If you really want to assess who you are, your hobbies, interests and passions, a review of your book collection can be a great way to validate the person you've become. I came across some beauties in my collection that made me reflect on how long I've held some of my interests and how in an age of pre-Internet I came to learn about the things that I love.
Arriving in Tokyo in the early 1990's with a note book full of addresses and hand drawn maps that Id gleaned from Lightning magazine I finally found my way to the Real McCoys Rough Riders store which was a pokey little hole in the wall store that was a adjacent to the Daikanyama railway station. I stood in that tiny space completely dumbfounded, my eyes wild while trying to absorb all that was for sale in there. Racks and racks of A-2's, G-1's and heavier sheep skin B-3's and D-1's lined the walls. I was completely overwhelmed. As is usually the case there is so much going on that you end up in a bind as to what to spend your money on. I think this time I kept it very simple. I had a very limited budget and so I just bought a whistle, some tees and a pair of goatskin flying gloves. I would certainly make up for this on subsequent visits when I moved up to Tokyo for work.
The McCoys at this point were perhaps the most relevant vintage replica company anywhere in the world. There were others however that sat on the peripherals that were equally proficient like Pherrows and Buzz Rickson and even the original conception of Evis produced some amazingly beautiful garments. These companies were everything that I came to associate with integrity and authenticity and for many years I was a die hard customer. Sometime during the 2000's I began to feel uneasy about many of these Japanese companies and the direction that they were taking or not taking as the case may have been. The McCoys underwent a strange break up of partnerships that is forever difficult to understand unless you are an insider and rumours ran amok that the president had squandered the profits on ridiculous things including a B-17 bomber. As it happened a new Real McCoys / Toys McCoys emerged but it was different with Hiroshi Okamoto at the helm gone was the feeling of ultra authenticity and stripped down military utilitarianism and what replaced it was an air of safeness, a cutesy world of Disney characters and the over exploited Felix the Cat icon that smacked of the same Japanese-ness that exploits Hello Kitty or Captain Santa, essentially I felt the Real McCoys had become the Cockpit, over indulgent, over detailed and overpriced.
Buzz Rickson soon followed suit. The difference was in the details or perhaps too much details, not the quality but the execution, t-shirt prints changed from period correct water based ink stencil types on wonderfully thin authentic fitting garments to ridiculously heavy cotton yarns decorated with designs front back and both sleeves in plastisol thick inks more akin to commercial street brands or even worse to those mock military tees that are all over ebay and aimed squarely at military moms or veteran dads. This is not to say that in 'general' either company were not putting out some nice jackets and other vintage garments but I really felt that the essence, their very soul seemed misplaced or tired and that all that was left was to flog a dead horse albeit 20 years down the track
What I found truly interesting however was as the same time as the top become self indulgent and stagnant the middle ground opened up with a new swag of up and coming manufacturers and companies whose enthusiasm soon surpassed anything the big two could develop. Among these were the Japanese owned Bootleggers Reunion / Freewheelers and the iconic John Lofgren brand.
These two arrived at a time when there was a huge resurgence in the interest in heritage style garments, vintage denim and in the face of rampant commercialism, quality and soul. What made all this more interesting was that these two brands were focused on garments other than the military jacket market. While the McCoys may have capitalised on work wear with their Joe McCoy sub brand they had in reality only scratched the surface with recreating the era, but the Bootleggers, they kicked the door in and took it to another level, focusing on the earliest turn of the century styling and on garments so rare and unusual that they exist only in the best archival collections assembled in vaults. Their take on work wear and their unique interpretation of outdoor goods was revolutionary. They had tapped into a global vibe that was happening in the cyber space of collectors blogs and very small enthusiast brands. Instead of a focus on WWII leathers this new batch of vintage stars were tapping into 1920's and 1930's civilian styling.
Leading the pack here was David Himel's Himel Brothers Leathers out of Canada and his superb take on the A-1 or civilian Cossack style jacket,
but also awaiting in the wings are the developments of French American Patrick Segui of the Riveted blog fame and his amazing versions of half belted back leathers. Patrick is one of those rare individuals who has a great understanding of the Vintage American apparel industry through years of exhaustive research and investigation and flea market and vintage store scouring. The biggest stand out however would have to be John Lofgren.
John is a Californian native living in Japan and taking the Japanese on at their own game. In the past few years John Lofgren has grown to surpass the Japanese reputation by his excellent taste and out of the box thinking. Focusing on American work wear he brings to the table an honesty and integrity of product that shines as a beacon of how things should be done and that flies in the face of the overly commercialised and childishly 'kawaii' product selection shown in the lines currently being produced under the guidance of the McCoys Hiroshi Okamoto. John is not in the big league by any stretch, nor is David Himel or any of the dozen or so manufacturers that exist outside of Japan, however collectively they are offering a very new and fresh take on the vintage replica market and have breathed a new life into something that in general the Japanese have failed to capitalise on.