New brands come and go, are born and disappear again.
It’s often said that fashion is like a living being, but from another perspective there are also ‘undying brands’ that just keep on shining. What’s special about these brands? We’ve interviewed some professional buyers who have lived with the times and asked them the secret of these brands. Today, we bring you our dialogue with Mr. Masuda, a buyer for UNITED ARROWS & SONS.
--- You’ve brought us several items from your private collection today; is there anything you can tell us about this collection from the standpoint of brands stay last, brands that never die?
“One thing that definitely goes for all of these brands is that they don’t stray from their core identity. It’s all about keeping true to that identity. Understanding why you’re working the way you are is one of the most important things in any job. Of course, a brand needs to evolve in order to prevent becoming stale, but in my experience, keeping a core identity while staying with the times in the end is the most important. For a brand to continue existing for a long time, there’s five pillars that can be important. These are design, PR, finances, production and sales. Each of these elements is quite important. But if any of these tries to move quickly on their own, the whole tends to grow in a weird way. What’s most important is that the brand has a foundation, its own identity, to support all of this. These five pillars are all built on top of that foundation. The items I’ve brought with me today all have a solid foundation in my opinion.”
--- I see, that’s very interesting. Nothing can exist without its own identity, but having your own identity and just making good items isn’t enough either. You need all of these elements to make sure the brand stays strong. As an example, what can you tell us about Charvet?
“Charvet is a brand that has existed from what we in Japan call the Bakumatsu Period; they’re the world’s oldest shirt maker. Their concept is to make clothing in good sense, meant to be used by executive members of companies. At the time France still had a royal family and these shirts were made from them. A famous story from the world of fiction is that Lupin III would wear their shirts. At first glance they look like ordinary shirts, but details like the matching of the patterns and the shorter sleeves are what they pay real attention to. While the technical details are great as well, wearing the shirts lets you experience a special showy feeling, which is different from items by other shirts makers. Their eye for beauty is very Parisian and they’ve kept on creating shirts loved by fashion lovers of all generations, which I think is amazing. If you consider the chambray shirts by Ralph Lauren to be part of a rough and masculine aesthetic, Charvet is more on the elegant side. Saint Lauren is close to that as well, so this element of elegance seems to be included in men’s brands from France in some shape or form. That’s I think what shapes their foundation.
This half-sleeve shirt hardly finds its way into Japan. I bought it at the main store in Paris. Charvet is known for its long-sleeved shirts so this model might seem a bit off-standard, but because the brand itself is quite elegantly designed to begin with, it still looks quite good as a half-sleeved item as well. The people at the brand might not officially agree with this, but I personally see them as a fashion brand, not just a maker of shirts.”
--- Can you also tell us your take on Chrome Hearts?
“Chrome Hearts always stays at the top of their game as per quality, and their message as a brand has also always stayed the same. That’s why they’ve kept new designs to a minimum and kept on making the same item for a long time. At our store, this is an item that keeps on selling as a standard item. I hear their vision is to become America’s Hermès, which is reflected by the fact they slowly turned into a more luxury brand. This is slightly different for us Japanese, but for American people, an item being pricey or only available for limited people creates the items of an item being luxurious. Their tactic is to think about how to keep you thinking you want the item without actually being able to buy it.
By the way, they also make furniture to fit each person’s lifestyle, which always has a feeling of playfulness. I think one of the reasons for their popularity is the fact they keep their quality at a high level whilst still making these kinds of items.”
--- Is there any recent brand you think will make the cut for the years to come?
“Firstly, I think Cherry Los Angeles has the potential to become such a brand. The designs are being done by two young people in their twenties, and when I asked them what kind of brand they are aiming to become, they told me ‘We want to be the result of what would be born if Ralph Lauren and Stussy married and had a child.’ While aiming to be a brand loved by all like Stussy, they also have a love for American classical cars and the details of old work jackets and so decided to make American classic items. While also making modern items, they have a strong sense of identity at their core. The fashion world in the end is also a business, so at the moment there’s also a surprising lot of brands that don’t have a strong sense of identity. They don’t really have a strong message or philosophy, there’s just the fact that a famous artist is wearing their items. That information tends to spread really quickly, so a lot of people do talk about them.
While Cherry Los Angeles does understand these kinds of elements, I feel that they also have a good sense of their own identity which felt really inspiring. They also told me a lot about their marketing strategy. While still being very young, they also have a very good sense of the branding and business elements necessary for a brand, which gives me a good feeling about them.”
“Furthermore, there’s this brand that debuted in Paris in 2019, CASABLANCA. Their signature item is their silk shirts, which were sold in the Autumn/Winter season of 2019. Recently, the mainstream in men’s fashion is based in the American style, but these people are specializing in silk shirts, tailored jackets, focusing on the elements of ‘dressing up’ and ‘elegance’. This is something they have in common with Charvet, but their message of ‘not cool, but beautiful’ is refreshing and fascinating. Even their buttons are quite beautiful. They also have their own goal of wanting to become a brand like CHANEL in the men’s fashion world, so I’m looking forward to what they will show us as a brand in the future.”
--- In a period where the fashion world is changing day by day, what do you think is the most important point for a brand to keep on existing into the future?
“In the end, the most important thing is the strength of young message. This is also a thing I should consider myself more, but I feel that if you don’t have a message the brand will not be able to reach anyone. It might seem like a niche field, but I feel that people who put in a lot of effort in this field are really strong. Even when only ten people out of a thousand sympathize with the brand, brands that have a message and earn their core fans will probably continue to exist for a long time. I think it will become more difficult in the future for a brand to do a lot of different things at the same time. Wanting to do everything means you’re not really doing anything at all. The four brands I introduced today all have their own identity, while also being viable as a business at the same time.
Until a while ago, it used to be seen as cool to ignore the business part of fashion, but from the perspective of us salespeople, that era has ended a long time ago. I also think that brands will stop working as single units and will start working more like communities using online salons; I think this will become quite important in the long run. Creating a space for people to enjoy their own niche. To do that, I think having your own message and identity also definitely makes you stronger as a brand.”
After leaving Japan for Great Britain, he started working for United Arrows in 2007. After working at the PR department of United Arrows & Sons, he started working there as a buyer since 2018. From last year, he started regular livestreams on Instagram (@m.a.s.u), where he actively aims to share his interest in fashion.
Photo_ RYO KUZUMA
Edit＆Text_ TATSUYA YAMASHIRO