W. David Marx On How Japan Saved American Trad

ametoraIn 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.

16 Comments on "W. David Marx On How Japan Saved American Trad"

  1. This looks like a good read. Pre order has been placed. I look forward to more, WDM.

  2. Philly Trad | July 20, 2015 at 2:40 pm |

    Bits and pieces from the book:

    http://ametorajapan.tumblr.com/

  3. Saved? This is just a case of the Japaneese wearing “trad” as nothing but a costume. Like dying their hair blonde to look more like Paris Hilton…

  4. Bags' Groove | July 20, 2015 at 5:44 pm |

    It goes deeper than “nothing but a costume”, Seve. In a Tokyo store only last year a dapper sack-jacketed Japanese assistant beamed and immediately began to rhapsodise about Ivy clothes when I commented on his ensemble.

  5. As sclerotic as our style can be, it never amazes me how successfully it has spread globally. The compunction I feel concerning my Falstaffian gusto for Ivy is tempered by the knowledge that others are similarly consumed.

  6. Let’s be sure we read the post before we make snide remarks about the title.

  7. Next, someone will be telling us how Caucasian males look great in kimonos.

  8. I look forward to checking this out. I always enjoy Ivy through the lense of the Japanese. Although as the author states, I have qualms with the title even as he defines it. Who has a better archive than Brooks Brothers? What years are we saying that the look “all but disappeared,” 1970-1980?

    However, I am sure that the title was meant to be provocative or at least to read as counterintuitive.

  9. “In a Tokyo store only last year a dapper sack-jacketed Japanese assistant beamed and immediately began to rhapsodise about Ivy clothes when I commented on his ensemble.”

    So, because this thorhetical Japanese assistant read an original 1965 copy of “Take Ivy” and bought a sack jacket, that means he “saved” “trad” “Ivy” style? The Japanese have a long history of obsession with American Culture. This idea that they “saved” a certain nostalgic style is crazy. Traditional clothing never went out of style in some parts of the US, not that anyone going through their preppy blog roll would of seen.

  10. Bags' Groove | July 21, 2015 at 1:13 pm |

    Seve, you sound a truly delightful chap, full of good grace and bonhomie. Can i say what a pleasure it’s been interacting with you.

  11. Señor Yuca | July 21, 2015 at 2:36 pm |

    ‘Traditional clothing never went out of style in some parts of the US’ – that may well be true, but how many online retailers from the US sell high rise trousers? Press and O’Connell’s do – are there any others? My point: for a look that ‘never went out of style’ it can be very elusive in its true form.

  12. Señor Yuca | July 21, 2015 at 2:39 pm |

    How many shirt manufacturers in the US sell a BD with a true unlined collar? Mercer are not the only ones it’s true, but it’s an elusive item nonetheless.

  13. Henry10000 | July 23, 2015 at 3:58 pm |

    For once, BG, we agree completely!

  14. Bags' Groove | July 24, 2015 at 12:30 pm |

    You’re too kind, Henry10000.

  15. All Y'all | July 30, 2015 at 4:01 am |

    Seve, “trad” is nothing but a costume for most readers of this site. They also try to ape the lingo (and fail). Have a look at the comments. Lots of “old chap”, “old man”, and it all comes off as feminalia and fake.

  16. I think maybe an argument for Japan’s influence was their stubborn insistence on the most petty Ivy style details.

    Average Americans don’t usually sweat the small stuff — are those khakis made in cotton twill rather than Cramerton Cloth? Who cares — what’s Cramerton Cloth? Is that Madras shirt made with the traditional short-staple cotton cloth woven in India? Why would cotton matter? Why does where something is made matter if it looks OK? Americans are very easy-going about these things, which sometimes allows the original versions of things to drift away over time.

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