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The Button-down: Part 2

Pile of button down shirts in various colors and stripes

The button-down has a special place in the world of dress shirts.

From 1966 to 1978, during the time I was at VAN Jacket Inc., 80% of the company’s sales in dress shirts was acquired by selling shirts with a button-down collar. This did not surprise me at the time.

It was only after VAN went bankrupt and I started working for other companies that I finally realized the importance of that share. Button-down shirts were simply not produced in the dress shirt industry. Moreover, in Japan, “button-down shirts” were synonymous for “unsalable shirts.”

Time passed and I repeatedly wore and washed my old button-down shirts. One day, SHIPS of Ginza started selling U.S. made button-down shirts. I felt amazed and touched by the tasteful choices they had inherited from VAN’s Ivy Look. There were no button-downs in the other department stores. Those who did sell button-downs sold imitations, shirts with buttons simply attached to the collars. No thought was put into the collar roll, and so I put no thought into buying such a shirt.

Nobody seemed to know what a button-down shirt was.

SHIPS grabbed the hearts of the youth. Though it was not a brand that was started by a VAN graduate, they seemed to have founded the store using the Ivy spirit. Perhaps the Ivy Look was timeless. Although there were memories that I did not want to recount from my time at VAN, the elegance of the Ivy Style was something I could not forget, and was a pleasure to reminisce.

15 years after VAN, I was scolded by Kensuke Ishizu, the ex-CEO of VAN Jacket.
He said to me, “Now is the time for Japanese people to leave Japan and work globally, but who will be there to support them? The lifestyle in Japan is far behind the rest of the world. Western clothing is fairly new here. Someone must teach the art of self-expression through clothing to the Japanese people.”

That moment is when I vowed to start a shirt store.

At one point, there must have been over 600,000 VAN lovers. And most of them were also button-down shirt enthusiasts. If those famous shirts were revived, surely we could reconnect to those enthusiasts.

I'd like to think that the birth of Kamakura Shirts and the opening of our New York Store were helped by the seductive power of the mysterious button-down shirt.

— Yoshio Sadasue, Founder, Kamakura Shirts