Sunday, November 7, 2010

On Functional American Brands

Been digging around other fashion history websites this weekend. Found some fascinating stuff. Note: I do not claim to be an expert in these areas. I am merely a casual visitor and observer. And I apologize for awkward phrases used to describe the trend, as I don't care to pay that much attention to the media's and bloggers' word choice.

showing off some muscled legs and a tight butt. image from nytimes from the book Take Ivy

Having grown up in Texas, I've never been bitten badly by the preppy/ Ivy League bug. For regional wear, like Wrangler jeans and Justin cowboy boot, you had to look in small, isolated towns. I owned the occasional Lacoste and Polo polo shirt, but even that was more determined by European tastes and the selection at Dillard's. I guess it's not something you really get into unless you are from New England. Even when watching The Social Network (great movie), I found myself fascinated by the almost severe ivy attire of the Winklevoss twins in each of their scenes. Their v-neck sweaters, letter jackets, striped ties, and jerseys were an immaculate blend of the proper, the timeless and the elite. Here's an illuminating read from Ivy Style about the man who brought (Ivy) fashion to the previously non-existent Japanese youth clothing market

these men are jolly! images from zabou

Speaking of the Japanese, they have always gotten the historical and aesthetic value of American classicwear. Perhaps because it is so foreign? Traditional American workwear and outdoor clothing establishments, such as Pendleton Woolen Mills, Johnson Woolen Mills (see article), Levis, Filson, Patagonia, Sierra Designs, Danner, Clarks, Dickies, Carhartt, Champion, and many others have all experienced relatively massive success and appreciation in Japan. Recent slideshow example: Best of Vest. Evidence of this is also shown by the fact that on the companies' Japanese website (linked above), they offer a wider range of specially designed premium pieces that can't be found in the Western hemisphere.

probably one of the saddest, most empty outlet malls in texas. image from thbnb

When I traveled to Osaka in the summer of 2006, I was struck by how some of the clothing seemed to more American than what Americans actually wear. And whenever my relatives from Hong Kong visit (Japan serves as sole style inspiration for all first-world Asian countries), they beg us to drive them to outlet malls and Ross/Marshall for them to stock up on what seems like boring, throwaway American-made basics. I am not old enough and have not had enough exposure to Japanese youth culture to make a statement on whether this mad obsession of theirs stick around for more than a handful of years. I hope it will, for the sake of small, family-owned American businesses. I also do not have an opinion about it, and I waver back and forth between apathy (materialism is bad!), admiration (they really know their stuff!) and disgust (those posers). Happily, existing stateside fans of these brands have been able to come out of the woodwork, mostly to discuss with new converts to the current heritage trend.

rad old labels. images from oregonphotos

One important site on the history of outdoor gear is Bruce Jonson's I can only compare it to Sheldon Brown's site in that it is equally as passionate about the subject matter, but much less extensive and organized. It hosts more information that you'll probably ever want to know about early outdoor brands and their evolution. For me, I was pleased to find out confirmation that my down Moonstone sleeping bag was manufactured by a solid company (albeit shut down without explanation), that Patagonia was founded on a love for surfing, and that Rivendell Mountain Works is a brand. Here is a lengthy interview of Mr. Jonson on Our Culture, as he discusses the origins of his low-budget site and his views of the trend, the DIY outdoor culture, and the environment.

modern day JanSport classic pack: the Right Pack. image from amazon

Vintage daypacks have been popular with the streetwear crowd (and of course, Japan) for a few years now, see Jake Davis' post for a summary on the current offerings. As someone who hauled most of her school books in a forest green, leather-bottomed JanSport Classic backpack, I couldn't bring myself to embrace this trend, as I felt too close to it. Granted, most of these models are from the 70's, a decade before my birth, and it seemed inevitable that a rejection of modern synthetic-made outdoor gear would lead to an examination and geeking out of its pioneering roots and first designs.

getting ready to go backpacking at Pedernales Falls!

I am backwards, as I love outdoor gear and only want to love being in the outdoors. I chalk it up to my safe, indoor-loving suburban upbringing and genes; that I have little appetite for adventure, only the desire for the appetite. Living in Austin, I've gone on a fair share of overnight camping trips and a single backpacking trip, and thanks to the other Rivendell, aim go bike camping with my Bridgestone RB-3 sometime. I have moderately few words to report about how much of this equipment performs (which means I probably could not snag a job at Patagonia even as a bottom-rung customer service rep). It's just beautiful and rugged and embodies the sort of lifestyle and attitude so glaringly absent from modern, technology-filled life.

images from RMW and edwinhimself (excellent post)

One specific bag I want to highlight is the Rivendell Mountain Works Mariposa Summit Pack. Nearly identical to the original design in 1977, it cost less than the average imported technical pack you can find in REI, yet is constructed in the US, literally in a remote cottage. Mind boggling!

Made in: Monroe, Washington
Handmade? Yes!


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