Ametora Book Review

Posted by ML Duncan on
Ametora Book Review  

Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style by W. David Marx. Basic Books. 296 pages.

The relationship between Japanese and American fashion

Ametora by W. David Marx is a detailed look into the relationship between Japanese and American fashion from the Post-War period on. Marx covers the development of Japanese style from during the transition from war-time scarcity, to post-war economic improvement. Ametora covers the American influences on that style in particular.

For sewers, it’s a fascinating look at a number of people with passions for craftsmanship and attention to detail that resulted in influential clothing. It’s a comprehensive look at some of the original influencers on contemporary men's style; it’s revival beginning in Japan.

Kensuke Ishizu, VAN

Kensuke Ishizu was the man primarily responsible for the revival of men’s style in Japan in the years immediately following WWII. Marx outlines the start and massive success of Ishizu’s famous clothing brand VAN in great detail. Today, fashion in Japan is diverse and an important part of the culture. This wasn't always the case. Before Ishizu came along, most men in Japan were more concerned with modesty and practicality. Ishizu changed all that.

"To take his niche business in Western Japan nationwide, Ishizu would have to rewire the Japanese male brain to think differently about fashion."(Ametora, 16)

Lifestyle brand pioneers

One thing that made Ishizu and VAN interesting was his approach to marketing. Ishizu and others in the nascent men's fashion movement built a culture around their products by writing for and publishing in magazines to promote their businesses and change how people thought about clothing.

VAN magazine spread
VAN full page ad
Men's fashion magazine
Mens club magazine
VAN and other young brands collaborated with existing magazines and in some cases started their own to help build fashion conscious culture in Japan.

Lifestyle brands might seem like a new phenomenon but VAN and others were pioneers of this style of business back in the '50s.

Japanese Denim

Kuroki mills
Kuroki Mills. Okayama, Japan. Founded in 1950.

Japanese denim is famous among jean connoisseurs now. Marx writes that this wasn't always the case either. The best denim is often from Japan and again this expertise was developed in a relatively short period of time, from almost nothing.

Demand for blue jeans in Japan fueled a big increase in importing American denim from companies like Cone Mills in the United States. But labor struggles in America reduced availability of denim from the US. Japanese mills saw an opportunity: get good at producing denim domestically. And they did. (Ametora, 92)

"Eight years after making Canton jeans exclusively from imported parts, Maruo could now produce "pure Japanese jeans" for Big John with everything sourced locally. Japan's YKK provided the zippers, while Mitsubishi and Jūki reguaged their sewing machines to handle thick denim." (Ametora, 93)

This DIY manufacturing ethic inspired us to start Finnlen.

I read this book at the same time Kate started seriously thinking about starting Finnlen, and it was one of several things that made me realize it was possible and that similar concepts had been done before.

We're attempting to bring a similar attention to detail and passion to what we're doing: helping to build [footnote] a quality textile and garment manufacturing reshore movement in the US.

Ametora proves there's always a market for people that care; you just have to find them.

Stewards Of Authentic American Fashion

Ametora is detailed documentation on American fashion through a Japanese lens and helps us realize that there's something very valuable buried in our clothing history. The people and companies in this book carried on an American clothing tradition that our culture, by in large, stopped caring about.

"Japan, meanwhile, has convinced significant numbers of foreigners that their versions of American clothing are more authentic than anything being made in the U.S." (Ametora, 236)

We need to be more conscientious stewards of American clothing because authentic American fashion is important and influential. Ametora shows us why.

Buy Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style

Sources and Additional Reading


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