Mister Freedom® “Saigon Cowboy” mfsc Spring 2015
Cho Lon, a long time ago…
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.
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.
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.
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)
(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).
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.
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.
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 from www.misterfreedom.com, our Los Angeles brick & mortar store, and fine retailers around the World.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 323-653-2014 with any questions unanswered above.
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