Our New York store had to succeed no matter what.
A Japanese company selling Western shirts: I assumed that many Americans would find that impossible. Even if Kamakura Shirts is well known, that holds true only in Japan. Back in 2008, when I faced the Press to declare my decision to open a store in New York, I was sure that neither our partner factories nor those in the industry believed that I would actually follow this through.
We needed to study hard, ensuring that the techniques of our factory workers produced shirts that were something of value, even to those in the world of fashion. Raising our voices and telling New Yorkers that Kamakura Shirts was famous would not grab their attention. The more we did research into Western Europe and North America, namely New York, the more impossible and ridiculous it seemed to justify our venture overseas.
At around the time that such thoughts began to cross my mind, Tamiko, who is my wife and also the president of our company, brought back an interesting book from Paris. She had come across it in a well-known specialist store. The book was called The Ivy Look.
Penned by two British authors, this book had been sold in six different countries and even managed to create a buzz in the US, the birthplace of Ivy League fashion. Back to American roots and back to the good old days, such desires began to emerge amongst young designers and managed to shape the second coming of the Ivy League boom. I thought I knew what the Ivy style had to offer, yet I read each page thoroughly from page 1, hoping for some guidance.
As I reached page 180, I found something that was particularly interesting to me.
EAST MEETS WEST. East beats West […] It is the Japanese who started the Van Jacket clothing company in 1948, still selling impeccable Ivy styled clothes to this day. […] Where many have either neglected or slighted the Ivy League look, the Japanese enthusiasts have elevated it to new levels of obsession and fetishism and we can only thank and applaud them for it.
(Graham Marsh and JP Gaul, The Ivy Look, p.180)
I worked for the aforementioned Van Jacket from the age of 25 to 37. I contacted Mr. Graham Marsh to inform him of this past experience, and sent him one of our own button-down shirts. I asked him whether the shirts from Kamakura Shirts deserved the same recognition, and if he indeed believed so, whether he could write a short message of recommendation that we could show those in New York. Luckily, Mr. Marsh was thoroughly impressed with our shirt and wrote a letter, seemingly with great pleasure. As you may already know, this letter (see below) was displayed outside the New York store as we prepared for the grand opening.
【Short letter from Mr. Graham Marsh and Mr. JP Gaul】
When we wrote ‘The Ivy Look’ we knew all about the Japanese love of traditional American Ivy League style. We also knew that there was a remarkable commitment to quality and attention to detail in the Japanese approach to the clothes. So it is no surprise to us that the excellent Japanese company Kamakura Shirts is opening a store in the home of the Ivy look, New York City.
It was receiving this letter that convinced me that our New York debut would be a success.
I invited Mr. Marsh to the store opening on October 30th, 2012. He was also an artist who knew the glory days of fantastic American manufacturing in the 1960s. It seemed to me that the fateful encounter between him and Kamakura Shirts had left a huge impression on him. Mr. Marsh had a dream to show the beautiful products of the 1960s to the younger generation, and also to recreate those products, to indulge in nostalgia with those who knew the good old days. While the strong desire existed for him, there seemed to be no company or factory in Britain or America that could make his dream come true. It seemed impossible to produce an accurate recreation of the classic Ivy style shirts.
He told me of his dream with great passion. At the opening reception of our New York store, he sat next to me and sketched out the vintage shirts he had in mind. There was no time to sip our wine as he spoke of this dream so seriously and with such devotion. I promised to discuss more when I visited London three months later, in January 2013.
I was told to bring Oxford (color, ecru) and chambray fabrics reminiscent of the 1960s. I could feel his zeal for this entire project. At a restaurant in London on January 5th, feeling the fabric we had prepared, Mr. Marsh proclaimed that this was exactly what he had anticipated. We talked and talked, forgetting completely to eat. This was the moment that the wonderful collaboration of Graham Marsh and Kamakura Shirts began.