When I was in college, I worked part-time tutoring foreign students in English. One Japanese guy became kind of a pal, and during a conversation one day he said, “The way it works is that America comes up with an idea and Japanese make it better.”
I was only 20 at the time and this was the pre-Internet stone age. I’d never had a conversation with someone from another country who dared question America’s supremacy at most things except men’s soccer. It stirred a certain patriotic knee reflex — not that I kicked him in the groin or anything. But I still remember it.
Somewhere around this time I would have seen on VHS the ’80s comedy about Japanese automakers in the US, I think it’s called “Gung Ho,” in which Michael Keaton tells his Japanese bosses that if by miracle they had an original idea, it’d be too deeply lodged in their uptight asses for them to ever get it out.
This is rambling preamble to an interview with David Marx that GQ posted a few days ago; they titled the piece “How Japan Beat America At Its Own Style Game.” Does that strike you as clickbait for denimheads and Ivy geeks, or is my knee just getting twitchy again? I’d say the Japanese are doing with J. Press just a tad better than the Italians are doing with Brooks Brothers.
The Marx interview is naturally pegged on his new book “Ametora.” Here’s a sample exchange:
In the book, you introduce [the book] Take Ivy as one of the first major influences on Japanese style.
Ivy started it. And you’re starting from scratch. At the time, Japan wasn’t getting much influence from America, because it was so closed off to the world. After [World War II], you couldn’t go overseas very easily for about 20 years, until around 1964. And even then, it was super expensive until the late ’80s. Take Ivy was one of the first books that brought American style to Japan. After that, the commercial world started picking up on hippie style and outdoor style, but Ivy is really where the system starts, and I think that’s why Ivy League style has become so venerated. It’s not just a certain style of the ’60s, but it was the start of the men’s style in Japan.
Head over here for the full interview, and let’s make American trad great again. — CC
Top image LIFE Magazine.