Review: “Ametora – how Japan saved American style”

I tend to buy most of the books published within the scope covered on this blog, and they tend to follow a quite similar formula along the lines of “plenty of photos, a bare minimum of text, nice layout and a quality feel”. Most of them would be considered more for browsing than actually reading.This weeks book turns the formula on the head though, providing a full 244 pages of text and an almost minimal amount of photos.

ametora cover

“Ametora – how Japan saved American style” by W. David Marx covers clothing trends in Japan from around WW2 up to recent times, or to put in other terms, the transition from Japan wearing traditional clothing to being a world leader in style and fashion. That transition was a far from simple, linear development though, as this book clearly documents.

Pre WW2 the Japanese society experienced very little Western influence and hence kept to it’s traditional ways. Teenagers wore their wool school uniforms, and working men wore their suits. This started to change with the US occupation and resulting exposure to American culture and fashion. Not in an overnight way though, but a first stepping stone was laid down. Off duty American soldiers provided both inspiration and secondhand clothing to a society where uniforms were the norm.

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In fact, reading this book I found myself surprised by how todays situation is the result of a quite small number of people and their influencing. The same people would be making clothes and writing about them, in quite an underhand manner.

The Japanese like to have codes and rules, so when Kensuke Ishizu decided to bring the Ivy League style to Japan, it was an uphill struggle from day one. The Ivy style was a complete unknown, so it had to be laid out, codified, explained and presented. And the clothes made available, which wasn’t easy either as there were few people who could afford them. And of course, what was Ivy style? When a team went to the US to document it, they had a hard time finding this style that supposedly all US students wore around campus. The result of this trip was the book “Take Ivy“.

And the affordability is another important point. If you’re not familiar with recent Japanese history, it is eye-opening to read how their economic situation has kept changing. A bumpy ride indeed, and an integral part of how fashion developed in Japan.

van_jacket_02

“Ivy boy” poster produced by VAN in 1962, based on their idea of what Ivy style might be.

The book starts out with the Ivy situation, move through the early jeans period, into the Heavy Duty style, the evolution of Japanese high fashion, back into jeans, vintage and replica and finally into streetwear style. As mentioned though, this was not an easy evolution as it all depended on what people were buying into. There was a continual push and pull between the influencers and their target market. The times when teens and street gangs take the fashion in a different direction, or when the authorities or parents decide to clamp down. It’s a fascinating and well laid out story.

So how did the Japanese save American style? The Americans discarded style as it became unfashionable and moved on to new things. The Japanese collected, analysed and improved it, and sold it back.

There is lots of well researched info, so if you are curious about which Japanese denim companies came first, where they got their denim from, the truth behind their denim looms and where all the vintage US denim ended up, this will enlighten. The references and bibliography at the back of the book is meticulous, so I have no doubt the information given is correct.

japanhead

If there is one criticism I’d level at the book it is in the actual presentation. It’s a hardback, with a nice cover in the style of Japanese magazines, but the paper quality, layout and photos are less than I’d expect. The content of the book deserves more than this. There are a couple of short glossy sections with photos, but it’s pretty marginal.

All in all though I thought this a great and informative book, and anyone with an interest in the influence of Japanese fashion would be advised to read it.

UPS:

  • Interesting topic and well researched
  • Many hours of reading for the money

DOWNS:

  • Should have been presented a lot better

SCORE:

rupert4-5

PRICE:

Available from the usual sources at around 17 pounds.

warby parker

Note: I’m still curious about what that W in the authors name stands for though.

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