, white shirt, and dark shoes. White shirts outsold colored ones more than twenty to one. A striped shirt was enough to get a worker in trouble. And ready-to-wear clothing was not an option. Men dismissed nontailored garments as tsurushi or tsurushinbo, meaning “something hung up,” with the sting of a racial slur.

Japanese women in the early 1950s could enjoy a handful of fashion magazines, but they were utilitarian—pages packed full of black-and-white dress patterns rather than dream catalogues full of glossy photos. Men had only one fashion resource: the suit-pattern guide Danshi Senka. In early 1954 female readers of women’s magazine Fujin Gahō, who reveled in the latest Parisian styles, complained that their husbands accompanied them to parties and weddings in bland business suits. The Fujingahōsha publishing company decided that men needed a fashion magazine to teach them proper dress, and they wanted a charismatic figure to make the magazine compelling. One name kept popping up: Kensuke Ishizu.

Ishizu joined the editorial team, and the quarterly publication Otoko no Fukushoku (“Men’s Clothing”) debuted in late 1954. The magazine offered fashion photography and articles, but the editorial tone was pure instruction—a textbook introduction to semiformal wear, business wear, sportswear, and golf wear. Ishizu and the other writers gave practical advice to fashion novices and introduced the latest styles from America, France, and England.

Ishizu turned Otoko no Fukushoku into a VAN media organ, weaving advertisements and clothing samples from his company throughout the magazine and buying up the majority of each 35,000-issue print run to sell them to VAN’s retailers. He wrote so much for the first few years that he had to hide his work under pen names such as Esu Kaiya (“Esquire”) in fear that his authorship was too conspicuous.

In the mid-1950s the few young men who rejected their school uniforms for stylish clothing were marginalized as delinquents. Youth wore uniforms everywhere; there was no such thing as “young fashion.” Parents in the postwar era felt a particular anxiety about their children wearing fashionable clothing. The strict morality of the imperialist era collapsed after World War II in tandem with the wartime regime, and parents assumed their children would go astray in the ensuing moral vacuum.

The sensational “Oh, Mistake Incident” of 1950 solidified these associations. Hiroyuki Yamagiwa, a nineteen-year-old chauffeur at Nihon University, broke into a coworker’s car at knifepoint, slashed the driver, and drove off with 1.9 million yen in cash. Yamagiwa then took his girlfriend on a three-day joyride. The minor crime made headlines after Yamagiwa screamed out in pidgin English “Oh, mistake!” upon being apprehended. During police interrogation Yamagiwa continued to drop random English words into his Japanese and revealed a tattoo that said “George.” In just three days on the lam Yamagiwa and his girlfriend spent 100,000 yen—ten times a university graduate’s starting monthly salary—on clothing in high-end Ginza boutiques. In front of the media flashbulbs Yamagiwa wore a gold corduroy jacket, red pocket square, dark brown gabardine pants, light brown button-up shirt with long collar points, argyle socks, chocolate brown shoes, and a President Truman–style fedora. For disapproving adults across Japan, the connection between loose morals and American fashion could not have been any clearer.

Things slowly started to change. In 1956 the Japanese government released a white paper on the economy that opened with a joyous phrase—mohaya sengo de wa nai, “the postwar is over.” The population had enough food, work, and shelter; they began to think more about what to wear. But middle-aged men continued to deplore off-the-rack clothing, and Ishizu resigned himself to the fact that it would never appeal to his own generation. Against the mores of the period, he would have to court the youth market.

None of the contemporary trends in Japan looked right for the new line of ready-to-wear clothing Ishizu wanted to make for younger men. Looking for inspiration, Ishizu embarked on a world tour in December 1959, culminating in his first visit to the United States. While in New York Ishizu sought out a popular American fashion style often covered in Otoko no Fukushoku’s international reporting—“Ivy League.” By the late 1950s the look had moved beyond campuses and into the mainstream of American wardrobes.

Ishizu took the train down to Princeton, the alma mater of his American lieutenant friend. Japan’s elite campuses were packed with identical-looking boys in black wool uniforms; Ishizu was impressed by Ivy League students, who dressed up for classes in a distinct, individual way. The shots he snapped with his compact camera of Princeton undergraduates later illustrated his U.S. trip report for Otoko no Fukushoku. One attractive Ivy Leaguer in a blazer, undone dark necktie, white button-down shirt, gray flannel pants, and a coat slung over his shoulder became the issue’s unwitting cover model. As Ishizu wrote in an accompanying essay, “There was nothing like that particular American flamboyance that we all have come to expect.”

These elite, athletic students demonstrated how dapper a young man could look in ready-to-wear clothing. The clothes looked neat and fit closely to the body. Ishizu especially liked that the style relied on natural materials such as cotton and wool, which could be worn for a long time and easily cleaned. Japanese students in the late 1950s had little pocket money, but Ivy clothing would be a good investment—durable, functional, and based on static, traditional styles.

And there was something chic about how Ivy students wore items until they disintegrated—holes in shoes, frayed collars on shirts, patches on jacket elbows. Many nouveau riche Japanese would gasp in horror at this frugality, but the old-money Ishizu saw an immediate link
between Ivy League fashion and the rakish, rough look of hei’i habō, the early twentieth-century phenomenon of elite students flaunting prestige through shabby uniforms.

Ishizu now had his inspiration. In 1959 VAN produced its first “Ivy model” suit—a detailed copy of Brooks Brothers’ classic Number One Sack Suit with a loose, dartless jacket.

Ishizu’s imported style found ready acolytes. Two particularly dedicated readers of Otoko no Fukushoku, Kazuo Hozumi and Toshiyuki Kurosu, founded the Traditional Ivy Leaguers Club with five other friends in the late 1950s. The group held weekly seminars on Ivy style, looking up terms from American magazines in a yellowed prewar English clothing encyclopedia. They also invited an aging tailor to teach them about details associated with the American style, such as hooked vents (a key part of the stitching on the back of a blazer) and overlapped seams.

In 1959 the club convinced Otoko no Fukushoku—which Ishizu had newly rebranded with the English name Men’s Club—to feature them in a four-page story. All seven members appeared in dark Ivy suits for the group portrait, holding up a poster of a blond pinup girl to demonstrate their expertise in American culture. A blurb proclaimed them to be “seven Ivy samurai.”

Today, little about the clothing in the photo would be identified as Ivy League style—certainly not Kurosu’s porkpie hat, cufflinks, silver-colored formal necktie, and pearl tiepin. Despite Men’s Club’s position at the forefront of Ivy League fashion in Japan, nobody involved in the operation could accurately replicate the American collegiate look. Lacking firsthand experience with Ivy League students, the style in Japan was built on tiny scraps of information and Men’s Club editors’ educated guesses.

In 1961 Kensuke Ishizu hired his son Shōsuke, who had been working at Men’s Club, to be the head of VAN’s planning department and produce an Ivy clothing line. Before this point, most Ivy items relied on the fifty-year-old’s imagination: Ishizu called shirts with a long vertical stripe “Ivy shirts,” desert boots with a buckle on the back “Ivy boots,” and pants with a buckle on the back “Ivy pants” with an “Ivy strap.” Shōsuke’s mission was to make more authentic Ivy items, but he did not know how. The obvious solution was to bring in an Ivy expert. Toshiyuki Kurosu, cofounder of the Traditional Ivy Leaguers Club, was invited to join VAN and accepted the offer.

At the beginning, the two young em­ployees struggled with even the core pieces. With no connections to Ivy League colleges or university shops, Kurosu and Shōsuke had few concrete details on the latest campus fashions. They foraged for hints in GQ, Esquire, Men’s Wear, Sports Illustrated, the French magazine Adam, JC Penney and Sears Roebuck catalogs, and the ads in The New Yorker. These publications provided design ideas, but VAN’s factories needed patterns and three-dimensional versions of the garments to make true copies. While traveling to the United States on business, Kensuke Ishizu bought up a few pieces at Brooks Brothers to use as guides, but these could not be extrapolated into an entire clothing line. Kurosu resorted to hitting the black markets, where he could scrounge around in piles of discarded GI clothes for Ivy-like garments.

As the full Ivy line came together in 1962—chino pants, navy blazers, seersucker jackets, rep ties—VAN updated its logo to appeal to a younger audience. Kensuke Ishizu placed his original red-and-black stencil logo in a circle with the catchphrase “for the young and young at heart.”

The wider apparel industry was unsupportive of the Ivy trend. Ishizu decided that VAN would take it directly to teens.

As fashion-conscious men looked more to magazines than to department stores for style guidance, from 1963 onward VAN used its shadow editorial control of Men’s Club to fill each issue with minutiae of modern American collegiate life. There were explorations of elbow
patches, detailed looks into the “V-zone of an Ivy Leaguer,” and essays from Kensuke Ishizu on critical matters such as “girls who understand Ivy and girls who don’t.”

Despite these efforts, Ivy primarily existed in Japan inside the magazine’s pages. Almost all youth still wore their gakuran uniforms or equally bland garments. Readers understood the imagery in Men’s Club—a world where everyone lived surrounded by Ivy suits, Coca-Cola bottles, and jazz records—as a pleasant fantasy. Dressing like this in real life would certainly elicit ridicule from classmates and neighbors. VAN needed to prove to their readers that there actually were well-dressed youth roaming the cities of Japan.

In the spring of 1963, Toshiyuki Kurosu started a column in Men’s Club called “Ivy Leaguers on the Street,” where he and a photographer took snaps of young passersby in Ginza who dressed similarly to East Coast preps. Kurosu picked the best and wrote accompanying captions. This soon became readers’ favorite part of the magazine. With this, Kurosu may have invented “street snaps”—the distinct style of documentary fashion photography that now appears in nearly every Japanese fashion magazine.

In truth Tokyo barely had adequate numbers of fashionable men to fill each issue’s pages. But the work got easier once teens started to hang around the neighborhood’s main avenues in contrived outfits with the hope of catching Kurosu’s eye. Subsequent editions of the column showed a more pronounced Ivy League style, a trend which snowballed as teens tried to outdo the young men in the previous issue.

VAN customers in the first half of the 1960s came exclusively from three groups: celebrities, creatives at top advertising firms, and the sons of wealthy families. In the United States, Ivy represented the casual style of elite university students, but the style reached far beyond East Coast campuses because of its ease of fit, rugged materials, and reliance on basic styles. Not so in Japan. VAN had so far only found consumers at the very top of society.

To make things easier on their pupils, Ishizu, Kurosu, and the others at VAN decided they needed to break Ivy down into a set of dos and don’ts. They summarized their mission thus:

When you buy medicine, the instructions are always included. There is a proper way of taking the medicine, and if you do not take the medicine correctly, there may be adverse effects. Same goes for dressing up—there are rules you cannot ignore. Rules teach you style orthodoxy and help you follow the correct conventions for dress. Starting with Ivy is the fastest way to get you there.

In the pages of Men’s Club, Kurosu became the unofficial headmaster of the Ivy school. He ran an Ivy Q&A column in the back of the magazine. He told readers, for example, not to wear ties with their sports shirts and to avoid tie tacks and cufflinks with blazers, while also advocating for the mentality of Ivy: an easy East Coast nonchalance. Kurosu warned a reader threatening to wear a button-down collar with the buttons undone, “It has to feel natural. It’s the absolute worst if other people think you’ve left them intentionally unbuttoned.” Kurosu, a twenty-something who had never lived in the United States, was playing referee with confidence that came from years of research—but also a good measure of bluffing.

VAN was so successful in using these definitive proclamations to get both readers and retailers on the same page that Japanese fashion today still retains this emphasis on rules. U.S. Ivy League style was steeped in tradition, class privilege, and subtle social distinctions. The best part of collegiate fashion was its unconscious cool. No one read manuals; they just imitated their fathers, brothers, and classmates. In Japan VAN needed to break down Ivy into a distinct protocol so that a new convert could take up the style without having ever seen an actual American. Men’s Club often gave the same styles the fun of filing taxes.

But readers ate it up, and their demand for instruction only resulted in an even greater tyranny of details. A true Ivy shirt had a small “locker loop” under the collar and a center box pleat. Ivy men wore a pocket square in the “Ivy fold,” a necktie exactly seven centimeters wide, and an “orthodox” pant length. A biblical dogma developed about the Ivy suit jacket’s center hooked vent, even though its presence on the back of the jacket made it mostly invisible. Men’s Club warned against the danger of slanted jacket pockets—a nefarious “anti-Ivy technique.” This homosocial one-upmanship brought fashion—previously belittled as a “feminine” pursuit—closer to technical “masculine” hobbies such as car repair and sports.

In 1963 Kensuke Ishizu, consolidating his position, laid down the master concept for Western dress in Japanese with just three letters: TPO (tī pī ō in Japanese), an acronym for “time, place, occasion.” Ishizu believed that men should choose outfits based on the time of the day and season, their destination, and the nature of the event.

Ishizu later formalized the TPO idea with a guidebook called When, Where, What to Wear. The pocket-sized volume offered lists of ideal outfits, coordination styles, and fabric types, as well as diagrams on how to get the perfect suit fit. The book was an immediate bestseller. Electronics maker Sony passed out copies to every male employee.

Ivy turned into big business for VAN Jacket. By 1967 the company hit 3.6 billion yen in revenue ($71 million in 2015 dollars), and at the end of the decade, 6.9 billion yen ($111 million in 2015 dollars). In these years VAN did not just clothe the nation in Ivy League style but acted as Japanese youth’s introduction to a more Americanized lifestyle, in which clothing played a major role in forming a distinct identity. With traditional Japanese culture discredited by its defeat in World War II, youth were desperate for a new set of values. And at just the right time, VAN offered an idealized version of American life.

The company also benefited from the fact that real Americans were gradually disappearing from the Tokyo landscape. By the mid-1960s GIs were few in number and generally confined to their bases in remote areas. Youth in Tokyo instead learned about the American people from VAN, Men’s Club, and Hollywood films. They came to see the United States as not a wartime enemy or postwar occupier but as the home of jazz, fancy colleges, button-down collars, and blond bombshells.

Ivy style in the 1960s marked a critical moment when men started dressing up, and it set the pattern for how the country would import, consume, and modify American fashion for the next fifty years. After Ivy, Japan had an infrastructure to create and disseminate the latest in American styles—not just the clothes of clean-cut New England youth but even the wilder looks of the counterculture.

On May 24, 2005, VAN Jacket founder Kensuke Ishizu died at the age of ninety-three. By then millions of Japanese men—students, employees, executives, and retirees—were following Ishizu’s principles of Ivy as their basic style. Ishizu taught the 1960s generation how to dress, and they passed down those sartorial lessons to their children.

Ishizu did not just kick off the culture of Japanese menswear but kept it replicating the values of VAN Jacket through a sophisticated industry in Japan. The most successful brand to come out of the VAN Jacket family is global apparel giant Fast Retailing, whose marquee chain, Uniqlo, has over 1,500 stores in eighteen countries. Founder Tadashi Yanai’s father ran a small VAN franchise in the industrial town of Ube, Yamaguchi, called Ogōri Shōji. Ishizu renamed it Men’s Shop OS to attract a younger crowd.

Yanai opened the first Uniqlo in Hiroshima in 1985, and while many of Uniqlo’s best sellers over the years—brightly colored down jackets, fleece, thermal underwear—have not necessarily been Ivy items, Yanai’s dedication to selling unisex basics at reasonable prices echoes the original mission of VAN Jacket. Toward the end of his life, Kensuke Ishizu visited a Uniqlo store and told his son, “This is what I wanted to make!”

W. David Marx

W. David Marx, a writer based in Tokyo, is the founder and editor of néojaponisme.com. He is the author of Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, from which this essay is excerpted. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2015.  

 W. David Marx, a writer based in Tokyo, is the founder and editor of néojaponisme.com. He is the author of Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, from which this essay is excerpted. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2015.