“Marine Nationale Mer et Outremer” magazine, Feb 1948. Article by J. Raphael-Leygues.
Faking it in San Pedro (Courtesy of Tad from Clutch Magazine)
Caban peacoat, indigo x black twill Saigon Cowboy Fall 2015
In his 1828 study of the island of Sardinia, British naval officer William Henry Smyth mentions local gentlemen farmers sporting the cabbanu, “an article much resembling the pea-jacket of seamen.” Since most of you already own a copy of S.J. Honnorat’s handy Provençal-French dictionary published in 1846, you have undoubtedly noted that a caban then described a piece of heavy outerwear favored by sheep herders, sailors and fishermen of the Provence region, southeastern France.
With foggy origins dating back to the 15th century, the caban is to the contemporary French Marine Nationale seaman what the peacoat (pilot cloth jacket, P-jacket, pea jacket…) is to his USN seafaring counterpart, a solid foul weather double breasted wool coat typified by an iconic double row of anchor buttons. It is said that the versatile left or right buttoning let the wearer adapt to the wind direction, whether standing starboard or port side.
In the days of early navigators, sailors could pretty much wear what they pleased, and often whipped up their own functional outfits, sewing experts as they were due to the constant sail repair routine. Garments changed hands, were re-cut, adapted, recycled, customized, mended. Work clothes of deck hands were at times waterproofed with a mixture of tar, tallow and turpentine, a technique used on linen canvas spare sails in order to collect precious fresh rain water while at sea.
It can be irrelevantly observed here that, during the Age of Discovery, entering a crowded mess deck filled with sailors clad in their gunk-waxed finest, and more preoccupied by scurvy than ablutions (for centuries a bimonthly soap-less and salt water treat), must have guaranteed quite the exquisite olfactive experience.
The modern peacoat’s immediate ancestor seems to be of the paletot family, itself related to the cropped ‘reefer’ jackets. Short jackets proved practical while working aloft in the rigging. Nautical workwear and seamen jackets through the ages have followed the evolution of the carrying vessels, while adapting to the requisite of life on the Seven Seas. From the ancient knee-length hooded gowns of the 14th century mariners to today’s classic peacoat, a caban can be considered as a compromise between a cumbersome 17th century justaucorpsordoubletand a practical workman commoner jacket.
By 1876, the caban pretty much as it is known today becomes standard issue in the French Navy, featuring the familiar double breasted front closure, a set of (10, 8 or 6) anchor buttons, embroidered red anchor patch on collar, 3/4 length, in dense dark navy blue kersey cloth-type wool.
Interestingly, due to budget restrictions and the evolution of military regulations, the beloved caban (équipage, tenue n°41) ceased to be a standard issue in the French Marine Nationale in 2014.
Justaucorps 17th century fashion
Early 1800s sailor
Paletot modele 1858, courtesy Musée National de la Marine
French Navy six-button caban, 1986
Yves-Saint-Laurent fashion show, Southern France (1986)
PCF-38 Swift boat, Cai Ngay canal (1970) Department of Navy
Despite the above digression, a degree from Parsons won’t be necessary to notice that the MF® caban borrows its general pattern, not from the six-button French Navy-issued coat that once itched French conscripts’ necks on shore leave, but from the American WWI ten-button USN classic peacoat. We didn’t reinvent the ship’s wheel on this one, and lifted all the bells and whistles off of a vintage specimen from our archives.
Historically, if both French and American navies share common memories of navigating the muddy waters of Vietnam’s Mekong River or Red River (1940’s to 1970’s), it is unlikely that the local climate tempted many Dinassaut crews or their PBRBrown Water Navy successors to sport government-issued wool pea-coats while in country… Period photography testifies that searing heat and humidity called for shirtless outfits more often than full regulation attire, and I have yet to see a photo of a USN peacoat being worn in Vietnam. I might, as often, be wrong.
So, we couldn’t find any excuse for releasing this indigo twill peacoat as part of the Saigon Cowboy Fall 2015 story other than the vain desire to add another P-Jacket under our belt, and share a few historical markers. This jacket won’t work for 1940’s Indochina riverine flotillas reenacting indeed. Nostalgics of the GCMA‘s pirating days on Cù Lao Ré won’t be too impressed either. But, the Mister Freedom ® caban peacoat should do for other activities, such as looking ridiculously handsome at the grocery store.
The lining of our jacket features the fabric we previously introduced and discussed at length with the garrison trousers, the ‘controversial’ bariolage lézard aka French lizard camo. As often the case with linings, it is fully concealed on the inside of the jacket, and left to the discretion of the wearer to be subtly displayed on the removable/flippable chin-strap or not.
The mix of dark indigo blue and jungle green foliage tones of the MF® caban conveys, admittedly with zero historical accuracy, the “Forces Amphibies de la Marine en Indochine (FAIS or FAIN)” twist we wanted to give to this peacoat. This combo also reflects the whole vibe of our Fall 2016 Saigon Cowboy collection.
Pierre Combot, Flottille Amphibie Indochine Sud 1948-50 (Courtesy Thierry Combot)
Flottille Amphibie Indochine Sud 1948-50 (Courtesy Thierry Combot)
Cdo Jaubert Baie d’Along patrol 1951 (Courtesy M Pivin)
Cdo Jaubert Baie d’Along 1952 (Courtesy G Piccoz)
F.A.I.S (Force amphibie Indochine Sud) Avril 1948
Charles Schmid Mekong Delta FAIS (1948)
C Schmid FAIS Cambodian border (1948)
The shell fabric we chose is the heaviest twill we have had milled in Japan during our Mister Freedom® x Sugar Cane 10 year-long collaborative saga.
This 16 Oz. indigo wrap x black weft twill will be nothing new to those familiar with the mfsc Midnight P-Jacket released during Fall 2010. If this heavy cotton indigo twill is not for the butter-soft spandex fabric amateur, it is quite the crowd-pleaser as it will develop a desirable patina overtime.
On a side note, the stiffness of a new 100% cotton twill garment should not be considered as a flaw, but perceived as the intrinsic feature of vintage-inspired apparel following certain standards and manufacturing ethics. Mister Freedom® garments are not processed with chemicals or laser machines in order to artificially age their appearance, nor are they sandblasted or stonewashed to ‘soften’ their hand. Unbeknownst to many ill-informed consumers, the garment-distressing industry is an extremely polluting one, and for those who refuse to participate in factory workers’ silicosis and river dumping, there are many brands out there offering non-distressed products.
A garment will soften naturally with normal wear, and what is lost to ‘instant comfort’ will be gained in eco-consciousness. For the diehard seekers of the “comfortable broken-in look”, there’s always vintage clothing.
The MF® Caban Peacoat is ‘designed’ in California by Mister Freedom® and manufactured in Japan by Sugar Cane Co.
An original MFSC pattern, freely inspired by early 1910’s -1930’s USN and US Coast Guard sailor wool peacoats.
Shell: Heavy 100% cotton twill, 16 Oz. indigo warp x black weft, white selvedge ID, milled in Japan.
Lining: 100% cotton HBT ‘lizard’ camouflage fabric, milled and printed in Japan.
* 10 button front closure.
* Early USN type ’13 stars’ anchor buttons.
* Four pocket type, two ‘hand warmer’ slash pockets and two flap closure pockets. All lined with golden brown corduroy.
* Leather arrowhead reinforcement on pocket edges.
* Fabric selvedge conspicuously displayed inside pockets and on back vent.
* Removable chin strap.
* HBT ‘lizard’ camouflage fabric lining.
* Zig-Zag stand collar reinforcement stitching.
* Triple labeling on the inside, a nod to past MF® collections.
* Inside chest pocket and ‘cigarette’ pocket.
* 100% cotton stitching, faded ‘oxidized black’ color.
* Made in Japan.
Our caban peacoat comes raw/unwashed and will shrink to intended size after the following initial process:
* Fill washing machine tank with cold water, enough to immerse your jacket but mindful not to waste water.
* DO NOT RUN A WASH CYCLE.
* Soak the garment for 30-45 mn, agitating by hand occasionally to guarantee all fabric fibers are thoroughly soaking in water. This step shrinks the garment. Opting to use hot water might increase shrinkage and will also result in more indigo color loss.
* Turn dial to final spin, by-passing all washing cycles, and spin dry the garment.
* The fun part: briefly put-on the garment to ‘mold it’ and shape it to your body. This step will ‘set’ creases in arms and shoulders.
* Hang the garment and let dry overnight. Do not use a machine dryer.
When fully dry, the jacket will be very stiff from the re-activated starch still in the fibers, but that stiffness is temporary and will naturally subside with wear, as you move around.
The fit of the caban is true-to-size after the initial soak/dry process. If you are usually a Medium (38) in mfsc, you are a Medium (38) in the indigo caban peacoat.
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.
Caban Peacoat Size 38, post cold soak/hang dry
CARE: DO NOT MACHINE WASH.
This garment is too heavy and voluminous for a regular home washer, even one boasting “Heavy Duty”. A machine wash cycle will either ruin the jacket, the machine, or both.
Unless engaging in activities such as oil field extraction or industrial commercial fishing your coat should not need extensive cleaning. Professional eco-friendly dry-cleaning is recommended should heavy soiling occur. Spot cleaning with a wet rag is an option for minor stain.
Additionally, the initial soaking process can be repeated, with a minimal dose of eco-friendly detergent added to the bath to hand wash the garment. Again… DO NOT MACHINE WASH.
Note that the indigo twill of the caban will initially ‘bleed’ for a period of time and color transfer will temporarily stain light-colored garments and furniture.
Available RAW/unwashed SIZES: X-Small (34)
There’s your common Fashion Industry introduction:
* Men’s cotton Jacket, embroidered, reversible. Awesome summer look! Won’t last! * S to XL * Import * $ 749.95 * Buy Now.
And there’s the MF® saga version mentioning Ancient Rome, for the semiotics-inclined.
Here she goes:
It had been a very long and muggy day in that Oklahoma rag house, sorting through endless bales of used clothing as a recently-promoted vintage buyer for American Rag Cie in the early 1990’s. Back then, a few mills, who’s core business it had been for decades to recycle textiles, exporting containers of graded wearables to Africa and Asia for a few cents on the pound, and chopping the rest into wiping rags for the military or automotive industry, allowed selected pickers to come extract their ‘crème de la crème’. You would teach the grading staff in Spanish, then show up again some 3 months later to rummage through some understanding of your vintage clothing tutorial, in the form of several thousand-pound bales. It was all in the details: loop collar shirts, Hawaiian prints, side gussets, gabardine, rayon, Harris tweed, cotton madras, specific labels like Arrows or McGregor, ‘big three’ jackets (Lee Levi’s Wrangler), no acrylic or polyester, and… the mighty 501. The word selvedge had yet to become a social media hashtag, and these were times you’d rescue 1940’s beat-up Levi’s XXs from the ‘cut-to-rags’ or ‘#3 grade’ bins.
If I remember well, and I never do, the “light mix” (shirts, dresses…) was about $1.75 and the “heavy mix” (coats, #2 quality…) about $1.25 for Mid-West rag houses.
Rag pickin, early 1990’s
Slim pickin’ but high livin’ in Motel 6
It was around 1992. No barrel activity. Each grading section had turned silent, quite the relief after 12 hours of distorted rancheras blasting from dozens of boom boxes simultaneously playing local AM radio shows. A sign I had earned my $7.00/hour for the day at Oklahoma Waste & Wiping Rags, OKC, OK.
On the way back to my Motel 6 color TV-equipped room, I traveled in style all expenses paid, I decided to stop at a road side Salvation Army store for some LP digging before the drive-through grub. I don’t remember anything about the 50 cents record bin, but i’ll never forget pulling a pristine quilted embroidered jacket off the women’s section, with a $9.95 price tag…
‘Japan jackets’, as most called them at the time, very rarely came out of rag houses for some reason, probably ending-up on Africa-bound cargo containers, mixed in bales of Chinese embroidered silk robes and shiny nightwear… Well, I had just scored an early 1950’s New Old Stock reversible Korea tour jacket, of vibrant gold blue and burgundy silk, with flying eagles and roaring tigers… and with its original paper tag dangling from the zipper pull!
Of little impact to me at the time was the specific maker mentioned on that advertising paper flasher. Finding a garment with its original packaging was the only way to ID the manufacturer of these souvenir jackets, as they tended to never feature a sewn label. The paper ticket read “KOSHO & Co”. Sounded Japanese…
Although damaged from sun exposure and moths today, this is probably the only piece of clothing I kept from that period.
1950’s Souvenir Jacket from Kosho & Co. (book by Toyo Enterprises)
Some 12 years later, around 2004, I was approached by three well-dressed Gentlemen in Los Angeles, wanting to discuss a potential collaboration between Mister Freedom® and Sugar Cane Co. They announced themselves as Mr. Tanaka, Mr Fukutomi and Mr. Onma… from TOYO Enterprises, a renowned Japanese garment manufacturer I knew from its Sugar Cane Co fame.
Established by the Father of its current President, the avid Hawaiiana and Sukajan collector Mr. Kobayashi San with whom I would later be honored to share a bi-annual handshake, TOYO Enterprises had been supplying Yokosuka PX and local shops since the mid 60’s. Everything from 501-replica blue jeans (originally featuring a gold star stitched on the rear pockets) to assorted americaji (American casual) goods, all the way to embroidered silk souvenir jackets popular with American military men stationed in Japan at the time. Serendipity has it that KOSHO & Co, an old established Japanese fabric trading company, had merged with TOYO Enterprises around 1965. Mr. Kobayashi’s team took over Kosho’s Sukajan business, and has been leading the pack since then.
Tom, Fukutomi and Honma from Toyo Enterprises (circa 2007)
Today, TOYO Enterprises is comprised of several specialized divisions, whose high standards are recognized worldwide: Sugar Cane Co, Buzz Rickson’s, Tailor Toyo, Sun Surf… 2015 marks the company’s 50th Anniversary.
For an insider’s look at Tailor Toyo’s expertise with Sukajan (スカジャン), check out this recent TV documentary (you can fast forward to 01:15), a glimpse at popular Japanese television shows targeting the young generation, English-speaker friendly. Omoshiroi! 🙂
Around the corner from Toyo Enterprises current HQ location in Ryogoku (an industrial neighborhood of North East Tokyo famous for its Sumotori schools and nightlife as exciting as a DMV appointment) stands a small shamisen shop run by an affable old Sensei I once met. In the store window are displayed official USAF aerial shots of the flattened out neighborhood, dated 1945. Recounting brutal stories about the death of thousands from US air raids during WW2, Sensei kept smiling, politely but genuinely, as if fully detached from that past. We respectfully bowed, he went back to his stringed instruments, and I went back to my fancy clothes.
If American air raids were designed to expedite the resolution of WW2 and hasten Japan’s surrender, and allegedly saved lives on both sides, these photos next to Toyo’s five-story building always remind me of the survival spirit, resilience, hard working ethics and magnanimous attitude of the Japanese… Today, the country boasts the “World’s second largest developed economy“. Not too sure what that exactly means, but it sounds pretty good. Sure is a remainder that, given the possibility, fast forwarding from bitter to better is a good idea. Some should try that in the Middle East.
Back to our jacket.
Before becoming a popular trend with Japan’s youth, from innocent fashion to ‘borderline’ xenophobic statements (see Yanki, and right-winger trucks blasting propaganda in the streets), these colorful ornate jackets were local-made souvenirs for Armed Forces personnel, a military habit probably inherited from the old naval tradition of customizing one’s gear (Liberty cuffs, painted sea bags…).
Japan, Korea, Germany, Vietnam, Philippines, Middle east, Panama… “Souvenir Jackets”, “Party Jackets”, “Cruise Jackets”, “Tour Jackets”… a little bit for everyone. Some liked the generic eagle-tiger-dragon off the rack, some custom-ordered more personal designs, some wore them while partying on liberty, some flew missions with them, some brought an irresistible kid size specimen home…
Genuine military tour jackets have played the role of flashy gang colors for bands of brothers. They have featured salty nicknames, testosterone-filled mottos, innuendos, personal creeds, specific branch pride, not-so-PC novelty patches, unit patches, dark cynical quotes in unexpected multi-colored flamboyant embroidery… Anything to cloak death under a devil-may-care veil, a requisite for men of the Armed Forces who give their life in combat so that you and I don’t have to.
Although not souvenirs but in the ‘customized military gear’ family, World War Two saw everything from sexy pin up strippers to bomb-toting Disney cartoon characters (corporately repudiated today) readily hand-painted on pilot flight jackets and fuselages. For years, authentic USAF type A-2 leather jackets featuring custom painted nose art, cockpit ‘party jackets’ if you will, have fetched top dollar. Against all odds, replicas of these have entered mainstream Japanese streetwear since the 1980’s, some jackets even featuring fictitious “Enola Gay” artwork.
A-2 Jacket. “Rosie’s Sweat Box” (1945)
B-29 Enola Gay and Crew (1945)
In spite of being high-ticket collectibles as well, souvenir jackets from the Vietnam era tend to be lesser crowd-pleasers, with messages displayed usually conveying a more skeptical and cynical attitude towards the Kool-Aid, a sentiment well relayed by the many crudely engraved Zippo® lighters of the period.
The term “Party” applied to jackets/hats/suits refers to the fact that these often flamboyant garments were intended to be worn on R&R or around the mess hall rather than on operations in the boonies…
The Vietnam types were sometimes re-cut from uniforms, recycled out of quilted camo poncho liners, nylon parachutes, denim, silk kimonos… often mixing whatever fabric was available. Apart from the typical “When I die I’ll go to Heaven…” kind, party jackets of that period came in many shapes forms and colors.
Such war memorabilia is still sold to tourists in Vietnam today. The Dan Sinh Market, in Hoh Chi Minh City, is still filled with “authentic” replicas, such as gas masks, Special forces cloth patches, dog tags etc…, a man cave contributing to a small local artisan economy.
Danh Sinh market Photo courtesy Julian Tennant
Sometime last year, we were honored to be approached for a collaboration with the “Tailor Toyo” label on a sukajan type jacket, to mark the 2015 fiftieth Anniversary of Toyo Enterprises. Wholly immersed at the time in R&D related to the Vietnam War, it was an obvious choice for me to blend that jacket in the current Mister Freedom® “Saigon Cowboy” mfsc collection. I could have safely gone with apparently neutral eagles and tigers, but opted otherwise.
If we are usually pretty subtle with MF® garments, preferring minimal branding and ornamentation, this ‘Party Jacket’ would be different. Being reversible would help convey human duality, yin & yang, pile & face, good & evil, Jekyll & Hide, Cheech & Chong…
I do believe Man is an adorable serial-killer panda. Now that’s a good T-shirt.
Our ‘Party Jacket’ would require an individual reflection. Doing research is admittedly a challenging concept for the keyboard cowboys of the sheeple community, but like the French say, “c’est comme l’auberge Espagnole, on y trouve ce qu’on y apporte”. This idiom, originally referring to the absence of catering in old Spanish inns, roughly translates to ‘you will only find there your own contribution’, or ‘what you get out of it depends on what you put into it’.
You talkin’ to me?
And for the few not yet asleep, here are more random historical clues…
“Colonial policy is the daughter of industrial policy.” Jules Ferry, French Prime Minister, in 1905.
It had been a national hobby in old Europe to busy fleets and commanders with royal orders to sail the four corners of the Earth in quest of both riches and heathen souls to convert. Under divine blessing, wigged men in tights invited themselves on distant shores and competed for power, empires, spices, precious metals, trade goods, raw materials and cheap labor force. Spaniards, Dutch, Portuguese, Brits and French were at it since the 16th Century. Whoever the expansionist, the bottom-line message behind the mission civilisatrice of colonialism was simple: spread the gospel but bring home the bacon. Bacon, no pun, which could prove useful back home, to reverse seven centuries of Spain and Portugal Muslim occupation. Thousands of nautical miles away, in colonized hostile jungles, while the bon sauvage strived to find salvation in his newly embraced religion, missionaries would occasionally develop a strong disposition for trading wares… All was well.
If the seafaring merchants who originally dropped anchor in Viet Nam as early as 1516 were Portuguese, the French were the ones who ultimately dropped their suitcases in the 1850’s. Followed some hundred years of tumultuous imperialist presence in Indochina, France’s only beachhead in Asia. Colons got busy milking the jungle ‘white gold’ (latex from rubber trees), while France cashed in on its Opium Monopoly scheme (the French Governor built an opium refinery in Saigon in 1899, manufacturing a fast burning mixture that guaranteed both high consumption and hefty profits). Ultimately, the imposed system stirred enough Vietnamese national pride and resistance to get France kicked out in 1954, and the US to throw the towel in 1973.
Now that I’ve lost everyone, let’s bring in the Marquise de Pompadour, royal mistress of Louis XV, and a big Elvis fan, obviously. Louis XV, renowned womanizer and ruler of the French from 1715 to 1774, made decisions some claim lead to little events erupting a few years after his passing. Although truly successful in cultural achievements in the domain of the Arts, Louis XV’s mostly unpopular reign did contribute to his successor and grandson Louis XVI’s rendezvous with Louisette (the guillotine, not the dame), on a cold winter morning of 1793, Place de la Révolution in Paris.
He also is responsible for ceding France’s territorial claims in North America to England and Spain, the reason why I have to type all this in English, and why Céline Dion’s French sounds funny.
Marquise de Pompadour by Francois Boucher 1756
“Louis le bien aimé” by Maurice Quentin de La Tour
“Papy le bien aimé”, and Louisette
Who first pronounced the words “Après moi, le déluge“, today a quaint French expression which literally translates to ‘After me, the flood‘, is lost to History and Versailles’ corridors. It is attributed, however, to either Louis XV or La Pompadour. Its meaning is also largely open to interpretation and subtle nuances, from the irresponsible “I don’t care what happens after me” to the threatening “Watch what’s coming to you after I’m gone“. Most today use the expression with its “F*ck it” or carpe diem (seize the day) connotation, probably less relevant to the original intended meaning of egocentricity and self-importance. I personally understand it more in the 18th Century Hellfire Club motto sense: “Fais ce que tu voudras” (Do what thou wilt). But what do I know.
The pertinence of this “Après moi, le déluge” royal statement embroidered on our jacket is left to the reader’s own judgment. It could refer to some European attitudes during past colonial ventures (Patrice Lumumba would agree)… It also could refer to carpet bombing of ‘boxes’ in Vietnam-Cambodia-Laos, a scheme to demoralize the enemy, with impressive KBA (Killed By Air) scores.
“…we’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.“ General Curtis ‘old iron pants’ LeMay (Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force), pondering on the capability of America’s air power in 1965.
The air campaign concocted by American war strategists to bring communist North Vietnam into submission kept the USAF quite busy during the 1960’s and 70’s. The People of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos might not relate to such bucolic names as Farm Gate, Ranch Hand, Iron Hand, Arc Light, Rolling Thunder, Barrel Roll or Linebacker… but will remember the 7,662,000 tons of bombs dropped on them during the course of the war.
Difficult to grasp such figures for us lucky enough to not even know what an enemy detonation sounds like. I heard artillery while living in N’Djamena, Tchad, in the mid 70’s. But distant and muffled, and not incoming. I didn’t live in a tunnel either.
As a reference, South East Asia got three times the ordnance tonnage used during the Second World War and its wide spread theater of operation…
During the Vietnam conflict, using everything from B-52s high-altitude raids to Skyhawk strafing attacks, the Air Force was to drop “anything that flies, on anything that moves”, dixit National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, caught on tape relaying recent presidential instructions down the chain of command in 1969. Now if that’s not Realpolitik…
Some bomb types were given colorful nicknames by ordnance personnel, such as snake eyes, pineapples, or the charming daisy cutters. At the Air base, an explosive case could receive a custom painted graffiti before the sortie, often a considerate nod to the enemy, in popular wartime humor fashion: “Preparation H”, “It’s not the gift but the thought behind it”, “Birth Control”…
To this day, in South East Asia, unearthed aluminum ‘vintage’ bomb shells are being recycled into everything from spoons to jewelry by local rural artisans. With 25% of its 10,000 villages still plagued by UXOs (Unexploded Ordnance), Laos holds the sinister record of the “Most Bombarded Country in the World”.
No other Nation has seemed envious enough to claim that title since 1973.
An old tradition
500th Bomb Group arming B-29 Superfortress Mariana Island (1944-45)
250 Lbs bomb on Skyhawk, Chu Lai (1965)
One toilet bomb, the six millionth pound of ordnance dropped in 1965
LIFE and death (1966)
In French, the Reaper is a Lady, she’s always on time. “Vive La Mort” (literally ‘Long live Death’) is a reference to the 1965 French movie “La 317ème Section”, directed by Indochina War veteran Pierre Schoendoerffer. During a scene in the Cambodian jungle, Sergeant Willsdorff, a seasoned man o’ war portrayed by a convincing Bruno Crémer, lets out a hearty “Vive la Mort, Bon Dieu!”, a devil-may-care attitude acknowledging we are all ultimately doomed. For Willsdorff, death is an Art de Vivre (watch here around 08:50), or as Bruce Lee put it (in his 1971 “Long Street” character), “to learn to die is to be liberated from it (…) You must learn the art of dying“. Sometimes attributed to the French Foreign Legion, the expression “Vive la Mort” is historically more likely the battle cry of soldiers of fortunes and mercenaries. The cinephile will also note that in Apocalypse Now (Redux), Coppola pays respect to “La 317ème Section” by quoting the egg metaphor reference of the Viet Minh demonstrating their victory over the French at Diem Bien Phu: breaking an egg in his hand, the character boasts “the white runs out, the yellow stays.”
“Vive la Mort, Bon Dieu!”Bruno Cremer, 317eme Section (1965)
Pax is Peace, in latin. The original “Pax Romana“ expression refers to a 200 year-long state of relative Peace achieved by prosperous Rome with its empire, some two millenniums ago.
More relevant to our jacket and applied to the United States, the formula Pax Americana relates to US foreign policy post WW2. For some, that policy carries connotations of imperialism and neocolonialism, blatant or disguised. For others, it is an ideal balanced situation, with America at its center as the World’s Peace keeper, a role only the strongest Nation on Earth can achieve, guaranteed by fire power domination. During the Vietnam conflict, the formula was put in perspective.
“Sorry About That” and “Be Nice” are references to popular quips amongst American soldiers during the Vietnam conflict.These Americanisms were also used as the tittles of two illustrated paperbacks concocted by Ken Melvin in 1966-67. Both collectible vintage pamphlets pop-up on eBay from time to time, and even pass the Amazon PC Police. Additionally, a “Sorry ’bout That” arc red patch was a common feature on customized head gear and jungle shirts during the Vietnam conflict.
Along with the Nguyen Charlie comic strips published in Stars and Stripes from 1966 to 1974, featuring VC and GI caricatures competing for survival, this literature aimed at empathizing with and entertaining US troops in the field. They are a window into America’s not-so-distant past.
The hand-embroidered patch on the ‘relatively’ discreet denim side contrasts with the cluster of the jungle-hell camo and its apparent gung-ho statement. Surfing in wartime Vietnam has been addressed in a previous post while introducing the MF® Tiger Board Shorts.
Do note that, at the time of drawing the patch, i was not aware that a “China Beach Surf Club” actually existed. Again, who needs imagination with History at hand…
There it is.
Thanks for reading.
China Beach Surf Club, Vietnam, (1968) Photo Dennis Norton
When in Rome… Presidential perks. Hilary & Chelsea Clinton (2000)
Morbid R&D in Tuscany, Italy. (13th-15th Century Churches)
“Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”… enter at your own risk.
This “Party Jacket” matching our Saigon Cowboy Spring 2015 mfsc collection was designed in California by Mister Freedom® and crafted in Japan by Tailor Toyo and Sugar Cane Co, two branches of Toyo Enterprises, for the 50th Anniversary of the company.
* Fully reversible garment.
Side A: 10 Oz. indigo-dyed 2×1 denim, solid white ID selvedge. Milled in Japan.
Same fabric as our Utility Trousers and Jacket. Side B: 100% cotton ERDL ‘lowland’ camouflage printed popeline, 4.75 Oz. Milled and printed in Japan.
DETAILS * Inspired by US military Tour/Souvenir/Party jackets.
* Fully reversible.
* All original artwork on ERDL side rear panel.
* Original hand embroidered chest patch on gold tiger stripe background.
* Expert machine embroidery using traditional Japanese kimono-making techniques.
* Three patch pockets on each side.
* Covered 1950’s sukajan style reversible “TYE Tokyo” metal zipper.
* Very Limited Toyo Enterprises 50th Anniversary Edition.
* Made in Japan.
The “Party Jacket” comes raw/unwashed and will shrink to tagged size.
We recommend an original cold soak, spin dry and line dry.
I usually wear a Medium (38) in mfsc jackets and am a comfortable Medium in this jacket, with room to layer.
Please refer to sizing chart for cold rinse/line dry approximate measurements.
Launder when hygiene dictates and common sense prevails.
Due to the intricate embroidery, this jacket is relatively fragile and prone to snagging. Hand wash. Fully un-zip the jacket before washing. Cold water, eco-friendly mild detergent and line dry. Fraying of the patch edges is normal and to be expected.
Patina will develop according to activities and frequency of wear.
Available RAW/unwashed SIZES:
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 “TAHITI” Shirt
“Saigon Cowboy” mfsc Spring 2015 Collection.
The short tale of this Mister Freedom® “Tahiti Shirt” involves the Club Med village of a sun-drenched Greek island in the late 1950’s, and a young adventurer half my age.
In the Club Méditerranée tradition of their early beach-front vacation villages, GOs (Gentils Organisateurs, the nice staff) were often issued printed pareos, in order to stand out and better entertain the GM (Gentils Membres, the nice vacationers). Nothing spells fun-in-the-sun like Polynesian prints do. For the French, Tahiti is the ultimate exotic-sounding escape from the daily grind, known as metro/boulot/dodo (commute/work/sleep) by the Parisians. For baguette lovers, anything associated with Tahiti means H.O.L.I.D.A.Y.S (no, not Johnny), save for the nuclear mushrooms of Mururoa, maybe.
Johnny HOLIDAY, USA
Johnny HALLYDAY, France
Bora Bora, anyone?
Baguette lover in Bora Bora (1995)
780 miles from Tahiti, Mururoa Atoll nuclear testing (1970)
In some villages, these Tahiti-style colorful cloth wraps were cut & sewn into aloha tops by local tailors or whoever handled the sewing machine best. I own two of these vintage shirts, had them for years. Mine originally belonged to a young fellow who had done a short stint as a GO in Greece, sometime in 1957. For just a few months, but long enough to improve on his water ski and social skills, and shake the djebel dust and smell of war off his mind.
The year prior, he had been enjoying twelve months of bushwhacking in green fatigues in the arid Algerian mountains. Military service was mandatory in France in 1956, and if you had just missed ‘l’Indo‘, you were about ripe for ‘l’Algérie‘.
A French colony since 1830, Algeria had been at war with France since 1954, claiming back its autonomy. For Algerian nationalists who had closely watched the demise of the old French colonial powers in Indochina culminating in the Diem Bien Phu firework finale, independence didn’t seem like utopia anymore. If their Vietnamese comrades had done it, so could they. But generations of French Algeria-born Pieds-Noirs, harkis, …, and a coalition of rogue generals, were not giving up that easy. Ensued the epic and gruesome Guerre d’Algérie (1954-1962), a very touchy topic to this day between both countries. Just quote Charles De Gaulle’s “Je vous ai compris” (I understood you) to a Pied-Noir, and watch what happens… For one planning to vacation in Algiers over the holidays, mentioning the OAS while strolling in the Casbah will also prove a great ice breaker to meet friendly locals.
But like they say, one front at a time, we’ll get back to this one some other day…
After getting his diploma in paréo-ironing from the Greeks, our playboy waterski instructor made his way back to Algeria in the following years. This time roaming the mighty Sahara desert as a drilling scout for the CPA (Compagnie des Pétroles d’Algérie, an oil extracting venture in North Africa). While at it, he managed to give a pretty Pied-noir gal his GO shirt, and my Mum a new last name…
None of the green fatigues, but two of the Club Med “Tahiti” shirts along with old photo albums happened to survive my Dad’s tumultuous expat life. He had nothing but contempt for hoarding, a ‘give-it-all-away’ modus operandi not shared by my Mum who often resulted to hiding things in order to find then again!I have an inclination to not collect anything myself, but I admit the few old relics he did not succeed in getting rid of back then are priceless to me today. Gérard Loiron, you are missed.
Kindly making a suggestion
Original 1950’s Club Med shirts
Discreet product placement
Both shirts were sent to our Sugar Cane Co friends in Japan and the fabric and prints analyzed. Hats off to the Toyo textile experts who reconstituted the entire panel artwork without taking the vintage samples apart. The floral design is non-symmetrical, as can be seen on the paréo-ironing session photo, and the motif repeat was very difficult to recreate for the Sun Surf® Graphic Dept. But it seems there is nothing they can’t do when it comes to Aloha-type shirts. Otsukaresama deshita.
The base textile of our Tahiti shirt is reminiscent, in texture, of those vintage kitschy 1960’s/70’s cotton Hawaiian shirts sometimes referred to as ‘bark cloth’. In the 1940’s/50’s, a thick and heavy version of that dobby weave cotton cloth had become a standard feature in most American households, in the form of printed curtains and upholstery fabric.
All those vintage iterations were modern renditions of the ancient Hawaiian kapa (or tapa in Tahitian, meaning ‘the beaten thing’), the natural wood pulp bark cloth of early traditional Polynesian attire that so impressed Captain James Cook back in 1769. “This stuff is awesome! Where to cop?” he reportedly said on his final voyage to the Pacific Islands, before being clubbed on the beach. But you might want to double-check on that.
Our “Tahiti Shirt” in barkcloth-like cotton fabric comes in two color options, coined by the MF® Linguistic Dept as Moana (meaning the mighty Ocean ie. the Big Blue) and Ura (meaning red), for the sole purpose of qualifying you as the most fluent individual in Tahitian language of your neighborhood at this second.
Doing the hula bop in pareo
Pareo blouse by Lin Fung Chu, leading couturier of Papeete (1953)
Tahiti ‘Voyage Through Paradise’ George T. Eggleston (1953)
At this point, a quite pertinent remark would be “how you planning to landfall that canoe in Saigon, son?“, in other words “The Nam?! Fun in the sun??!? wtf?!?!“
That’s when R&R comes in. No, not the devil’s music, I mean Rest & Recreation.
During their 12 or 13-month Vietnam tour, American soldiers could take a one-time leave out of Vietnam, for a maximum of 30 days. Jungle fatigues were dropped at the departure air base, khakis slipped on, and civvy clothing often rented at the destination. Popular escapes were Hawaii, Sydney, Bangkok, Hong Kong… from where souvenirs and loads of crusty epic stories were brought back.
Additionally, shorter in-country R&R were awarded to wary grunts with an urgent need to go cool off away from Agent Orange and Victor Charlie for a few days. The South China Sea waters of Cam Ranh Bay, Vung Tau, and the famed Da Nang China Beach saw many a sunburnt GIs come and go during the 10 years of the Vietnam war. Some days, those beaches almost looked like beaches at home, save for the M-16 of the US Marine lifeguard on tower duty, or the occasional bandages from hospital ships washing ashore. Sorry ’bout that.
Vung Tau Beach R&R (1966)
Cinephiles will also notice that the Mister Freedom® “Tahiti shirt” is a nod to the famous M*A*S*H* war comedy film and TV series, which featured characters (“Trapper John” or “Hawkeye”) flashing a floral shirt in the context of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. A wardrobe oxymoron, intended to highlights the level of gallows humor necessary in the field to help deal with the absurdity and brutality of war.
“... it was so far out, you couldn’t blame anybody for believing anything. Guys dressed up in batman fetishes, I saw a whole squad like that, it gave them a kind of dumb esprit. Guys stuck the ace of spades in their helmet bands, they picked relics off of an enemy they’d killed, a little transfer of power; they carried around five pound bibles from home, crosses, St. Christophers, Mezuzahs, locks of hair, girlfriends’ underwear, snaps of their families, their wives, their dogs, their cows, their cars, pictures of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton, the Pope, Che Guevara, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, wiggier than cargo cultists.“
(Excerpt from Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches‘, correspondent for Esquire Magazine in Vietnam, 1967-1969.)
Anyways, the “Tahiti shirt” was designed in California by Mister Freedom® and manufactured in Japan in collaboration with Sugar Cane Co.
100% cotton ‘bark cloth’ like dobby fabric base. 1950’s Polynesian floral design print replica. Fabric milled in Japan.
* Original mfsc updated pattern, inspired by authentic 1950’s local-made tourist attire.
* Long sleeve.
* French style col requin (shark fin shape collar)
* Genuine coconut shell buttons.
* Matching single chest pocket.
* No back yoke.
* Side slits.
* Flat-felled seam chainstitch construction, narrow folder.
* High count 100% cotton tonal stitching.
* Limited edition.
* Made in Japan.
The “Tahiti” shirt comes raw/unwashed and will shrink to tagged size after an original cold soak/line dry.
If you are a Medium in mfsc shirting, you are a Medium in this shirt.
We recommend an initial cold soak, spin dry and line dry. Please refer to sizing chart for measurements reflecting this method.
CARE: Launder when hygiene dictates and common sense prevails.
Machine wash. Cold water, gentle cycle, eco-friendly mild detergent and line dry.
Available RAW/unwashed. SIZES:
Small Medium Large X-Large XX-Large