The prolific Japanese journalist, photographer, and expert in practically all things vintage menswear talks about the unifying factor that keeps brands relevant for decades—sometimes centuries.
Rin Tanaka is an established Japanese journalist with a penchant for vintage Americana and how the relationship between men’s clothing and men’s lifestyles have evolved over the years. His impressive output includes several volumes of My Freedamn!, an excellently curated tome of vintage fashions, and several books on venerable brands like Schott, Harley-Davidson, and most recently, streetwear brand X-LARGE.
His books tell each label’s story in a unique way, tying in key pieces through a brand’s life and what it means to the myriad of people who have worn it through the years, and in many ways grew up alongside these labels. For the past 8 years, Tanaka has put on the INSPIRATION trade show. It’s become a hotbed where attendees can discover hard-to-find vintage gear, Americana ephemera, and storied makers still doing what they do best.
After expanding to New York last year, INSPIRATION returned to the Brooklyn Expo Center in the hip neighborhood of Greenpoint for a second iteration. Brands like Feltraiger and Harden Co showed off American-made wares while vintage shops like Wooden Sleepers offered time-honored menswear staples like genuine WWII khakis and hardy Woolrich flannel jackets.
One of the definite standouts was the booth of Kapital head designer Kiro Hirata and photographer Eric Kvatek, which offered plenty of the cult Japanese denim label’s most sought-after goods, like boro denim vests and patchwork bandana Ring jackets.
“I just love the nice vibes,” says Tanaka of INSPIRATION. Indeed, he speaks in a genuine tone that reflects his passion of just bringing like-minded people together. The wares varied from long sold-out Supreme items like sleeping bags and Nike collaborations to repaired French worker pants and broken-in chore jackets. Yet somehow, it all looked organic when put in the same environment.
“Good vibe is a very basic thing,” reiterates Tanaka. “If you don’t have a good vibe, business never grows up. I respect people if they have a nice vibe.”
The New York show is different from its Los Angeles counterpart in the way attendees flow through. In Los Angeles, people tend to come early, pack the place out, and leave early. At the New York show, people came and went at a relatively steady clip, while the convention’s second day noticeably picked up in the afternoon, which Tanaka jokingly attributed to New Yorkers coming after brunch.
“The people in New York are more sophisticated,” he says. But there’s an underlying uniting thread between all the INSPIRATION attendees. He says that as someone who travels frequently (though his permanent home is in San Clemente, California), the people who look forward to what INSPIRATION offers are drawn to authentic objects that have a sort of time-tested realness. That’s something people of different backgrounds can truly appreciate.
So what can brands learn from the appeal of vintage clothing? Well, as Americana’s aesthetic is in the process of reinventing itself, Tanaka notices that change comes even to the most steadfast labels, even if it’s by a centimeter.
“Everybody changes a little bit. You need adjustment. This is a necessary thing,” he says. “The Schott Brothers— nothing has changed a lot in the last 100 years, but they change a little bit every year.”
His upcoming books include comprehensive tomes abut Lewis Leathers, which is about to celebrate its 125th anniversary, and Wesco, the West Coast Shoe Company, which turns 100 in 2018. Perhaps the visible outlier in his oeuvre is the streetwear company XLARGE, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
But Tanaka thinks what ties these seemingly disparate companies together is a sound business philosophy—and of course, good vibes. Perhaps, that’s what the secret to brand longevity is.
“If you keep good vibes, you can last longer,” says Tanaka. “A good business always keeps nice vibes.”
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