Before W. David Marx published “Ametora,” his pioneering book on American style in Japan, he wrote several pieces for Ivy Style. Here’s a revisit of a 2011 piece that shines light on Ivy both at home and abroad.
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Just five years ago, 1965 photo book “Take Ivy” was a rarity. Most sat proudly on the book shelves of Ivy fans in Japan, with a few battered copies showing up time to time on Japanese auction sites for absurd prices. But now thanks to Men’s Club and powerHouse Books’ recent reprints, T. Hayashida’s photos of Ivy League students and their classic style have become available to everyone.
There remains, however, one part of the “Take Ivy” story still confined to the realm of myth and shadow: a 16mm film taken of the campuses in conjunction with the photos.
Mystery solved? The latest issue of Oily Boy — a seasonal fashion publication for Baby Boomer guys — includes eight whole minutes of Take Ivy film footage in a DVD insert. The eight minutes, mostly from Dartmouth college, show college students in late spring riding around on bikes, attending class, eating at a cafeteria, and rowing, all to a soundtrack from jazz legend Hachidai Nakamura. Rather than straight documentary, many of the segments have narrative frames and appear to have been staged for the camera.
Despite the limited footage, the film does achieve its main goal of capturing the style of elite students in the U.S. We see university stripe button-down oxford shirts, light khakis, and madras galore. The 16mm, however, tends to capture a wider set of people than Hayashida’s carefully framed snaps, so you see some less than canonical looks: bare feet, red baseball jerseys, hooded sweatshirts, etc. Some of the students actually look as slovenly as current Ivy Leaguers — the only difference being that you don’t see students smoking in section anymore. The professors and adults meanwhile are the ones in tweed jackets, rep ties, bow ties, and Shetland sweaters. Maybe they’re the true fashion icons for our current fashion epoch.
Last year I had talked about the film with Shosuke Ishizu, son of legendary VAN founder Kensuke Ishizu. He confirmed that director Ozawa Kyo shot it simultaneously while Hayashida took the photos. Apparently there is almost two hours of footage, which besides the jazz score, included some voice-overs that explain what is happening on screen. The film does exist in 16mm format (VAN’s copy was heavily damaged but they have recently discovered a cleaner version), but the Oily Boy DVD is a muddy video tape transfer. I am guessing it comes from the VHS version, which was made for VAN employees at some point in the 1980s. Ishizu said that there were still some legal rights issues with the Nakamura soundtrack that prevented a full-out DVD release. Even when they show the film to Ivy meet-ups in Tokyo these days, they just play the VHS.
The entire point of producing the Take Ivy film was to have promotional footage for the VAN brand to explain Ivy League style to its dedicated retailers across Japan. To that end, they debuted the film at a a giant party held for their distributors and retailers in August 1965, renting out the entire Asasaka Prince Hotel. They then took the film on tour across Japan; the local VAN retailer would set up a venue, and the VAN guys brought the film and a band to do a live score. (Here’s an invite for one held in Osaka.)
Included in the Oily Boy DVD is also a short present-day discussion between two of the men behind Take Ivy — the aforementioned Shosuke Ishizu and Toshiyuki Kurosu, the young employee at VAN who pushed VAN into a youth-oriented Ivy style direction. A few of their memories:
• They set out on May 23, 1965 to shoot the Ivy league schools over two weeks, but ended up not getting to Cornell and U. Penn at all.
• They spent most time at Dartmouth and found it the most welcoming. Kurosu conjectures that it was because the school had just done a “Japan Week” and was also the alma mater of Olympic skier Chiharu Igaya.
• The timing of the shoot was summer vacation, so not many people were around. But the Dartmouth crew coach kindly set up the entire rowing sequence just for them to film.
• They were most impressed with the school cafeterias, as that self-service food style had not come to Japan yet.
• They were also shocked with how casual the students’ style was: untucked shirts, sneakers with no socks. At the time being fashionable as a Japanese youth meant wearing a suit and carrying an umbrella.
• Kurosu came up with the title “Take Ivy” from the Dave Brubeck album “Take Five,” but Paul Hasegawa, who is fluent in English and worked with them at VAN, complained that the pun would make no sense to native speakers. Kurosu admits that his complete lack of English ability allowed him to come up with that name.
• When the brand VAN was getting into trouble with the Tsukiji police for instigating the Miyuki-zoku youth culture, Kurosu went to the police station and showed the “Take Ivy” film to the cops. They ended up liking it and set up a venue for them so they could show it to the Miyuki-zoku kids, and then to get Ishizu of VAN to tell the troublesome kids to stop hanging out in Ginza.
It’s worth remembering that Ishizu, Hayashida, and Kurosu were pushing something very radical at the time in Japan. VAN took a massive bet re-tooling their brand in the mid-1960s from a traditional adult suits brand to the Ivy look. They had a lot of commercial pressure to create these authentic photos and films to win over the Japanese public, as well as stockists, distributors, and retailers. The project ended up being a huge success — and Ivy league style basically invented an entire “youth fashion” market in Japan that remains vibrant to this days. What they didn’t quite know at the time is that this very commercial mission to the U.S. would end up creating one of the most critical archival materials of Ivy League fashion nearly a half-century later. — W. DAVID MARX