La Tonkinoise, 2×1 indigo denim and blue chambray, Saigon Cowboy Fall 2015







Petite Tonkinoise music sheet, Polin (1906)





La Tonkinoise
Saigon Cowboy Fall 2015

If cabaret extraordinaire and Art Deco muse Josephine Baker’s banana skirt instantly raised eyebrows in 1925, her apparently innocent frivolous rendition of “Petite Tonkinoise” in 1930 would take many more years to spark controversy and criticism. In the song, she interprets Mélaoli, an Annamite damsel enamored with a French soldier deployed to the Tonkin region. For the wordplay-in-French amateur, Mélaoli is a not-so-clever phonetic quip involving bed (lit) activities.

Ms. Baker’s version of the song, although rewritten for a female singer and stripped of its original 1906 lyrics popularized by the jovial Polin, an army barracks’ favorite, still carried its risqué colonial tone. Nothing yet politically incorrect for the France of the 1930’s however, and the song was a huge success. By popular demand, an updated version was even recorded by the artist in 1953.
With enough sexual innuendoes to make Wynonie Harris blush, the original “Petite Tonkinoise” is a chanson of its time, today mostly remembered for its stuttering verse “ma Tonkiki, ma Tonkiki, ma Tonkinoise”.
Don’t listen to it twice or you’ll be humming it in the morning.

Not forecasted in the song was the fact that some of the fruits of those exotic military campaign idyls would one day stroll the French countryside, in refugee camps such as the CAFI of Sainte-Livrade-Sur-Lot (Camp d’Accueil des Francais d’Indochine in the Southwest of France), anecdotally located a few miles from where I spent many summers as a kid. Vietnamese families of veterans fallen during their Indochine campaign also joined the camps ranks.
Following the Geneva Accords of 1954, Franco-Vietnamese families who supported the French occupation of Indochina, and gained from it, started fleeing the homeland to escape communist retaliation. The French government, juggling with its first post-colonial hot potato, relocated the refugees in hastily-built facilities. The communities’ fate often fell into bureaucratic oblivion.
Neglected for decades, the CAFI of Sainte-Livrade-Sur-Lot was being renovated when we drove by in 2014. Some still called it home at the time.
Incidentally, and unrelated, about 60 miles from the CAFI, stands the majestic XIV Century Château des Milandes once the home of, by then decorated WW2 veteran, philanthropist and activist Josephine Baker, and her ‘rainbow tribe’. She, her husband, and their international adopted family of twelve lived there for years. I remember visiting the castle some 35 years ago.

Before we drift even further off-topic, let’s mention that it is not as an homage to the song risqué verbiage or nostalgic colonial content that we have chosen to call our latest Saigon Cowboy shirt “La Tonkinoise”, but as a reference to bygone days of exotic advertising, and to that shirt plausible origin as a 1930’s-40’s Tonkin tailor made garment.


Our Tonkinoise is loaded with details gathered from several vintage shirts. Most of the details are concealed but a stand-out feature of the Tonkinoise is its specific collar pattern. It was adapted from a wind-protectant high neck flippable collar, the fancy feature of an obscure vintage US military wool shirt from our archives. Militaria experts might be able to easily ID this shirt model, but I admit not being familiar with it. We reduced the size of the original collar, which looked too much like a crackerjack flap to my liking.
Our own Champollion, Cristian ‘Champ’ Dascalu, is responsible for identifying the barely readable woven label of that vintage shirt as saying “REYEM, Meyer’s Military Shops, Washington D.C.”. It is likely that Jean-François himself would not have figured out that Reyem is Meyer spelled backwards, so we consider the Champ’s finding one giant leap for Mankind.

Champollion at work

Champollion at work

To spice things up, we opted for a contrasting rainbow chainstitch on the inside of the shirt, a nod to an old stunt we pulled years ago, and a reference to the multicolored embroidery often featured on vintage Vietnam ‘Party’ jackets, and not necessarily to Doritos.

As with our recently released Garrison Shirt, the Tonkinoise buttonhole placket is another example of tailoring prowess, courtesy of Toyo Enterprises pattern maker Mr. Fukutomi. The intricate pattern of the elbow and cuff section is yet another nod to an old flame. The arcuate shape of the back of the collar is an attractive feature lifted from vintage French shirts of the 1920’s-30’s.

The two fabrics we chose for the Mister Freedom® Tonkinoise are two old acquaintances. The first one is the ‘snowy’ Lot.A 2×1 selvedge slubby denim of the MF® Appaloosa Shirt, this time milled in Japan to the exact specs of the original NOS fabric we had used in 2013.
The second option is the Buzz Rickson’s USN-type blue chambray, previously featured on two mfsc garments, the Chambray Patrol Shirt and the “Cholon” Continental.

The MF® Tonkinoise is designed in California by Mister Freedom® and manufactured in Japan by Sugar Cane Co.

Note: Featured in some of our photo rigs are a well-worn pair of MF® x Palladium “Palladenim“, inspired by vintage French jungle boots.


a) “Snow” denim: Dark and slubby 10 Oz. 2×1 indigo blue denim, White/yellow line selvedge ID, milled in Japan.
b) “BR” blue Chambray: Buzz Rickson’s all cotton blue chambray, 1940’s USN mil-specs, selvedge with white/blue line selvedge ID, milled in Japan. The Chambray version of the Tonkinoise is only available in the US.


* An original mfsc pattern, inspired by 1930’s-40’s military uniform shirting.
* ‘Windproof’ high button-up collar.
* Arcuate pattern on back of collar.
* Tailor-made type buttonhole placket construction.
* Selvedge button placket.
* Intricate sleeve cuff/elbow reinforcement pattern.
* Concealed rainbow colored chainstitched accents on the inside.
* Selvedge side gussets, self fabric.
* White corozo wood buttons, aka ivory nut.
* 100% cotton thread stitching.
* Made in Japan.


The MF® Tonkinoise shirt comes raw/un-rinsed and will shrink to tagged size after the initial rinse/dry process. We recommend a ~30mn cold soak, spin dry and line dry. This shirt is true-to-size, with a fitted yet comfortable silhouette. If you are generally a Medium in mfsc shirts, you are a Medium in the Tonkinoise.
Both shirt options will shrink to approximately the same size.
Please refer to sizing chart for measurements. Please note our measurements reflect a 30mn cold soak/spin dry/line dry process, resulting in minimal shrinkage.
It is obvious that the raw measurements are given for reference only. If they reflect the difference in shrinkage of both raw fabrics, the measurements that actually matter are the post soak measurements. We do believe that shirts, as most washable garments, should regularly be laundered according to use.

Tonkinoise Chambray

Tonkinoise Denim

Tonkinoise Denim


Launder when hygiene dictates and common sense prevails.
Machine wash. Cold water, gentle cycle, eco-friendly mild detergent and line dry. We recommend turning indigo blue/denim garments inside out to avoid marbling when washing. Patina will develop according to activities and frequency of wear.
Please note that the dark indigo blue denim Tonkinoise ‘bleeds’ a lot at first, and color transfer will temporarily stain light-colored garments and furniture.

Available RAW/unwashed.

a) “Snow” denim: $329.95
b) “BR” Chambray $329.95
(Only available in the US)

Available from the mighty, from our attractive Los Angeles brick & mortar store, and from fine retailers around the World.
Email or call 323-653-2014 with any questions unanswered above.

Thank you for your support.



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