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.
Annamite traditional attire (1800s)
“Petite Tonkinoise” 1906 music sheet, strangely featuring a Japanese lady.
Josephine Baker, Folies Bergère,”Folies du Jour” revue, Paris (1926-27). Photo Lucien Waléry
Josephine Baker and Chiquita, her cheetah pet (1930)
Josephine Baker collecting clothing for Japanese American babies, Los Angeles (1952 Toyo Miyake Studio)
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 Milandesonce 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.
CAFI Sainte Livrade original facilities before demolition, (July 2014)
B&W Rainbow Tribe and colorful Château des Milandes
Josephine Baker, husband Jo Bouillon, and partial Rainbow Tribe.
Josephine Baker, Légion d’Honneur ceremony (1961)
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
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.
FABRIC: 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.
CARE: 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.
Piasters changing hands Rue des Marins, Triad run parlors, the infamous Bay Vien, ‘Maitre de Cholon‘ and the feared Bình Xuyên gangs, White Mice patrols, the yellow walls of the World’s largest gambling hall rivaling in decibel with Macao’s roaring finest, hazy opium dens, snake wine and fine Cognac, white nón lá and garrison caps, local taxi girls and international high society, áo dài and white linen suits, stalled Citroën 2CV and frantic cyclo-pousses, Bastos cigarettes smoke-filled cabarets… while thousands of sampans rest on the Arroyo.
And a stone’s throw to the East, the ‘Pearl of the Orient’: Saigon.
The Arroyo, Cholon
Cholon Rue des Marins (1930?)
Bay Vien Le maitre de Cholon (Pierre Darcourt 1977)
The Saigon police, aka ‘White Mice’ in Cholon (1950) LIFE
USN PX Cholon (1966) Courtesy Dan Byrd
It is not out of nostalgia for its colonized past, with men in white pith helmets or OD M1, that Ho Chi Minh City is still referred to as Sài Gòn by some Vietnamese nationals today. This serves as a subtle reminder of the violent troubled past of that South East Asia corner of the World, hinting at the controversial topic of the reunification of Vietnam achieved by the communist-lead North in 1975. For locals, choosing the name Saigon over its official HCM City version is not pure semantics, but a political statement that conveys a lingering identity crisis.
It is the stuff of wars to leave everything in grey areas. Nothing ever stays black or white for long. Lines had plenty time to get blurry during the 30 year-long civil war that opposed North and South Vietnam, a territorial split originally prescribed by an international band of concerned experts arguing at a Geneva round table in 1954…
I recently had a conversation with a person of Vietnamese background, born in North Vietnam in the 1960’s and of Chinese parents. You’d figure that would put you on the celebrating side after the war was won… Turns out her family joined the ranks of the three million refugees who were to flee the Indochinese peninsula in the years following the victory of communist North Vietnam, China and Russia’s protégé.
The troops of General Võ Nguyên Giáp, the Northern national hero and victor of the French Army in 1954, would claim Saigon in April 1975. Everyone who had sided with or fought for South Vietnam feared the purge. The Saigon government, backed by of a long-disillusioned America, had been the wrong horse to bet on. Hanoi was the new sheriff in town, the cadres his deputies.
As Saigon was falling, one could witness surreal scenes of men stripping down to their skivvies, watching triumphant soviet-built T-54 NVA tanks roll into town. Some roads leading to the capital were littered with abandoned ARVN uniforms…
Vietnam’s American war was officially over. But not everyone’s woes.
” Yes we defeated the United States. But now we are plagued by problems. We do not have enough to eat. We are a poor, underdeveloped nation. Vous savez, waging a war is simple, but running a country is very difficult.“ Phạm Văn Đồng (Prime minister of North Vietnam from 1955 to 1976) reflecting in 1981.
Abandonned ARVN uniforms, fall of Saigon (April 30 1975) Photo Jacques Pavlovsky Sygma CORBIS
But let’s rewind a bit and take a stroll down Đồng Khởi, better known to some as Freedom Street.
The bustling downtown artery of the South Vietnam capital had been named Rue Catinat up until the end of the French occupation in 1954. It would be renamed Tu Do Street for the next twenty years. Tự Do means freedom in Vietnamese…
In its early days, Tu Do Street was lined by colonial architecture buildings housing offices, institutions, hotels, cafés, and an array of small boutiques and family-owned businesses. At number 132-134 stood Vietnam’s first hotel, the “Hotel Continental”, a Saigonese landmark since 1880, built ten years before a certain Nguyễn Tất Thành (aka Uncle Ho) was born. Owned by an allege member of the Corsican Mafia for years, the Continental had welcomed guests from all walks of life. Its clientele had been a lively mix of French rubber industry magnates aka ‘Michelin men‘, spooks, opium addicts, celebrities, quiet Americans, diplomats, thrill seekers, Air America crews, visiting mistresses, writers, stringers, tipsters, gangsters, opera singers, war groupies, plain tourists… Some guests were at times a combination of a few of the above. Current affairs were constantly being discussed and gossiped about at the Continental’s terrace (aptly nicknamed “Radio Catinat” by some), and the international press found enough material there to feed flows of dispatches heading to a fascinated foreign audience.
The Continental Palace Saigon (1968)
Continental Hotel 1971 John Binfield
Continental Palace, Saigon (1963)
In the 1960’s, as Westmoreland demanded more and more troops be sent ‘in-country’, most of them 19 year-old GIs, demand for local ‘entertainment’ grew. The Tu Do Street eclectic mix of establishments inevitably turned into Sleazesville. Still, next to its air-conditioned cabarets, Saigon tea dives and massage parlors, one could find yard goods boutiques and honest tailor shops. Skilled Vietnamese and Chinese thread and needle specialists mixed traditional and European influences in custom creations, targeting both a civilian and military personnel clientele unaccustomed to affordable bespoke fashion.
“... he was dressed in one of those jungle-hell leisure suits that the tailors on Tu Do were getting rich cranking out, with enough flaps and slots and cargo pockets to carry supplies for a squad…“
(Excerpt from the ever relevant ‘Dispatches’ by Michael Herr, 1977)
Tu Do Street (1964)
Tu Do Street (circa 1966) Courtesy Rachel Smith
Tu Do Street Cat Phuong Tailleur (1967) Phillip Hakes
Saigon (1967) Photo Phillip Hakes
Tu Do Street (1967), notice the “La PAIX” tailor in the right corner, which is replaced by a girlie bar in the 1971 photo of the same block
Tu Do Street Saigon (1968) LIFE
Tu Do Street (1970-71) Courtesy Steve (MACV Advisory Team 280)
(Vintage photo credits: Visual time travel courtesy of the internet, photos sourced here, there and everywhere. Gratitude to the owners of those flikr accounts for making their photostreams publicly available, for the sake of History preservation. Full credit to those who originally snapped the shots and chose to share them. I try to give credit to the best of my knowledge. Viewer discretion advised on some albums, war is hell.)
And now, at last, a few words about our “Saigon Cowboy” garment du jour. The Mister Freedom® ‘Continental‘ shirt/jacket only features four pockets and might not qualify as jungle-hell-ready, but a glance at its intricate inside construction makes it look quasi tailor-made. For the detail-oriented who opens a garment to check its structure, the combination of bias tape piping and fabric selvedge is quite pleasant to the eye, if we may say so ourselves. Our Continental might have had its place in a Tu Do Street store front window display.
Style-wise this jacket is a combination of several influences: fancy 1950’s-70’s unlined tropical gear, short sleeve blazers popular with the African elite, safari-type pocketing, elegant uniform silhouette, whiffs of colonial empires, Old World tailoring, Larry Burrows‘ wardrobe… and the mighty Sun Zhongshan suit, a favorite in China since 1949.
Our ‘Continental‘ overall pattern is adapted from a vintage late 60’s custom-made jacket, the work of a Vietnamese tailor by the name of My Nha, located at 827 D. Nguyen-Tran (unidentified city).
The Sun Zhongshan suit
Say the ‘what’ suit, son?
Larry Burrows (1965)
Larry Burrows (1966) Time & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images
As much as I liked that vintage jacket, I figured we all could live without the 100% polyester fabric of the original sample. We opted instead for the following three textile options: a) The “Bush” model (not to be misunderestimated): 100% cotton mil-spec OD popeline shell / 100% cotton Buzz Rickson’s USN selvedge blue chambray lining yoke. b) The “Cholon” model (for the man of leisure): 100% cotton BR’s USN selvedge blue chambray shell / 100% cotton ERDL camo popeline lining yoke. c) The “Cowboy” model (special jungle-hell edition): 100% cotton ERDL camouflage popeline / 100% cotton BR’s USN selvedge blue chambray lining yoke.
For those into Making Ofs, some boring bits behind the MF® Saigon Cowboy woven rayon label this season: Our ‘local tailor’ looking MF® label combines the yellow background with three red stripes of the flag of South Vietnam and, for a USO flavor, the red white and blue of Old Glory. The specific rectangular shape with beveled corners seems typical of Vietnamese custom tailor woven labels of the period that I have seen.
Making of the Spring 2015 label
Vintage woven labels
Cigarettes Nationales poster (1930)
Vietnamese Safe Conduct Pass
USO Chu Lai, courtesy Donald P. Sloat
The “Continental” is designed in California by Mister Freedom® and manufactured in Japan by Sugar Cane Co.
Three options, fabrics milled in Japan: a) The “Bush” model: 100% cotton mil-spec OD popeline shell / 100% cotton Buzz Rickson’s USN blue chambray lining yoke. b) The “Cholon” model: 100% cotton BR’s USN blue chambray shell / 100% cotton ERDL camo popeline lining yoke. c) The “Cowboy” model: 100% cotton ERDL camo popeline / 100% cotton BR’s USN blue chambray lining yoke.
* Pattern inspired by tropical tailor-made attire, with a sober ‘Mao suit’ influence.
* Yes, we dared make a short sleeve blazer.
* Elegant tailored uniform-like silhouette with elaborate darting.
* Two chest flap pockets, one pencil slot.
* Two lower flap cargo pockets, ‘invisible’ stitch.
* All inside seams finished with OD color bias tape, unless selvedged.
* Corozzo wood buttons, golden brown.
* Two-piece back with vent.
* Made in Japan
Our ‘Continental’ comes raw/un-rinsed and will shrink to tagged size after a rinse/dry process. All three options will approximately shrink to the same measurements.
We recommend an initial cold soak, spin dry and line dry. The wrinkling ensuing this process is normal, in line with the ‘tropical’ look effect.
If you are a Medium in mfsc shirts/jackets, you are a Medium in the ‘Continental‘. Because of the specific cut, the darting and requirements of this blazer-like pattern, this shirt/jacket will not fit every frame. For instance, the arm construction, although comfortable, disqualifies this jacket as beach-volley attire. There are no expansion pleats.
Please consider the measurements below for an idea of the proportions and resulting fit.
CARE: Launder when hygiene dictates and common sense prevails.
Hand wash or delicate cycle machine wash. Cold water, eco-friendly mild detergent and line dry.
Patina will develop according to activities and frequency of wear.
Available RAW/unwashed SIZES:
“The SPORTSMAN” Collection Mister Freedom® x Sugar Cane Co
This fine year, 2013, we are introducing a new concept collection, in parallel with our ongoing MFSC collaboration with Sugar Cane Co. ‘The SPORTSMAN’ line will not have a specific story with fictitious characters behind it, and will just be about a Mister Freedom® take on beloved classic items we like to wear around here.
The idea is not to re-invent the wheel nor come up with the banana-bending-machine, but rather to put our twist on time tested garments such as chino pants, work shirts, blue jeans, T-shirts, leather jackets…
Style influences and references for ‘The Sportsman’ line will be drawn from the same mixed bag vault of vintage photos, old silhouettes, California, 1940’s-70’s movies, mental pictures and record covers and vintage clothing that have always inspired us.
‘The Sportsman’ line up will basically be about garments you would have found dusty stacks of in pre-1970’s Army/Navy, Western or surplus stores. Things for dudes, with a non-trend approach.
We will continue to carry these items at the MF® store all year round and restock when possible.
New pieces will be introduced every season and added to ‘The Sportsman’ catalog.
The fabrics we will use will either be New Old Stock (NOS) from USA/Europe or milled in Japan from vintage swatches from our crowded archives.
We will thrive to have it all ethically made in USA, and not mass produced in China or Bangladesh (we’re still holding those grounds.)
Our friends at Sugar Cane Co will have our back and help out with providing outstanding patterns, trim sourcing and fabric milling.
Quality and value will be what you have come to expect from us, style what you have seen us do for a few years. As with the rest of the things we make, we guarantee that each piece of ‘The Sportsman’ will age nicely with proper wear. We have been told that our products retain market value as well, not a bad thing in this disposable goods market…
We know this is not a revolution in the garment industry, don’t alert the media, but we are still very excited!
Thank you always for the support and for allowing us to design and manufacture wearables we like.
And now, to kick off “The Sportsman” for Spring 2013, let’s start by introducing the SPORTSMAN SHIRT.
Simple design, a non-trendy MF® take on traditional work-meets-casual shirting.
You’ll notice some MF® ‘signature’ details for this shirt, such as original pocketing, double expansion pleats, inside green chain-stitch, traditional woven rayon label…
There are three fabric options this season. One is an old stock, and two were exclusively milled in Japan for us.
Designed and manufactured in California by Mister Freedom® in collaboration with Sugar Cane Co.
PATTERN: An original MFSC, inspired by our vintage influences.
FABRIC: Three options: a) Indigo Popeline: Indigo dyed fine 100% cotton popeline, selvedge. Milled and dyed in Japan to our specs. b) Chambray: Crispy 100% cotton chambray, white ID selvedge. Milled in Japan to our specs (from a 1940’s textile swatch) c) Hickory: NOS 100% cotton hickory stripe twill. Origin USA. DETAILS: * Made in California, USA.
* Relaxed silhouette and fit.
* Original chest inverted box-pleat double pockets.
* Slim chin strap.
* Full button front.
* Original painted embossed metal buttons, combination solid and MFSC branding.
* White cotton popeline button facing strip.
* Double front & back expansion pleats on shoulder yoke.
* One piece cuff gusset.
* 100% cotton thread, high stitch count.
* Flat felled seams, with inside green chainstich signature.
* Side gussets with selvedge fabric.
* Original “The SPORTSMAN” woven rayon label.
* Traditional front tail sizing ink stamp.
SIZING/WASHING: This shirt should be pretty low maintenance, but we still recommend gentle cold wash and line dry. As always, wash when dirty, not when you want a nice instant fade.
If you are usually a medium in MFSC shirting, wear a medium in the ‘Sportsman Shirt’. The shirt will shrink to tagged size. Refer to chart below for raw/rinsed/line dried measurements:
The first installment of Mister Freedom® x Sugar Cane “AMERICAN SPORTSWEAR” Collection is in: N.O.S. (New Old Stock) Chambray shirt
This Sportswear collection is all MADE in USA, an humble effort to keep factories busy at home, and to spend hard earned $ locally…
We chose NOS (New Old Stock, aka dead stock) fabrics for a lot of the items, selected from our collected stock of American vintage selvedged textiles. Not the easiest approach to manufacturing, since factories dread small batches, eclectic instructions, mixed fabric width and time consuming specific cut/sew…
We took the risks of the high road, and hope some will appreciate the efforts.
Imagery behind this collection is California mid 50’s to 60’s, from ranches, orange groves to Pacific shores. From off stage gear of the Hollywood cool cats, to Hipsters and Beats garb. Revisited MF® style.
SPECS PATTERN: Original MFSC pattern. Slim fit. FABRICS: Four options of NOS all cotton slubby chambray and one NOS stripe twill (i’ll spare you the color fancy naming game) a)Blue cotton selvedge Chambray, about 4.5 oz. b) Black cotton selvedge Chambray, about 4.5 oz. c)Red cotton selvedge Chambray, about 4.5 oz. d) Green cotton selvedge Chambray, about 4.5 oz. e)Indigo/white stripe cotton selvedge twill, about 6 oz. FACING: NOS blue cotton popeline, selvedge (used for collar band, button placket and gussets) DETAILS:
* Two MF® original chest flap pocket pattern (I-thank you Mr. Jobs-phone fits perfectly in right pocket, and won’t fly out when closed)
* Elbow reinforcement
* Double needle chainstitch felled seam construction
* 100 % cotton thread stitching BUTTONS: Original MFSC metal painted buttons. Combination of solid and “MFSC” debossed buttons. LABELING: MFSC printed cloth inside label. Lower front panel stitched on paper flasher (Tear off before washing or wearing, do not remove stitching, it is supposed to stay there) SHRINKAGE: To avoid confusion and surprises, all shirts are WASHED and hung dry (no dryer, to keep the light startchy crispy effect). So the initial shrinkage of the 100% cotton fabrics is taken care of.
We didn’t pre-wash the fabrics before cut/sew to preserve the ropping/twisting cherished effects, but felt like -unlike denim items- a shirt gets washed often and should be low maintenance. SIZING:
Due to ‘out of control’ shrinkage of the older fabrics and several batches of assorted rolls, variations have occured within the different colour options. (If you are familiar with our sizing fits, you will probably need to size up in the Blue Chambray… see chart below)
NOS Chambray Sizing Chart
Designed in California by Mister Freedom®, Manufactured in California. Limited edition.
Available WASHED only Sizes XS, S, M, L, XL Retail $199.95
Call John or Jordan at (323) 653-2014 or Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to get yours while they last. We ship internationally.
We thank you again for your support in helping us continue making clothes we like.
October 6th, 2011 | 3 comments - (Comments are closed)