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Japan

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It has been nearly four months to the day since I first wrote about the onset of my fixation with the Nepenthes family of brands, and I’m happy to report today that this interest has grown into a full blown obsession. Like Alice stumbling down the rabbit hole, there seems to be no turning back for me, and all I can say is that I feel bad for my bank account going forward. My recent mania over Engineered Garments is what lead me to one of the best online stores out there – Silver and Gold

Founded in 2007, Silver and Gold is an Osaka based menswear shop that packs an impressive brand roster. The best way to describe their stock would be like a more avant garde Inventory, blending the expected – EG (including one of the best Fall collection buys of any account worldwide), orSlow, South2West8Folk, etc. with some unknown exports from Japan and abroad. It’s this selection that sets Silver and Gold apart, and they realize use their new arrivals section to the utmost to showcase these more obscure brands. 

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In keeping with my bi-annual tradition of taking a couple street style photos and writing far too much on them, after this latest crop of shots from Paris Fashion Week I’ve decided to finally call Takahiro Kinoshita’s number. If there’s anyone whose style I try to emulate, it’s Popeye Magazine’s editor-in-chief, who I consider to be a true Miyuki-Zoku in 2013. Case, in point these photos from two (consecutive?) days at Paris Fashion Week – the first (above) taken by Tommy Ton for GQ depicts Kinoshita in a rare casual fit, while the second (below) from Youngjun Koo’s series for High Snobiety, captures Kinoshita in his more common “neo-trad” look. It’s this dichotomy – relaxed one day, tailored the next, that positions Kinoshita alongside Yasuto Kamoshita, Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi (Dennis Rodman jersey and all), and Yoshimasa Hoshiba, as one of the most influential men in American style today, because let’s face it, the Japanese are simply doing it better right now.

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What really resonates with me is that, Kinoshita appears perfectly at ease in both photos, never seeming the least bit uncomfortable despite the disparities between the two looks. The casual fit reminds me of the sort of shoot that Popeye might actually do on a younger East Coast look, with wider legged khakis, woodland camo, and the slightest hint of a tennis sweater, volleying between Take Ivy and New England heritage. There’s also some interesting things going on with proportions between the top buttoned jacket that fans out, and a  shorter sweater with the slightest hint of an oxford peeking out.

As for the more tailored look, I am fascinated by how Kinoshita takes a very traditional palette – mainly grey and navy with touches of white and black, and makes it modern primarily though fit. With tapered trousers (capped off by a perfectly proportioned cuff), a slimmer jacket, a higher inseam (the common thread between both shots), and details like a club collared shirt, a knit tie, a higher gorge, and beltless trousers (interestingly with the belt loops still intact) it’s sixties trad through a post-millennial lens. Some might call it sacrilege, I for one just wish the stores on Madison Ave. could at least try to keep up with our brethren from the Land of the Rising Sun.

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I recently met up with a friend of mine who had just returned from a trip to Japan, but after a night of listening to his tales of sensory overload, meticulous storefronts, and inexplicable addresses I was left with the feeling that I’d been to young to ever appreciate Japan. When I visited that gloriously overstuffed country, I was only in middle school and while I could somewhat understand what was around me, so much of Japan’s beauty fell on my deaf ears, or really my blind eyes. I only wish I could visit Japan now, armed with a much keener eye for the multifaceted landscape of Japanese design. Every time I hear my friends stories, or unearth a new brand from that island on the other side of the globe, I yearn for crooked streets and murky udon all over again. So, this past week when my friend Mitch passed along the Okura web store with the simple message, “check this out,” I dove headfirst down an indigo dyed rabbit hole only to resurface hours later with a newfound infatuation for Okura’s house brand Blue Blue and their technicolor (well, if you consider a hundred different shades of blue “technicolor”) dreamcoats.

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From the site’s rough English translation, I was able to discern that Okura opened in 1993 as Blue Blue Japan’s flagship store in Tokyo. Prior to that, Sellin & Co., the brand behind Blue Blue, had owned and operated Hollywood Ranch Market (a name you might recognize from Unionmade’s webstore), which opened in 1972 and was, according to their site at least, Japan’s first ever vintage store. With the creation of Blue Blue’s Okura store, the company set their sights on developing their house brand, which has now evolved into a smattering of different designs, some of which allude to the company’s Japanese heritage, while others reflect a clear foreign influence, mainly that of Americana or the mid-century trad look. The common theme of Blue Blue though, as the name not so subtly implies, is that almost everything is either blue, or at least has a slightly blue cast to it.

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One of my favorite sentiments to pull out when talking about our friends over on the other side of the world, is that “the Japanese do Americana far better than we ever could.”  Of course, it’s a blanket statement holds about as much weight as a bag full of feathers, but nonetheless it sure is fun to say.  I first came up with the line during a spur of the moment discussion with a few colleagues about the state of the Japanese vintage market, which by now is probably stocked with more U.S. made deadstock pieces then any of us could even begin to fathom.  It’s a cheeky line and makes me seem much more well-versed on the topic than I am, so I’ve kept on saying it, but each time I repeat it, it becomes that much more evident to me just how much of a double-edged sword those ten words are.

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This year at (capsule) things just came out a bit dull for me.  Despite these past couple years where it feelss like we’re cycling through trends at breakneck speed, menswear is still a painstakingly slow industry, and while there were a lot of brands that I like and wear at the show, there weren’t many new discoveries for me.  Out of everything that I saw, the only brand that’s still stuck on my mind these weeks later is Journal Standard, a Japanese brand that has built up a large following abroad but hasn’t really broken into the U.S. market yet.  In fact, Journal Standard is so new to the western world that finding any real info on the brand (without the aide of Google Translate that is) proved to be next to impossible.

In the states it’s carried by Bodega in Boston and Unionmade out in San Francisco, although I couldn’t tell if they are still actively stocking the brand, or if it was just a one season deal.  From one source I read that the brand’s been around for over a decade, while another said that it had only been around since 2008.  I’m not sure which is true, but considering Journal Standard’s thirty-four stores across Japan, Hong-Kong, and Paris, I’d venture to guess they’ve been dominating abroad for years now, with their push into the U.S. market only being a recent phenomena.

While their backstory is jumbled, Journal Standard’s structure is very typical of Japanese retail.  The brand’s layout is reminiscent of United Arrows, with separate brands and stores that stock their own lines as well as third-parties, and cover everything from higher end clothes to housewares.  As for their menswear assets, there’s Journal Standard, J.S. Homestead, Journal Standard Trisect, and Journal Standard Relume.  Now I’ll admit, in contrast to United Arrows, I don’t really sense a strong distinction between any of these brands.  They’re all clearly inspired by the Japanese interpretation of American workwear, with a much more comfortable, relaxed feel to all their pieces.  Throughout the line’s there’s lots of variations of blues, neutral colors, collared knits, and unstructured jackets.

I suppose if I had to break it if up, I would say Journal Standard is a casual blend of trad and heritage with touches of bold pattens such as floral and camo.  J.S. Homestead is the closest to true workwear, think more chore jackets and denim.  Trisect features classics such as slimmer knits, ties, blazers, khakis and button ups, for a line that’s more directly inspired by Ivy than workwear.  And finally Relume is unisex basics, which reminds me of a more heritage Uniqlo.  Although with Journal Standard, focusing on the minutiae that distinguish the lines ignores the brands greatest asset, their individual pieces.  Journal Standard is never stronger than when it’s looked at piece by piece, because throughout the brand they use some of finest Japanese textiles and patterns, which creates that washed texture that’s become so desirable as of late.  The clothes are comfortable and warm in a way that has nothing to do with temperature, and with brands such as R by 45 RPM, Kapital, and even Visvim already having a strong impact on the American menswear landscape, I see no reason why Journal Standard shouldn’t be next in line.

Journal Standard

J.S. Homestead

Journal Standard Trisect

Journal Standard Relume

Yakuto Kamoshita via Barneys

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.

Yakuto Kamoshita by Sean Hotchkiss

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.

Yasuto Kamoshita by the Sartorialist

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.

Beauty & Youth United Arrows Fall Winter 2012

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.

United Arrows

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.

Camoshita United Arrows via Selectism

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

United Arrows

 

Camoshita United Arrows

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