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.


  1. I agree with you! I was very excited when I discovered the Japanese producers, but over time I have really come to the line changes. Maybe it is a market and competition among manufacturers. That I could write more, but I feel just like you!

  2. on the same page PAPA. beside working in Japan,we definitely have the same background ....i smiled when you talked about the cockpit ,as i had the same reaction in the 80's ,when i went to their NY store with great expectations...
    thx for the nice plug .just hope i'll be able to deliver all the way ....
    talk to you soon ..hasta luego amigo

  3. Love your Eastman A-2 by the way.
    These guys are right up there and I love the way they just do great jackets without the associated fluff!

  4. Well now the pressure is really on. Lol.

  5. Great to hear more about your story, Papa. I arrived at Evis as Yamane was starting to believe his own hype, but was still savvy enough to hire out the talent of the then defunkt McCoys that teh new Nylon management couldnt inspire to stay. I learnt from guys who would have been your contemporaries, sadly just in time to see the industry start to die a commercial death. Luckily I still am in contact with Ishizuka from RMc, so now I can afford my A2's, there is still The Few to buy them from.
    wish I wasnt so far away, would be good to catch up again..


  6. I agree Old Salt, the Few still has heaps of integrity and Masa-san was always the nicest gentleman, he was the best of the MCCoys original line up.

  7. I really appreciated this. Thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts into words and by doing so mentioning some of the good people around.

    Again, thanks.