September 02, 2016

Ametora Dispatches #11 — The Killer Narrative

W. David Marx
Tokyo, Japan
September 2, 2016

Dear Subscriber:

Welcome to the September 2016 edition of Ametora Dispatches — a monthly newsletter for my book Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style. In the spirit of summer vacation, I skipped the August edition.

Why Trad was the breaking point for Japan

I finished writing my senior thesis about A Bathing Ape in 2001, and a few years later, Bape swept the hip-hop world to become of the hottest clothing labels in the United States. Yet, I don’t think it would have been possible to write a book in 2005 about “How Japan Saved American Style.” It had started to influence American style, but “saved” would have been a stretch.

Certainly, Japanese fashion was on a growth vector, and thanks to even more globalized markets and more information on the Internet, it grew to be a true phenomenon in the West and across Asia. But the clear triumph of Japanese apparel on the world stage came with American traditional looks — Ivy, outdoor, jeans, and even the deconstructed basics of Uniqlo. This was essentially “Trad” — not “fashion.” (And someone even wrote a book called Ametora.)

These are not just areas in which Japan made superior product, but also areas that mapped to the rise of #menswear — a resurgence of men in the United States caring about their wardrobe. The reason Trad worked as the catalyst was because that particular clothing genre provided an easy-to-understand narrative: dressing in long-standing traditions. Trad gave American men — who are normally so averse to the idea of fashion — a warm blanket of plausible deniability. This was not “indulging in fashion” (seen as the vain embrace of capriciously decided trends from an elite European cabal) but “reclaiming the lost culture of our fathers and grandfathers.” One could put on a well-fitting suit and tweed jacket in order to “dress like a grownup” instead of “following trends.”

But now we are in a post-Trad era. Many of its elements have won a position as basics of the decade’s style (jeans and oxford shirts aren’t going anywhere), but Trad is waning and #menswear muted. But by comparison, the new dominant style of fashion elites at the moment — I call it “drapey,” but “big silhouette” is common — is not going to explode the way Trad did. It lacks a compelling narrative beyond being “in style” nor has any links to tradition and subculture. There is no real plausible deniability to justify wearing drapey clothing. It is not dressing like your father: it’s dressing like a runway model.

Since the 1980s, Japanese fashion designers have enjoyed large cult followings, but the reason you could write a book about the rise of Japanese apparel in 2015 was because the dominant of global style of the previous years closely matched the core Japanese “Trad kingdom” narrative. In a more fashion-oriented (rather than style-oriented) era, Japanese designers will continue to do extremely well. But Korean or Hong Kong designers can also succeed in that world. Japan had a near monopoly on Trad, but certainly does not have one on pure fashion.

Ametora Extended

  • Popeye column: Ametora’s serialization in Popeye has started, with the Introduction in the September 2016 issue (“Rakugo and Jazz”) and Chapter One coming soon in the October 2016 issue (on Fashion). DU Books has now put up a page on Amazon Japan for the Japanese edition, set at the moment for a July 2017 release.
  • Footnotes for Chapter Four: Just posted on Medium collection, Ametora Extended.
  • Ametora-inspired art: The very talented Ryan Cecil Smith did a modern day L.A. hipsters take on the cover of the 1964 Heibon Punch debut.

Links for the Last Month

  • Popeye’s L.A. roots: The Los Angeles Times did a great article on Popeye’s forty-year anniversary and how L.A. culture shaped the magazine’s early direction. Rare interviews with original editor-in-chief Yoshihisa Kinameri and on-the-ground fixers Eric Inouye and Gordon Tani. (images of the Popeye issue)
  • Weaving Shibusa premiere: Esquire looks at Weaving Shibusa, a new documentary on Japanese denim.
  • Kamakura Shirts in GQ: Michael Williams (normally of A Continuous Lean) looks at the best cost-value deals in Tokyo for GQ and recommends Kamakura Shirts.
  • Japan saves the 505: Levi’s admits to Esquire that its design team had to go to a Japanese collector to find the exact deadstock 505 from 1976 to recreate the Ramones’ favorite model.
  • PRPS origins: Donwan Harrell of PRPS tells Heddels in a two part interview (part one, part two) how he found Japanese denim and started his own brand.
  • Classic HD sneakers: Put This On uses the Japanese Heavy Duty boom of the 1970s as a frame to list up classic sneakers.
  • Portland the next LA?: Atlas Obscura tries to explain why Portland is suddenly so popular in Japan. (Craft beer is having a nice moment in Tokyo.)