Golden Years: Sayonara To Old Nassau

Jacobi Press opened his Princeton branch on Nassau Street in the mid-1930s and assigned my father regular checkups on the store.

Lou Prager, founder of Chipp in 1947 with another J. Press alumnus, Sid Winston, was pried away from the New Haven store to become manager of J. Press’ Princeton store. Gregarious and charismatic, he instantly became a local celebrity, befriending many notable Princetonians. Lou introduced his minions to my father during his visits there, an act of noblesse oblige that maintained the fiction Paul Press was royalty — or at least clothing royalty.

One member of the favored crowd was indeed royalty: Prince Fumitako Konoye, son of the new Japanese premier and captain of the Princeton golf team. A Lawrenceville graduate, tagged “Butch” by his teammates, Fumi sang in the glee club and was a member of Key and Seal, the swanky Princeton eating club. Celebrating Fumi’s championship at the University Open Golf Tournament in 1937, Prager and my father hosted a party at the Nassau Inn that seemingly included half of Princeton, all on the J. Press tab.

But a storm was brewing. The Daily Princetonian quoted Fumi in 1939 warning classmates, “Stay out of the Asian dispute.” When the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis became a military alliance in 1939, Fumi’s campus posture had become precarious. He chose to leave the university before his graduation on a battleship his father sent to pick him up.

A 1940 news dispatch from Tokyo, with the headline “Butch Goes To War,” reported that Fumi had left for China to serve as a private in the Japanese army. Captured at the end of the war by the Russians in Manchuria, he died 1956 in a Siberian prisoner-of-war camp.

Historical archives recently disclosed young Konoye served as a conduit for messages between President Roosevelt and his father, three-time prime minister of Japan, whose attempts at rapprochement with the United States met with abject failure among opposed-to-the-war expansionists, headed by future Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.

The J. Press shop in Princeton closed immediately after Pearl Harbor. The entire J. Press staff followed the example set by their former customer, who had become an enemy in the Japanese army. Unlike Konoye, who left Princeton on a battleship, the J. Press Princeton staff bid farewell to Old Nassau and took up KP duties in nearby Fort Dix, New Jersey. — RICHARD PRESS

19 Comments on "Golden Years: Sayonara To Old Nassau"

  1. Sloan Square | October 25, 2012 at 9:23 am |

    Fascinating. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Great article and fab photo, Richard. Shame JPress doesn’t have a current presence in Princeton.

  3. What a great story, Mr. Press! Thank you for sharing it. I would love to hear more of these ‘cloth-stories’ as they relate to a larger political/social/artistic schema. Thanks again.
    By the way, Christian, will there be any more casual meet-ups at the Ivy Style exhibit? The first one was nice.

  4. It was nice indeed and I made a great new friend out of that rendez-vous. Alas as you recall attendance wasn’t exactly in the hundreds, and from what I hear of everyone visiting the exhibit, they’re all doing it on their own schedule.

  5. “Butch” have not flat front trousers.

  6. But his sweater is either cut or worn straight across in the front:

  7. Richard,
    Thank you for sharing this story. My grandfather, Y44, and loyal JPress customer, grew up in Lawrence and he always tells a story (details sometimes fail me) about how his next door neighbor who either went to Lawrenceville and/or Princeton with a Japanese Prince and would bring him home during vacations. According to my grandfather, the Prince would work on his golf skills by chipping golf balls over his family’s garage and he would land them all in close proximity. After reading this story, I believe that his story is about Konoye – I always forget the name. I plan on mailing this story to my grandfather, who will thrilled to read the story and have the associated picture.

  8. Great read! This story captures some of the promise, disappointment and tragedy of that time. I’m sure Butch would have preferred to remain at Princeton, but duty called for his country as it did for all the American men and women who served.

  9. Very interesting story. The picture really ties it all together for me.

  10. I have see many suits and coats from 30s Brooks Brothers,I’d like to see some 30s J Press suit.
    Were different from those of Brooks Brothers?
    What about shoulders and double breasted?
    Was the J Press equivalent of N-1 Sack of Brooks?

  11. Marvelous (and ultimately sad) story, and what a terrific photo illustration. Thanks, Reggie

  12. Richard Press | October 26, 2012 at 2:16 am |

    Reggie Darling, my Konoye column was indeed tugging at my heart while writing it, but your accessed blog memoir of the Ivy Style exhibit and your Yale, J. Press memories surpassed all bounds. Magnificent. Let’s expound further, perhaps at the Ivy Style seminar. So much more to bring to the fore. My deepest appreciation for the poetry of your prose—Richard

  13. Reactionary Ivy | October 26, 2012 at 2:30 am |

    For those who might have overlooked Mr. Darling’s article:

  14. A wonderful website and fascinating history; especially considering the strong links the brand has with Japan today.

  15. Hello Mr. Press, thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I am a great fan of your pieces here on Ivy Style, and I look forward to meeting you at the symposium, and hearing your talk. I am sure it will be one of the highlights of the gathering! With regards, Reggie

  16. Christopher Redgate | October 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm |

    Mr Press,

    Thanks so much for this wonderful article. I enjoy most everything I read here on Ivy Style, but being both a major J Press fan, (I go into the Cambridge store often, though most Press pieces I actually own are thrifted…) and having recently finished a bachelor’s in Japanese studies, I particularly enjoyed this one. If you or anyone else who reads this could point me in the direction of more information about Prince Konoye, I would be much obliged.


    C Redgate

  17. T. James Kodera | August 31, 2017 at 12:16 pm |

    Five years after Richard Press wrote this article, I read it and would now like to offer a brief reflection. The Konoye family descended from the Fujiwara Clan who came to prominence at the beginning of Japan’s recorded history in the 7th century. Prince Fumimaro Konoye served in the early 20th century more than once as Prime Minister of Japan at the time when the military rapidly increased its control. He opposed Japan entering into war against the US, starting with his quiet opposition to bombing Pearl Harbor. He felt compelled to bring his son back to Japan from Princeton and to serve in the military, and the son was killed in a POW camp in Siberia. But record shows that he was cruelly treated by his fellow Japanese soldiers. 72 years after Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces, the Konoye family remains prominent in Japan as a symbol of Japan’s commitment to peace and international cooperation. Some years ago, a young Konoye took responsibility for the internment by the US government of some 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, for his grandfather was Prime Minister at the time, even if he opposed the attack on the US. The Konoye family history helps unravel critical issues of war and peace, which we continue to face today. TJK

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