Thursday, March 11, 2010

Japanese repro-authenticity: The push and pull of vintage clothing

As a follow-up to my previous entry on heritage brands, I thought it would be especially relevant to mention the pivotal role of the Japanese in the resurrection of "authentic" vintage styles, makes and brands. The Japanese are masters of finding, exhuming and preserving vintage clothing and the original brands associated with them, often in a much more detailed, appreciative way than their originating host cultures.

Free & Easy is a magazine that is similar to other "product-obsessed" magazines published in Japan such as Antenna. The January 2009 edition is a catalog-like paean to vintage US military apparel and speaks to the centrality of product lore and heritage for the Japanese consumer. History works in strange ways. Remember things were a bit different in the not so distant past - the US and Japan were locked in mortal combat just 65 years ago. Perhaps progress is measured, strangely enough, in the transmission of clothes. Of course, pessimists will note that cultural regress is measurable in sartorial terms as well.

Free & Easy Jan 09 - M-1943 field jacket

Free & Easy Jan 09 - USAF flying jacket B-15

The Japanese are also masters of what I call "reproduced authenticity" (or repro-authenticity). As I wrote earlier, the Japanese often acquire specialized artisanal training overseas and then bring them back home, whether in the form of Western wear workshops or denim production in the Okayama prefecture of Japan. They are arguably the originators of what is now called "heritage chic" or, even further up the value chain, heritage production and craftmanship.

Below are scans from the December 2009 issue, dedicated entirely to American and Canadian work boots such as Red Wing, Wesco, White's and VIberg.

Free & Easy Dec 09 - Red Wing boots

Note the cataloguing of different boot styles - engineer, cowboy, Wellington, desert, chukka, Jodhpur.

Free & Easy Dec 09 - Boot styles

The Japanese are also very proficient in incorporating vintage products into contemporary looks. This is taking inspiration from established styles in the past and mixing the old with the new. An example of this mixing is the hale and hearty tweed Norfolk jacket below, which is paired with very soft, lambskin two-tone leather gloves.

Free & easy Jan 10 norfolk jacket

Free & Easy Jan 10 - FE Warehouse tweed

Additional links
- Pitti Uomo fall/winter 2010 collections featuring Engineered Garments, M and TS(S)
- Blogger Boomerang Table on Free & Easy Magazine
- Free & Easy's retail store in Tokyo called Rugged Museum
- NY Times article on Japanese denim

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