If one were to trace the genesis of contemporary Japanese menswear, it would begin in the early 1950s with Kensuke Ishizu and his eponymous line of “Ivy League” style shirts, jackets and trousers under the banner of VAN Jacket. Ishizu single-handedly brought western-leaning men’s fashion to Japan during a period of strife that seemed to defy the notion of consumerism. After a lengthy two decades trying to bring Ivy to Japan’s youth, Ishizu succeeded as VAN Jacket became a cultural phenomenon in Japan. However, by the 1970s, VAN Jacket lost the appeal it once had in favor of West Coast style clothing, “heavy duty” functional garments, and American blue jeans. While his clothing doesn’t have the same lure it once had, Ishizu managed to lay the framework for Japanese fashion as a whole, both explicitly and implicitly.

In a broader sense, Ishizu gave way for a variety of trends to infiltrate their way into Japan’s growing fashion industry. Japanese denim and workwear, logo-ridden streetwear—even deconstructed avant-garde silhouettes—are all products of Ishizu’s legacy. On the other end of the spectrum, there are Ishizu’s direct disciples who spent their tenure at VAN Jacket familiarizing themselves with the brand’s mission and values while offering their own variations of “American Traditional.” Yoshi Sadasue, a former engineer for VAN, went on to start Kamakura Shirts, a more literal interpretation of Ivy style that focuses on custom-made shirting in fine Japanese and English fabrics.

On the contrary, Tadashi Yanai, a former operator of a small VAN franchisee, implicitly channels Ishizu by exporting his take on American traditional—affordable basics with an emphasis on functionality and minimalism—otherwise known as Uniqlo. Uniqlo is the most successful brand to come out of the VAN Jacket family. It’s ever-so-simple, yet revolutionary brand image stands the test of time. When the consumer bubble burst in Japan in the 1980s, the company continued to make profit. To this day, The fast-fashion mammoth has over 1500 stores in 18 countries and is on track to raise $61.2 billion USD in revenue by 2020. However, while founder Tadashi Yanai is often ranked as Japan’s richest person (even being called the Japanese Warren Buffet), his upbringing is quite humble by comparison.

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