Mister Freedom® x Tailor Toyo
Toyo Enterprises 50th Anniversary Limited Edition
There’s your common Fashion Industry introduction:
* Men’s cotton Jacket, embroidered, reversible. Awesome summer look! Won’t last!
* S to XL
* $ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
* 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 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.
Thank you for your support.