As someone living in New York I realize that I have absolutely no right to complain about us not having a certain store, but when it comes right down to it I’d trade about ninety-five percent of the shops in this city for just one United Arrows. Yet this raises the obvious question of why out of all the obscure Italian, or British brands (looking at you Boggi and Hackett.) I mean sure it’s a brand that I have almost zero first hand experience with, but the answer lies in something I had mentioned in an earlier post: the concept of the Japanese doing American design better than Americans can, only with United Arrows it isn’t just Americana. Looking at United Arrows’ entire umbrella, they cover more ground than almost any other brand out, poaching the best features of each “wave” along the way.
So much of UA’s style can be attributed to their impeccably dressed creative director, Yasuto Kamoshita. In the eighties, after graduating from school, Kamoshita started from scratch in menswear, getting a job as a salesman at Beams, which was then, and continues to be, one of Japan’s most significant retail chains. Kamoshita’s passion pushed him further into the company as he slowly worked his way up from the bottom to become a buyer. In 1989 he left Beams to became one of the founding members of United Arrows, where he first continued on as a buyer until 2007 when he was promoted up to become their creative director. Kamoshita’s pedigree acts as a foundation for understanding what it is about United Arrow that’s so appealing, because that period that he spent cutting his teeth as a salesman and buyer corresponds with what is now considered to be the most crucial years for Japanese menswear.
Unlike western countries, Japan doesn’t really have a set “classic” style to build off of, a fact that Kamoshita himself has alluded to, therefore as Japan’s interest in menswear grew, it was more about learning from other cultures than learning how to embrace their own. This is what drove Japan toward it’s Americana obsession in the eighties, and Italian style in the aughts. If Japan’s story is about education, then Kamoshita is nothing less than a scholar, guiding United Arrows’ various brands by relying on his own knowledge of what has worked over the years from across the world. Opening up a United Arrows lookbook is somewhat like looking at a best of from menswear over the past fifty or so years. But more importantly for a larger “umbrella brand,” Kamoshita understands what goes where, and how to diversify within his own line.
If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’re probably familiar to United Arrows approach. The closest thing we have to their concept in the states is a department store, only United Arrows actually care about good design, their in-house brands are good enough to stand on their own, with separate retail stores and lookbooks. Out of all their in-house brands, there’s three diffusion lines that make up their larger menswear package, or at least, that’s as much as I can gather from their poorly translated site and the brief bits of info floating around, and as far as I can tell, the three brand’s actually do blend together, both in how their packaged for press and their style, quite a lot.
First is the aptly named “Beauty & Youth United Arrows”, which as you could probably guess appeals to the younger set. Overall I would say it’s a mix of New England collegiate trad, British prep school, and French beatnik. For this upcoming season, there’s a slew cable knits, quilted jackets, patterned trousers, slim suits, deep colors, and chunky overcoats. A step above this would be the straight United Arrows collection, which is best explained as what would happen if Free & Easy designed their own line. Half of it sticks to the classics with suits that are clean but not bland, shoes that feel very Anglo, uncomplicated dress shirts, and knits that are Italian-esque. And then there’s the other half of the line, the more experimental, contemporary side, filled with camo shorts, denim shirts, and more technical outerwear.
Finally there’s Kamoshita’s pet project, Camoshita United Arrows which he debuted at Pitti a few seasons ago. Kamoshita himself has said that this line is very heavily influenced by Italian design, but also by the concept of a Japanese dandy, aiming for a well-read, well-dressed class clientele that doesn’t mind being a bit flashy. The intersection between these two can definitely be seen in the relaxed look of jackets, the bold choice of patterns, texturized fabrics, extreme cutaway collars, loud trousers, soft shoulders, and loosely woven knits. It’s also worth mentioning that Camoshita United Arrows is the only part of the line that you can readily find in the states as it’s sold at Barneys. Put these three together, add in United Arrows endless stream of collaborations with everyone from New Balance to Nick Wooster and you have a brand that makes me desperately wish I could get back to Japan sometime soon.
Beauty & Youth United Arrows