July 02, 2016

Ametora Dispatches #10 — The Obscurity

W. David Marx
Tokyo, Japan
July 2, 2016

Dear Subscriber:

Welcome to the July 2016 edition of Ametora Dispatches — a monthly newsletter for my book Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style.

The Obscurity of Japanese Fashion History (in Japan)

A few weeks ago, I gave a speech on Ametora for Prof. Kaori Nakano’s Meiji University class on fashion history. I basically talked through the book, looking at men’s clothing from the Meiji Restoration to present. At the end of the class, I watched Prof. Nakano go through a stack of written responses from the students on what they thought of the lecture, and she then handed me all the ones without mean comments. (Okay, I don’t know if they were mean comments, but every once in awhile, I saw her read one, fold it in half, and toss it aside.)

The general feedback from the students was that they had never heard about anything I was talking about, especially the idea that dressing up was a taboo for men before the Miyuki-zoku. (And they had never heard of the Miyuki-zoku.) They all shop at Beams but few knew the origin of the brand. They all thought A Bathing Ape got big in the U.S. before Japan. 1980s generation-defining brands like Cream Soda and Boat House have become totally unknown. If you read Ametora, you know more than the average Japanese twenty-something about the history of Japanese fashion.

At least as someone who grew up right between Gen X and Gen Y, I was generally aware of past fashion cultures in my teenage years just from watching a lot of TV. Without any active study, I could pick hippies, ‘50s greasers, seventies polyester lounge suits, eighties neon, and grunge out of a lineup. I am not sure today’s Japanese teenagers could do that. A lot of this comes from Americans’ love of reminiscing upon their country’s own mythic past (The Wonder Years, Grease, Mad Men), but Western fashion designers also unabashedly pull from the archives to create new styles.

The story is more complicated in Japan. For a variety of reasons, there is nothing like a cross-generational collective nostalgia in Japan: no “Oldies” or “classic rock” radio, no popular modern TV shows based in the past, few re-runs. Every year old culture just is subsumed deeper into the fog. And crate-digging Japanese innovators, in their snobbery towards Western culture and disdain for “ersatz” homegrown culture, are much more likely to obsess over foreign culture than domestic. The Levi’s collector is higher on the cultural hierarchy than the Big John and Edwin collector.

The end result is that college students would have to actively read a book about the history of their own culture to know much about it. In Japan, nostalgia is the exclusive privilege of the old.

Ametora serialized in Popeye

Speaking of history lessons for youth, Ametora will be serialized in Popeye magazine each month over the next year starting with the August 2016 issue. This will lead up to the release of the Japanese edition sometime in mid-2017 from DU Books.

Links for the Last Month

  • Free & Easy returns: The editors of Free & Easy have started an identical new magazine called Hail Mary and a new shop called HailMary Trading near Daikanyama.
  • Cult of production: A Continuous Lean’s Michael Williams in GQ discussed how he came to obsesses over manufacturing quality after working for a Japanese brand.
  • Ishizu in Rio: The new Japanese Olympic uniforms for the 2016 Rio Summer Games draw heavy inspiration from Kensuke Ishizu’s 1964 Ivy design.
  • Japanese dad Ivy: Ivy-Style showed some photos from Hey Gentleman Cafe, an Osaka-based dealer in vintage American clothing.
  • Feedback loop: Ivy-Style also scanned an English translation of a Japanese J. Press catalog, which of course a Japanese-owned classic American brand.
  • Clutch Collection: WGSN looked at the retro and repro brands at Clutch Collection held in Yokohama.
  • Ametora as French noun: The Americana of visvim’s Pitti Uomo show got much attention, with French GQ describing it as “VISVIM DÉFINIT L’AMETORA EN UN DÉFILÉ.”
  • Supreme’s Japanese editorials: Complex interviewed me about how Japanese magazines Warp and Grind get all those Supreme spreads.
  • Popeye at 40: Hypebeast wrote on Popeye releasing its 40th anniversary issue (with an essay by me on its history), as well as a full reprint of its very first 1976 issue of California.