This is the first in a three-part series on Japan’s original Ivy artists.
* * *
When Ivy League fashion first appeared in Japan at the beginning of the 1960s, it was a wholly alien culture with no local roots. Apparel maker VAN Jacket and its media partner, fashion magazine Men’s Club, needed to win over Japanese consumers by showing the majesty of Ivy styles within their broader cultural context. But without few locations in Tokyo that looked like New England campuses, the magazine could not just rely on photography to take readers into the Ivy universe. Instead, the built out an entire worldview through illustration — not just to show off the fashion but to shroud texts in stylish visuals. Men’s Club gave their artists complete freedom each issue to do whatever they wanted, leaving us today with iconic visuals that stand up to this day.
So we thought it would be good to look at the three first Ivy artists who stand out as true pioneers of the era: Kazuo Hozumi, Ayumi Ōhashi, and Yasuhiko Kobayashi.
Kazuo Hozumi (b. 1930) was born in Tokyo to a wealthy dentist but fled to the countryside once America started to bomb the Japanese home front. He spent the next two decades in the northeastern city of Sendai. The fourth of four children, Hozumi enjoyed drawing as a child, but since illustration was not considered a “real job,” he went on to study the closest respectable equivalent: architecture. Hozumi found employment after graduation at a Tokyo architectural firm but quickly grew bored with the work. Desperate to follow his passion in drawing, he reached out to his hero Setsu Nagasawa, who invited him to become the first student at his new fashion illustration class.
With the 1954 arrival of Otoko no Fukushoku (the precursor to Men’s Club), Hozumi saw a future career path in men’s fashion illustration. Nagasawa introduced Hozumi to Kensuke Ishizu from the brand VAN Jacket, and from the fourth issue, Hozumi became the primary illustrator for the magazine. Before this time, fashion illustration mostly appeared as functional diagrams to show off clothing items mentioned in stories, but under Hozumi’s leadership and creativity, line drawings in magazines became well respected as art. Hozumi explains, “I would sit around reading Esquire and Playboy for inspiration and then would tell the Men’s Club people ‘I want to do a full-color page like this.’ And they would just let me. They never once told me what to draw. They would just say, here’s a color page, do what you want.”
Hozumi came to the magazine as a versatile and talented artist but the sheer number of illustrations required each month forced him to try out an enormous diversity of styles — from sharp modern line drawings of men in suits to cartoonish curvy girls to parodies of florid 19th century artworks. “I was the only illustrator for a while. If you looked at the Credits page and the Editor’s page, I had to do all of those cuts.” Variety was the only answer. “I would get bored when they all looked the same, and I also suspected the reader would get bored.”
While working for Men’s Club, Hozumi fell in love with Ivy League clothing, and he and fellow Setsu student Toshiyuki Kurosu founded a club called, The Traditional Ivy Leaguers. Kurosu later went to VAN Jacket to help start up its Ivy clothing line, and Hozumi ended up doing illustration for VAN Jacket ads. While Hozumi mostly became known for his drawings, he would also frequently appear in Men’s Club as an Ivy VIP and could always be found at VAN events and parties. This often made it hard to establish an independent identity outside of the brand: “Everyone always confused me for a VAN employee. But in reality, I was just good friends with Kensuke Ishizu.”
His most iconic work came in 1963 when Hozumi was asked to submit a piece to a group exhibition. Hozumi made a mock woodblock print that replaced a line-up of samurai with 14 different Ivy Leaguers in a range of clothing styles. All of the characters had identical faces — a round head, rosy red cheeks, and giant smile — and became known as the “Ivy boy” (aibii bōya). The cheery personality is much like Hozumi’s own: “I don’t like nervous, neurotic, scary pictures. I like simple, healthy, happy characters.” Hozumi gave the poster to VAN Jacket, who used it as an advertisement, and later, the characters appeared in Men’s Club frequently. In the 1980s Hozumi turned it into its own Ivy Illustrated series of books, and the character often graced the cover of Free & Easy in the last decade.
Hozumi is still an active illustrator, working across many mediums. He has also written many books on men’s fashion, including Kiru ka kirareru ka (1964) and a Japanese translation of Charles Hicks’s 1981 Dressing Right: A Guide for Men. — W. DAVID MARX
W. David Marx is a Harvard alum based in Tokyo and the author of “Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style.”
Top image via GQ Japan.