In September, 2010, I was watching my old cordovan oxfords get polished at Tokyo’s “shoeshine bar” Brift H, when a middle-aged man walked in and pulled out an original 1965 print of “Take Ivy.” The book had not only been autographed by all four authors, but also had a rare printing error. I leaned over and mentioned that I had just written an English article on Kensuke Ishizu of VAN Jacket. He introduced himself as a former VAN employee and immediately wanted to set me up with Ishizu’s son Shōsuke.
After meeting the Ishizu family and more VAN alumni, I realized that there was an amazing, untold story about how American fashion came to Japan and became deeply rooted within Japanese society. Two years of research and two years of writing have culminated in my first book, “Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style.”
While Ametora (local slang for “American traditional”) covers many topics beyond East Coast campus styles (for example, Japanese denim, outdoor wear, rock ‘n’ roll, streetwear), the story starts with Ivy, looks at Ivy’s rise and fall, and then returns to its revivals during the preppy 1980s and the neo-trad of the late 2000s. The book also includes a behind-the-scenes, play-by-play into the surprising drama behind the making of “Take Ivy.”
Many Ivy Style readers will surely have some qualms with my title and the idea that Japan saved American style. I mean “saved” in two senses: archiving and rescuing. Brands like VAN Jacket and Beams+, illustrations from Kazuo Hozumi, and magazines like Men’s Club, Popeye, and Free&Easy have cataloged the US fashion history and canonized the tenets of classic American style. Japan has also built up a massive retail network of shops specializing only in American-style clothing. In this day and age, buying a Shaggy Dog Shetland sweater or 3/2-roll Harris Tweed jacket is much easier in Tokyo than in New York.
Whether Japanese Ivy culture “rescued” the style from oblivion is more debatable, but the Japanese archival instinct has played a major role in keeping the Ivy knowledge alive in dark years when the look all but disappeared in the United States. And certainly, the strong and nearly permanent Japanese demand for Ivy garments and shoes has been a serious financial boon to American trad brands like Alden, Brooks Brothers, and Ralph Lauren.
Pre-orders for “Ametora” have started on Amazon, and I’ll be writing a few spin-off pieces for Ivy Style in the coming months. I hope you get a chance to read the book this Fall. — W. DAVID MARX
W. David Marx is a writer living in Tokyo. His first book, Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, will arrive from Basic Books in Fall 2015. His writing has appeared in Brutus, GQ, Nylon, the Harvard Lampoon, and Best Music Writing 2009, among other publications.