Successful First Edition Of Avant Magazine
Eric Maggiori just launched his first edition of Avant Magazine. The magazine is picked up International by fans with an interest in the history of American workwear and blue jeans. The first edition is loaded with great stories, interviews, the most unique and rare pieces and so on. It gives a perfect overview of the authentic American workwear era.
The cover of Avant.
Eric Maggiori, founder Avant magazine.
Why Have The Japanese Become The Kings Of Americana?
Another sneak is this full article ‘Why have the Japanese become the Kings of Americana? which is published in the first edition of Avant. Thanks for sharing this full article, it gets you in the mood to read the entire magazine, so if you don’t own a copy yet, get it here. Enjoy!
It is no longer a secret in the world of vintage clothing: The Japanese have established themselves as the emperors of American vintage, but the reasons for this boundless passion are deeper than a mere fashion trend. Why have the Japanese done away with kimonos in favor of US army jackets? Story by Marie Fantozzi and Mathieu Rollinger.
Panners from the East traditionally dwelled the wide, open spaces of the American West. They were pioneers from New York City, Boston, Chicago, but also from far away Europe. Recently, astonishing globalization has caused a new ‘Gold Rush’ for American treasures now led by aficionados from Japan. As opposed to gold nuggets, they are after worn jeans, washed-out jackets, and faded caps; a complete ‘Good ol’ American’ costume, as seen in the past by those throughout the island. “1997 is the year I first saw a Japanese person in search of vintage clothing,” recalls Brit Eaton, one of the main American vintage dealers. “It was in a Floridian dress store. I was really broke back then and I had barely started in the business. I was trying to export about a hundred Levi’s to Norway. So I approached him like “Hey, are you Japanese? I have a bunch of Levi’s for you!” He is now among my best clients.”
Each curious traveler visiting the US to hunt and collect from the source is not alone: The Land of The Rising Sun houses the most important collectors of American vintage clothing, who can be found roaming warehouses, estate sales, and even social media. Most are very aware of the market prices and are willing to put big money into special items. “My favorite piece is my 1890s one-pocket Levi’s 501XX, or more generally, denim pants with buckle back. This buckle changes everything, it’s what makes the item rare, and thus expensive”, explains 42-year-old Katsumi Yamashita, owner of an impressive denim wear collection that captivates his 12.000-plus Instagram followers. His collection includes Levi’s, but also MA-1 Aviator jackets, wabash work jackets, Jack Star Converse shoes, trucker caps, etc.
All items “Made in USA” sell like hot cakes and for big money on the Japanese market. For many, American vintage is a passion and a common denominator for a generation of collectors: “When I was 14 [in 1997, Editor’s Note], vintage American fashion reached its peak in popularity,” recalls Naoki Inoue, 35, one of the most important Japanese collectors. “As I researched the topic, I started gaining knowledge. I was fascinated, and I haven’t come down from the high in 21 years.” This seems excessive, but it totally fits Japanese culture. “There is a certain Japanese passion for American culture which started in the 70’s and boomed in the 80’s and 90’s. Especially when it comes to clothes and fashion,” explains Tom Gruat, dealer of French vintage workwear. “Anything US-produced was the Holy Grail, be it sportswear, denim, music… In contradiction with the Samurai code of honor and the like.”
A Market Led With An Iron Fist
Obsessed with American vintage, there came a time when the Japanese determined the vintage market. They acquire the most goods, create and end trends, and also decided the prices. Tom Gruat summarizes the situation with a rhetorical question: “Who decided that Levi’s so-and-so from the 30’s would one day be worth 6000 dollars? The Japanese did.” With time, they even developed a monopoly. “It is said that nowadays, about 70% of vintage items are in the hands of Japanese collectors or resellers,” estimates Wouter Munnichs, who manages the denim-themed blog ‘Long John’. “Prices skyrocket and it is increasingly difficult to lay one’s hands on truly interesting pieces, since most are already in those of collectors that do not wish to sell them.” They also do business in a peculiar manner: Internet transactions are rare, and contact between American sellers and Japanese buyers are practically non-existent. “They would rather pay $6000 in Japan than 1000 bucks on the internet”, swears Tom Gruat. “The end client needs to see and touch the article, and hardly trusts westerners.”
This is why collectors and avid buyers seek the help of intermediaries like wholesalers or store managers who travel or live in the US. These middlemen are able to find the best stuff in-person and can then ship the goods to Japan. “Back then, I would travel to the West Coast in person to visit warehouses. But I now buy through other collectors”, confirms Hitoshi Tsujimoto, 58, collector, and director of the ‘The Real McCoy’s’ brand. “Many go to the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena”, adds Brit Eaton. “They get up at 4am to be first on site, equipped with flashlights.” Americans obviously understand there is profit to be made. “From the prospectors who browse through old storehouses for old pieces, to the guys who go out exploring mines and abandoned farms, all know the Japanese are those who pay the most for their finds”, explains Wouter Munnichs. “A guy recently found a very rare 1890 Levi’s, which was sold for around $90.000.”
The Occupiers’ Clothes
To understand the reasons behind the enthusiasm of the Japanese, we only need to look back a few decades. In September of 1945, as World War II comes to an end, the US begins to settle in and occupy a weakened and destroyed Japan. With democracy and economic renewal in mind, hundreds of thousands of US troops take up residence in the country until 1952; the year American occupation officially ends. Meanwhile, Hollywood is consecrating rebellious figures like Marlon Brando and James Dean – admired for their authenticity, wearing the signature white t-shirt, blue jeans, leather boots, and Perfecto to prove it. All the American ‘soft power’ had to do was reach a Japanese youth in search of new ideals and cultural reference points. Aviator jackets, blue jeans, Aloha shirts, Ray-Ban sunglasses, and Marlboro cigarettes thus become the newest objects of desire. “After the war, the Japanese dressed in bootleg clothing, clothing made from pieces of fabric, or US army surplus”, writes Kaya Tsujita, PhD in history from the EHESS (France), in her book “Esthétique du quotidien au Japon” (“Everyday esthetics in Japan”, 2014, Éditions du Regard). “The Japanese basically shifted from 1920’s kimonos to Western clothing” summarizes Tiffany Godoy, an American columnist specializing in Japanese fashion. “The youth of the 60’s are the first to adopt the occupiers’ fashion. In 1963, The Beatles play their first Japanese concert. Then in 1964, Japan hosts the Olympic Games. Those events touched a generation open to Western influence, looking towards the future.”
These collectors are now mostly in their thirties or forties and remember American culture leaving its mark on their childhoods. “I obviously love American cinema and music” candidly admits Naoki Inoue. According to Hitoshi Tsujimoto, his passion for American style began in 1976, thanks to American films; also because American brands catered to tall people like him better than Japanese brands. He mischievously adds: “Being passionate about fashion from a country your homeland fought against can seem ironic, but it has never bothered me. One must admit that Americans buying American vintage clothing from the Japanese is equally amusing.”
Seeing Beauty In Wear And Tear
In order to cater to these young, bad boy-wannabe esthetes in search of proper outfits, several magazines quickly become must-reads in the field. Leading the march are books such as “Lightning” or “Clutch”. These kinds of publications are what fueled the passion in young Japanese people. However, Katsumi Yamashita adds “many people have embraced this style, but few know it well enough to tell precious pieces from obsolete ones”. The true aficionado’s Bible is the work of Rin Tanaka: “My Freedamn!” Since the early 2000’s, this Japanese journalist and photographer worked on compiling every clothing style found in the “world’s top superpower” — surfers, rockabilly, bikers — through a series of self-published books. However, Japan’s growing interest in American fashion is more prosaically due to textile quality than anything else. “If you compare clothes back then — especially in the 50’s — to clothes now, quality was way better. People were after quality rather than cheap, short-lived stuff”, analyzes Wouter Munnichs. If you compare worker’s jeans made by Levi’s in the beginning of the last century to present-day Bangladeshi-made H&M jeans, it’s a no-brainer. “Those archetypal looks are a perfect balance between stylishness and functionality, and still inspire brands. This is a recurrent feature in Japanese culture in general”, adds Tiffany Godoy.
Indeed an important cultural feature of Japan, this balance is referred to as ‘wabi sabi’, “the very essence of Japanese beauty”, as reminded by Japan consultant Myriam Tholomet in ‘Esthétiques du quotidien au Japon’. “This concept illustrates the key notions of Japanese esthetics: wabi, or peaceful simplicity, and sabi, or patina.” In other words, ultimate style lies in simplicity rather than in the ostentatious. The wear of time is not to be hidden: it should be appreciated with wisdom. This is what Katsumi Yamashita refers to when he explains that it is less about American culture that fascinates him, rather that he is “crazy for objects like those jeans getting old to the point of becoming art pieces”. It is not surprising to see some Japanese people, called ‘vintage otaku’, become nostalgic and put the old objects of their youth on a pedestal, and when it comes to fashion, America is the quintessence of coolness.
The intrinsically Japanese quest for perfection has led them to want vintage that is better than the real thing. Having stocked up on second hand clothes from the States, Hitoshi Tsujimoto naturally created his own brand in the 80’s: The Real McCoy’s. A brand ‘made in Japan’ tediously reproducing flagship pieces of clothing from the American-themed fashion of the time: The horse leather, A2 Aviator jacket (sold for around 2000$), or the M65 khaki cotton vest, just like the one Robert De Niro confidently sports in ‘Taxi Driver’; it is a smart move in the context of the fetishization and subsequent rarefaction of the original items of clothing. Before him, five Japanese brands — Evisu, Studio d’Artisan, FullCount, Denime, and Warehouse, referred to as the ‘Osaka 5’ — created reputations for themselves by appropriating the iconic Levi’s 501. “One could perhaps even say that the Japanese have become better manufacturers of denim than the Americans”, theorizes Wouter Munnichs.
Tom Downey, an American journalist, also came to this conclusion in an article on the Americana craze in Japan, published in Smithsonian Magazine (2012): “The best examples of Japanese Americana aren’t mere copies of American culture: Levels of refinement and appreciation for the subject matter rarely equaled in America distinguish them from other productions. They allow us to reflect on our culture through an enlightening prism of foreignness.” The student has surpassed the master.
However, it feels like the Japanese are starting to dry up the Americana well, as trends usually die out in three-year cycles. “Trends shift as stocks vary. Once everything is sold there is a break”, admits Tom Gruat. “The trend is no longer to look like a rocker a la James Dean or a biker a la Marlon Brando. Rather, people are interested in the 1900’s to 1920’s pioneer look.” A new generation of collectors is now becoming interested in the fashion heritage of a different continent: Europe. “Japanese people between 20 and 25 love ‘made in France’ fashion” explains Tom Gruat from his Parisian showroom. “The two things they like best about France are its ‘working class’ vibe, and the image of the old, French peasant. A dude wearing a beret is what best represents France to them. And this is the kind of vibe they’re looking for in their clothes.” It is a brand new market where everything is to be redefined… Before the Japanese start selling top notch, French-style, striped jerseys to the French. — MF and MR gathered all words, save mentions.
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