Monday, 27 March 2017

Albert Thurston Braces since 1820

In 1820, five years before Nelsons Column was built (to celebrate his life and death on the 21st October 1805 at the battle of Trafalgar) braces and suspenders were first made and sold by Albert Thurston from his emporium at 27 Panton Street, Haymarket, London. If you want to know whether any of your ancestors fought on the British side at Trafalgar click here Trafalgar
the Great Exhibition in Hyde ParkThirty one years later, in 1851, the nation celebrated the Victorian era, when the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park. Albert Thurston received an Honourable Mention for the excellent standard of their products.
By now, Albert Thurston had become a by-word for quality in gentlemens' accessories, and their braces and suspenders were destined to be sported by kings, princes, presidents and successful businessmen across the world over the next 2 centuries.
Into the twentieth century, Thurston's reputation for quality and style has continued to grow.When asked for his reaction to the outbreak of war in 1939, actor Sir Ralph Richardson replied that he had gone straight to his tailor on Savile Row and purchased half a dozen pairs of Thurston braces in case they might be in short supply. “

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Vivienne Westwood, Get a Life and the The Climate Revolution

A collection of diary entries by fashion designer and political activist Vivienne Westwood, Get a Life is a fresh, unpredictable look at the life of one of the most influential artists and campaigners of our times. Spanning six years of Climate Revolution, fashion and activism, the book is as provocative as you would expect from Britain’s punk dame.
"My diaries are about the things I care about. Not just fashion but art and writing, human rights, climate change, freedom", Westwood said. "I call the diaries Get a Life as that's how I feel: you've got to get involved, speak out and take action."

 How Vivienne Westwood fell in love with Prince Charles
A T-shirt emblazoned with an image of the heir to the throne might not seem like the likeliest showpiece from Vivienne Westwood’s AW15 collection – but perhaps the pair have more in common than we thought …

Morwenna Ferrier
Monday 19 January 2015 14.38 GMT Last modified on Monday 19 January 2015 14.52 GMT

For a designer who has long used the establishment as a frame of reference for reaction, Vivienne Westwood – the anti-monarchist, anti-establishment, godmother of punk – dedicating her autumn/winter 2015 collection to Prince Charles in celebration of his environmental work was always going to polarise fans.

“I want to pay tribute to Prince Charles,” wrote Westwood on a set of briefing notes (emblazoned with an image of Charles in a beret) given to guests at her autumn/winter 2015 menswear show in Milan. “If Prince Charles had ruled the world according to his priorities during the last 30 years, we would be alright and we would be tackling climate change.”

The T-shirts, worn under blazers and by Westwood herself, are part of a Westwood perennial of using fashion as a political vehicle; fans might recall tops embellished with “I Am Not a Terrorist” for civil-rights charity Liberty, and an entire collection in 2013 dedicated to Chelsea Manning. The rest of the collection, though, was relatively staid for the designer, referencing traditional royal sartorial norms: sharp Savile Row-style tailored suits, trad brocade florals on blazers and coats in a houndstooth print.

Given Westwood’s history with the royal family – she has twice attended Buckingham Palace with no knickers on, and has regularly goaded the establishment in various ways over the past forty years – this homage might seem implausible. But she recently set her targets on the environment, and previously endorsed Prince Charles, saying he had done an amazing amount in this world.

Charles has long been an outspoken environmentalist, and was recently handed increasing responsibility of the Queen’s Sandringham estate as part of the “gentle succession”. He is expected to use the land to implement more changes, including organic farming, an activity Westwood has backed with equal candour.

It’s evidence of the designer’s continued move away from her roots. After all, along with her partner Malcolm Mclaren, she played a pivotal role in establishing the punk scene in the late 1970s and has previously described her motivation for adopting anti-establishment messages into her collections as “an heroic attempt to confront the older generation”. But as Westwood knows, the medium is the message – and what better way to send it home that by subverting expectation?

Vivienne Westwood by Vivienne Westwood & Ian Kelly, review: 'fabulously, fetishistically brilliant'
The life of Vivienne Westwood is told as an uproarious picaresque romp by Beau Brummell's biographer

By Philip Hoare1:00PM BST 25 Oct 2014

The Seventies may seem like another age, but it was not the decade that taste forgot. It was an era that utterly reinvented the modern world. In almost every aspect of culture, from politics to pop, the status quo was overturned. And in the fast-moving arts of music and fashion you could detect those tectonic shifts most distinctly. Bolan, Bowie and Roxy Music reconfigured the way an ordinary suburban boy such as myself could imagine the future. They evoked a retro-glamorous, science-fiction world, an epoch defined by George Melly’s Revolt into Style as a third period of pop culture, “its noisy and brilliant decadence” lighting up “the contemporary landscape as if by a series of magnesium flares”.
It is that landscape that Ian Kelly examines in Vivienne Westwood. As a practised, deft biographer, he’s already given us flash-lit lives of Beau Brummell and Casanova – and is thus a perfect match for the Enlightenment figure Vivienne Westwood aspires to be. The book is billed “as told to”, but one gets the impression it was one long stream-of-consciousness rant, careering off on an uproarious picaresque romp through a wild and often unaccountable life. Holding a legend to account is Kelly’s dilemma – and his skill. He accomplishes it by the skin of his buckskin breeches, with a wit and humour of his own.
In 1976, newly arrived at college on the outskirts of London, I’d make my pilgrimage down to the darker, emptier end of King’s Road, home to the black hole that was sex – announced by huge letters in what Kelly dubs “condom pink”. It took a lot of courage to cross that threshold. In the dim interior stood the intimidating figure of Jordan – the first person to receive an Arts Council grant for being herself. With her peroxide punk beehive, Kandinsky make-up and PVC fetish wear, Jordan was the living symbol of Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s startling new aesthetic. Indeed, the entire staff of the shop were Warholian superstars, awaiting their 15 minutes of fame, from Chrissie Hynde and Glen Matlock to Midge Ure and Toyah Willcox.
This was, recognisably, the birth of something – though we weren’t quite sure what. Scaffolding rails were hung with jumpers which were little more than nets knitted by giants, and bondage trousers with strapped knees and zips that ran right up your backside. This was more hardware than fashion; less style than anthropology, dealing in notions of tribalism and myth; more James Frazer’s Golden Bough than Vogue editorial. Towelling flaps slung around the groin were vestigial loincloths. Tartan kilts became pleated symbols. Gender was blurred and heightened. “Sex,” Westwood tells Kelly, “translated into fashion becomes fetish… the very embodiment of youth’s assumption of immortality.”
These clothes frightened people. I had to save up for a shirt roughly stitched together out of muslin with elongated, straitjacket sleeves and a screen-printed inverted crucifix over a swastika. It offended everyone, including me. But I wore it because Johnny Rotten did – indeed, Westwood claims she was as much the inventor of the Sex Pistols as McLaren. When Anarchy in the UK erupted, she tells Kelly, “the idea and the title were mine”. (Mr Rotten has since declared Westwood’s claim to be “audacity of the highest order”.)

Vivienne Westwood's autobiography, book review
By Vivienne Westwood and Ian Kelly

Andrew Wilson Thursday 9 October 2014 13:12 BST

Vivienne Westwood was at school when she wrote her first autobiography. Since then she has made various attempts to document the extraordinary story of her life, from the child of working class parents in Derbyshire to the mother of punk and later the creator of a global luxury brand.

Some time after meeting her friend Gary Ness in 1977 she collaborated with the ‘Canadian homosexual aesthete’ on a fifty-page memoir that they later set aside. Then in 1993 she asked the fashion historian and journalist Jane Mulvagh to write her life story, a project that Mulvagh accepted on condition that the designer did not vet the manuscript before publication. Westwood soon had second thoughts and promptly withdrew the offer of co-operation. On the publication in 1998 of Mulvagh’s insightful book the designer described the unauthorised biography as ‘a lot of rubbish’.

After this debacle, Westwood’s husband, Andreas Kronthaler - whom she met while teaching in Austria - insisted Vivienne write her own book to set the record straight. ‘I said the last thing I want to do is write about myself,’ she told an interviewer recently. And so it was that this new book was born, a publication trumpeted as a memoir but written by an amanuensis, the actor and biographer Ian Kelly (whose previous subjects have included Casanova and Beau Brummell). The resulting volume is a strange hybrid, neither memoir nor critical biography, and its beautiful pages emit the distinct odour of hagiography.

One of the problems of the book - thankfully mostly confined to the opening chapter - is the insistence of Kelly to place himself in the story. Phrases such as ‘My Year of Magical Blinging’ - a reference to the year the author spent interviewing and shadowing Westwood - and ‘the business that is show’ really grated, and I didn’t care how little sleep Kelly had during Paris Fashion Week.

The pace begins to pick up with the introduction of Westwood’s own voice about thirty pages into the book as she details her childhood. Here, we learn fascinating details that suggest that her character had been largely formed at an early age: she had a precocious visual memory, believed that she could make a pair of shoes at the age of five and, from the beginning, she was something of a rebel and non-conformist. She remembers being in the back of her aunt’s greengrocer’s shop when she was a girl and seeing a representation of the Crucifixion on a calendar. Her cousin Eileen told her about the death of Jesus Christ, which up until that point had been kept from her. ‘I could not believe that there were people in the world who could do this,’ she recalled. ‘And the truth of it is this: I became Derbyshire’s only five-year-old freedom fighter! Dedicated to opposing persecution!’

Kelly is particularly good at documenting Westwood’s co-creation of the British punk movement and her toxic partnership with Malcolm McLaren, the red-haired, pale-faced (courtesy of talcum powder) Situationist who helped change the course of 20th-century fashion and music. (It’s a shame, however, he gets the date of the first Sex Pistols gig at St Martin’s wrong: it was 6 November 1975, not 1976.) Incisive testimonies from Westwood’s two sons, Ben (from her first marriage) and Joe (the product of the relationship with McLaren) as well as her brother Gordon (who introduced Vivienne to Malcolm) reveal McLaren to have been an abusive control freak. Although the biographer has had access to Westwood’s inner circle (complete with anodyne quotes from a number of models, PRs and fashion insiders) there are some notable absences. For instance, Vivienne talks about her first husband Derek Westwood, but the man himself does not have a voice.

Kelly also passes over certain events that are crying out for more analysis and interpretation. For instance, on the way to have an abortion (paid for by McLaren’s eccentric grandmother Rose) Vivienne changed her mind and used the money to buy herself a cashmere sweater and a matching piece of fabric from which she created a skirt. I would have liked more on this, more on the psychology of fashion, the deep-seated reasons why Westwood felt so drawn to clothes. ‘Nothing from the past is entirely true,’ she told Kelly. ‘But you are only in those scenes properly when they are put together. That’s what we should do, you and I, Ian: sew together all the life scenes.’ In this respect, Kelly is a competent tailor, but my guess is that in the future there will be other, more adventurous seamstresses who will come along to unpick and restitch the Westwood story.

Andrew Wilson's biography of Alexander McQueen will be published in February (Simon & Schuster)

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.
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.”