The Ivy Trendwatch and prep-for-the-masses have been hit with a massive setback as JC Penney has finally pulled the plug on its disastrous budget-prep collection American Living, created in partnership with Ralph Lauren.
When the collection launched in 2008, I was living in Los Angeles and went to the department store to have a look. I think the typical customer demographic for Penney’s was bewildered by pastel sportswear emblazoned with anchors, patch-madras shorts, and pink oxfords. Let’s face it, preppy clothing, no matter how watered-down, will always have class connotations.
Meanwhile, parsimonious trads embraced the marked-down prices but found the bulbous logos obnoxious.
The collection could have found a following among poor college students looking for preppy basics on the cheap, but again the overly-logoed merchandise prevented that. What kid wants to sport the logo of a downmarket brand? Consumers love cheap (H&M, Uniqlo, Zara) but not cheap logos (Old Navy being the rare exception, perhaps because the words “old” and “navy” convey an illusion of distinction).
I’ll admit to owning a pair or two of American Living shorts to wear on the tennis court, but can’t seem to find them in my closet. I must have purged them when I got down to fighting weight.
Either that or they fell apart. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
The global Ivy Trendwatch continues as a Japanese publisher has re-released “Take 8 Ivy,” photographer Teruyoshi Hayashida’s follow-up to his 1965 tome “Take Ivy.”
Sequels are rarely as good as first offerings, and while “Take Ivy” captured the last rays of twilight of the heyday of the Ivy League Look, “Take 8 Ivy” is devoted to a 20-year span, most of it the 1970s. Needless to say, things had changed significantly. (Continue)
Last weekend I met up with Ivy Style contributors Zachary DeLuca and Jason Marshall for two of the smaller menswear trade shows. The highlight was a long session with Crittenden Rawlings, a longtime business associate of my girlfriend’s.
“Critt,” as he’s known by friends and colleagues, is a menswear industry veteran who came out of retirement a few years ago and manufactures clothing for a number of specialty stores. Currently based in Kentucky, Critt previously worked for Norman Hilton (who he said had “the best taste in the history of American menswear”) and Ralph Lauren.
Last season I had a look at a prototype sportcoat based on a classic Ivy pattern, and was happy to learn that the project is steaming along. While we were there, two members from J. Press (the US general manager and a designer from Press’ Japan division) were meeting with Critt, so you may see his jackets in J. Press stores this fall. (Continue)
Just five years ago, 1965 photo book “Take Ivy” was a rarity. Most sat proudly on the book shelves of Ivy fans in Japan, with a few battered copies showing up time to time on Japanese auction sites for absurd prices. But now thanks to Men’s Club and powerHouse Books’ recent reprints, T. Hayashida’s photos of Ivy League students and their classic style have become available to everyone.
There remains, however, one part of the “Take Ivy” story still confined to the realm of myth and shadow: a 16mm film taken of the campuses in conjunction with the photos.
Mystery solved? The latest issue of Oily Boy — a seasonal fashion publication for Baby Boomer guys — includes eight whole minutes of Take Ivy film footage in a DVD insert. The eight minutes, mostly from Dartmouth college, show college students in late spring riding around on bikes, attending class, eating at a cafeteria, and rowing, all to a soundtrack from jazz legend Hachidai Nakamura. Rather than straight documentary, many of the segments have narrative frames and appear to have been staged for the camera.
Despite the limited footage, the film does achieve its main goal of capturing the style of elite students in the U.S. We see university stripe button-down oxford shirts, light khakis, and madras galore. The 16mm, however, tends to capture a wider set of people than Hayashida’s carefully framed snaps, so you see some less than canonical looks: bare feet, red baseball jerseys, hooded sweatshirts, etc. Some of the students actually look as slovenly as current Ivy Leaguers — the only difference being that you don’t see students smoking in section anymore. The professors and adults meanwhile are the ones in tweed jackets, rep ties, bow ties, and Shetland sweaters. Maybe they’re the true fashion icons for our current fashion epoch.
Last year I had talked about the film with Shosuke Ishizu, son of legendary VAN founder Kensuke Ishizu. He confirmed that director Ozawa Kyo shot it simultaneously while Hayashida took the photos. Apparently there is almost two hours of footage, which besides the jazz score, included some voice-overs that explain what is happening on screen. The film does exist in 16mm format (VAN’s copy was heavily damaged but they have recently discovered a cleaner version), but the Oily Boy DVD is a muddy video tape transfer. I am guessing it comes from the VHS version, which was made for VAN employees at some point in the 1980s. Ishizu said that there were still some legal rights issues with the Nakamura soundtrack that prevented a full-out DVD release. Even when they show the film to Ivy meet-ups in Tokyo these days, they just play the VHS.
The entire point of producing the Take Ivy film was to have promotional footage for the VAN brand to explain Ivy League style to its dedicated retailers across Japan. To that end, they debuted the film at a a giant party held for their distributors and retailers in August 1965, renting out the entire Asasaka Prince Hotel. They then took the film on tour across Japan; the local VAN retailer would set up a venue, and the VAN guys brought the film and a band to do a live score. (Here’s an invite for one held in Osaka.)
Included in the Oily Boy DVD is also a short present-day discussion between two of the men behind Take Ivy — the aforementioned Shosuke Ishizu and Toshiyuki Kurosu, the young employee at VAN who pushed VAN into a youth-oriented Ivy style direction. A few of their memories:
• They set out on May 23, 1965 to shoot the Ivy league schools over two weeks, but ended up not getting to Cornell and U. Penn at all.
• They spent most time at Dartmouth and found it the most welcoming. Kurosu conjectures that it was because the school had just done a “Japan Week” and was also the alma mater of Olympic skier Chiharu Igaya.
• The timing of the shoot was summer vacation, so not many people were around. But the Dartmouth crew coach kindly set up the entire rowing sequence just for them to film.
• They were most impressed with the school cafeterias, as that self-service food style had not come to Japan yet.
• They were also shocked with how casual the students’ style was: untucked shirts, sneakers with no socks. At the time being fashionable as a Japanese youth meant wearing a suit and carrying an umbrella.
• Kurosu came up with the title “Take Ivy” from the Dave Brubeck album “Take Five,” but Paul Hasegawa, who is fluent in English and worked with them at VAN, complained that the pun would make no sense to native speakers. Kurosu admits that his complete lack of English ability allowed him to come up with that name.
• When the brand VAN was getting into trouble with the Tsukiji police for instigating the Miyuki-zoku youth culture, Kurosu went to the police station and showed the “Take Ivy” film to the cops. They ended up liking it and set up a venue for them so they could show it to the Miyuki-zoku kids, and then to get Ishizu of VAN to tell the troublesome kids to stop hanging out in Ginza.
It’s worth remembering that Ishizu, Hayashida, and Kurosu were pushing something very radical at the time in Japan. VAN took a massive bet re-tooling their brand in the mid-1960s from a traditional adult suits brand to the Ivy look. They had a lot of commercial pressure to create these authentic photos and films to win over the Japanese public, as well as stockists, distributors, and retailers. The project ended up being a huge success — and Ivy league style basically invented an entire “youth fashion” market in Japan that remains vibrant to this days. What they didn’t quite know at the time is that this very commercial mission to the U.S. would end up creating one of the most critical archival materials of Ivy League fashion nearly a half-century later. — W. DAVID MARX
W. David Marx is a writer living in Tokyo whose work has appeared in GQ, Brutus, Nylon, and Best Music Writing 2009, among other publications. He is currently Chief Editor of web journal Néojaponisme and formerly an editor of Tokion and the Harvard Lampoon.
Much news in Tradsville over the past week. First up is the “Take Ivy” movie, which I’ve just finished watching. A DVD of it is included in the current issue of the Japanese magazine Oily Boy. A friend in Japan ripped and uploaded it, but asked that I not share. Sorry, guys.
The film is essentially the book but in moving pictures. There’s a jazz soundtrack. Looks to have been shot entirely at Dartmouth. Though it’s only nine minutes, it’s professionally shot (not a Super 8 home movie). At the end there’s an interview, presumably with the photographer Hayashida. I’ll have my girlfriend translate and share any interesting trivia. Overall, it’s very cool.
Next up, I attended the book signing party for Bruce Boyer’s new tome on Gary Cooper, and tout le menswear monde was there. I spent a long time chatting with the curator from the museum at FIT, whom I hadn’t spoken with since dropping out of their Ivy League Look project for budgetary reasons. The book and exhibit are indeed on and are scheduled for September of next year, so start making your travel plans. And they may end up using some of my longer pieces, such as the Q&As for Ivy Style with Richard Press, Paul Winston, etc. More on that as it develops.
And the books keep coming. One of my colleagues at Quest is bringing out a book shortly about the Ivy League. There’s a chapter devoted to capturing the spirit of each school, and I’ve been told there are many photos from the Ivy heyday. I hope to present an exclusive when the publisher is ready.
And speaking of books, last night I went through “Hollywood and the Ivy Look,” the new book out of the UK. The photos are fantastic and I’ll elaborate further in a future post.
The Independent did the typical fluff piece pegged on the book; you can tell it’s from the UK from the word “supposedly” in the following paragraph:
In menswear, where things change with the speed of a ponderous tectonic plate, few modes of dress have remained so insidiously influential over the past 50 years as what people now talk about as the Ivy League look. That is, the squeaky-clean, supremely preppy and indefatigably American style vernacular that supposedly emanated from the US’s top-flight colleges in the 1950s, and was disseminated worldwide by sharply dressed Hollywood stars such as Steve McQueen, Sidney Poitier and Cary Grant in the following decades.
I contributed some fluff of my own for the Singapore newspaper The Straits Times, which recently did a story pegged on Jeffrey Banks and Doria de la Chapelle’s new preppy book. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD