Wednesday, June 13, 2012

HALSEY and the PAPA, new projects adrift.

"I missed the fourth because of this ridiculously short red cap, I cant wait for the new Papa Nui's Combat Corsair Cap, it'll keep me flying on target".

I was hanging out in the hut adjacent to the Papa's manufacturing facility the other day, enjoying the early morning cool and unwinding from my dawn operations out at the islands' reef break, when all of a sudden Admiral Bull Halsey comes barging through the door, raging and storming like the old fog horn he is.

" Damn you Papa Nui and damn your hats! You montebank! You huckster! You dry goods salesman! Not only have I got half the base out of regulations wearing those ridiculous 'sun bonnets' of yours, but now I can't find a native anywhere on this godforsaken island to do a days work for the Navy because YOU, have the entire village employed to support your shenanigans!"

Old Halsey was a bullish man, a giant of tireless energy and brilliant mind, a commander who truly loved his men. He sighed deeply and then slumped into one of my chairs seemingly dejected.
"Admiral", I soothed, "Please, allow me to fix you a drink".

He raised an eyebrow as I poured him a shot of my locally distilled torpedo juice, tempered with just the right amount of coconut water and lime. Lifting the glass to his lips he refreshed his parched throat and then held me in his steely glare. " Papa", he said, " I'm worried about my fly boys. Those fearless lads are out in their Corsairs all day, mission after mission and what have they got for sun protection? Those piddly short brimmed mechanics caps, that's what! Why, just last week that incessant glare off the coral airstrip sent two of my boys off to the base hospital until their eyes recovered."

The Admiral sluiced the last of his drink and added, "That flimsy piece of HBT is all that stands between them and that damn Oriental sun and I wont stand for it Papa, I wont! For god sake man couldn't you design something that will protect my aviators?"

"Admiral", I said, I've got just the thing! How about a deeper crown and a more substantial peak? A multi-stitched wider brim clad out of our regulation OD herringbone twill with a sweatband and inner taping trimmed out in Marine pattern frog skin?

Halsey eyed me off and smiled, "Genius Papa, pure genius. Reduce the glare and keep my boys focused on them meatballs! Now get to it man, I want those caps as soon as possible! The coconut express sails in a few weeks and I want my aviators outfitted. Understood?
"Aye aye Sir", I replied as Halsey removed himself from my shack.

And so the task is set. The Papa assembles his crew, nimble fingered Marys, resourceful Sea bees. The 'union specials' are cranking and production begins day and night.

On the side however, the Papa produces a secret stash. Extras. Over runs from his Navy Supply contract. Enough additional caps to outfit his loyal battalion of followers. Soon the word will be out, coast watchers will signal the fleet but until then the Papa works tirelessly on, making those limited edition magnificent items for you to have. Stay tuned my friends, support the Papa effort and surf in freedom for those that can't.

Last Chance. BUY NOW!

Ahoy saliferous old salts, now is your last chance to add one of Papa's beach battalion hats to your kit. There's only a few sizes left in 57cm, 60cm and 61cm so let me know quick if want to get one. These wont last long so email the Papa NOW!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Critiquing the Market, lets be honest.

Today was one of those days when the combination of cold and rain drives you to find tasks around the house that you have been putting off for ages and so after an early morning paddle down at the Alley I decided it was time to get my bookshelves dusted and sorted.
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.

While sorting piles of books on flying jackets and early aviation I began to think about replica vintage clothing and about the rise in popularity of WWII leathers. I remember pawing over Avirex catalogs when they first came out and then how bitterly disappointed I was when I finally arrived in New York to visit the Cockpit and realised that their interpretation was not exactly an authentic take on the style. With this in mind I became pretty good at critiquing the market and calling companies out on their claims.

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.