In Tokyo, Kichijoji, you can find a store called [The Apartment], which has played a huge role in promoting vintageware from THE NORTH FACE as well as many other vintage revival items within Japan and abroad. This is one of the stores that all fashion industry people who visit Japan from abroad will definitely visit, and even on a worldwide scale, it is hard to talk about the archive scene without mention this store. I am very interested in the archive items of which brands or genres the owner of this store, Oohashi Takayuki, is focusing on this time. With this being the third time, we decided to ask him the teddy bears that a lot of brands in America are currently releasing.
--- I had no idea so many brands were releasing their own teddy bear!
“I can totally understand that. As for me, I started by buying Polo’s teddy bears, so by the time the store opened I had four ones. I was also selling vintage Polo items, so I used them as a nice decoration to go with. After that, this time when I entered a fashion store in Kasai mostly dealing in imported items, I found a plush panda by Nautica in the fitting room. What’s this! I thought to myself, and when I asked the old man running the store, he told me it was an item for sales promotion; when I asked him to sell it to me the man turned down my offer because he liked it himself, but I kept on liking it afterwards. There’s also a teddy bear from THE NORTH FACE, which I got from an employee at THE NORTH FACE when I was doing a cafe in Kichijoji; the café itself closed down already. I absolutely loved THE NORTH FACE and I’d seen a lot of their items but I didn’t know about the bear up until that point. At that point in time, I started remembering seeing teddy bears from a lot of other stores as well. When I looked into all the brands I was selling at my store, I found out that basically all of these lines had their own teddy bears.”
--- Oh really!
“I don’t really know the details so this is just me thinking wildly, but I think there’s a tradition in America of giving people teddy bears as a present in the holiday season, so because there’s that kind of tradition almost all American brands have their own teddy bear. So when I found a new one, I bought it on the spot, and I got some from other people as well, so the collection just kept on growing and growing…”
--- I see. So all of these are not items you can find in the brand catalogues?
“That’s right. None of these can be found in a catalogue. Some are holiday season gift items, while some of them were meant for sales promotion, so it’s hard to get a hold of which is which, but they’re fun to look at. For Ralph Lauren, there’s a line of Polo Bears than has continued for a long while by steiff, so maybe some people have a grasp of all the generations and there might even be a catalogue out there for these.
I also hear there’s people collection the bears from L.L. Bean, so you could say that’s a series as well. But the teddy bears by steiff for Ralph Lauren are, from the clothes to the actual bear, made from the same materials Ralph Lauren uses in their clothes, so they’ve put considerable effort into that. The quality of some of these bears is really high, but surprisingly enough, the bears by TOMMY HILFIGER look really cheap. So while some places really put effort into making the bears, there’s also companies who think of them as nothing more than souvenirs to hand out; everyone has their own idea about them.”
--- I hear the teddy bear from THE NORTH FACE wearing the Nuptse jacket is especially popular amongst fans, is this true?
“Nuptse bear was actually made for Japan. I have a few of these Concerning the bears by THE NORTH FACE, I think the people over on the other side don’t really know much about them at all. I own a few items of this type, so some collectors from abroad who don’t own this one come to me and ask me if I can find it for them. If you search well, you might find some owners, but as a whole there’s few people who have a THE NORTH FACE bear. Instead, it might be a lot easier to find bears from Polo. I think there were a lot more made of those as well.”
--- What kind of brand is steiff, the people who are making teddy bears together with Ralph Lauren?
“The teddy bears I have from Ralph Lauren were ones that came with a packet of perfume meant as holiday gifts; abroad these bears by steiff go for a standard price of about 380 dollars, they come with a sturdy box and they’re wearing a full outfit of RRL or Polo Sports or even RLX. Anyways, they’ve put a lot of effort in making them. Tiffany is also making teddy bears with steiff, by the way. They’re kind of the authority when it comes to teddy bears. Almost like Baccarat when it comes to glasses, that’s the way people see them. Then again, I’m not that familiar with the subject yet, haha. This Supreme teddy bear was also made by steiff.”
--- Are there many people among so-called Polo ‘vintage diggers’ who also collect these teddy-bears?
“I wonder.. They might be collecting them, but I’ve never seen anyone who had they teddy bears lined up at for example a bar to show people. They’re not that expensive, and also pretty easy to find, so it’s mostly people who enjoy having them buying them on a whim. Yet sometimes you find bears that make you say “What’s this?”. Like a plush doll of a Polo bear which is about 120cm tall. I’ve also seen wearable costumes of Polo bears. Those were used at the special shop ran by Polo at the tennis US Open, which is held in Queens, so they’re probably used at that event, so sometimes there’s things you don’t really know what to think of.”
--- In the beginning, what was the first thing to lead to start buying Polo teddy bears, or maybe just bears in general?
“If you go all the way back to the beginning, you’d probably end up at Kanye West. His debut was a big event in my books; it had a big impact on my life, it made me realize once again that I really loved Hip Hop. At the time, Kanye was wearing Polo and wearing backpacks which by now feels pretty nostalgic, but I was really surprised when I found out those backpacks were by LOUIS VUITTON. Around that time, I bought a knit sweater by Polo with a bear pattern. Until then, rugger shirts and the like by Polo used to feel really lame, or maybe just not my thing.”
--- Of course, B-BOY fashion was always one of your things, but it is true that you had your calmer periods as well, right?
“That’s right. Before that I also used to like things like Rawkus, but in reaction to that I would also bounce back; for example, to the items from Ruff Ryders, which made me love the huge dance club feeling that Jay-Z is an example of. I would wear things like throwback jerseys in that period.
But there was also this period that I kind of got tired of the whole shebang. I loved artists like 50 Cent, of course, but there were times I suddenly felt they were really lame when I thought about it clearly, so seeing Kanye debut at that timing had a big impact. That was the moment that got me thinking again that Polo was a really interesting brand.”
--- On top of that, he came right out of the major field at that moment so it was all the more impactful.
“That’s true, he was one of the group of people to which Jay-Z also belonged. In that way, it was also refreshing to see him change the value system of Hip Hop, and made me think a lot about the subject. That’s why I started buying things like the bear sweater from Polo as well as the bordered rugger shirts. This has been the same from the 90’s, but I used to get a real kick when I thought ‘So this is what real rappers are wearing!’. When I was a high school student and went to the school store before lunch, they were selling the first issue of this magazine called Woofin’, which had Method Man on the cover wearing a wrist band by Mizuno.
They apparently only used it because the initials of Method Man were the same M, so the real reason was pretty simple but it really took me by surprise. I was really impressed by the fashion culture of this Hip Hop I was following. That kind of impact struck me at several moments in life, and these days when I see young people who will bring something new with them which impresses me, I always think they’re really cool. That’s the right way for things to grow, in a real Hip Hop way.”
--- What’s the background behind you starting to buy Polo’s children’s clothes with bears on them?
“That’s obviously when my kid was born. The knit sweaters with bear patterns by Polo come in an infinite amount of styles, right? There are really expensive ones made from cashmere, of which there’s also a really famous bear version. That bear-patterned knit sweater didn’t use to be so expensive in the period I’d only just started the shop, but a while after that the prices for vintage Polo knit sweaters jumped up, and I couldn’t afford to buy them anymore. But the prices for children’s clothes were still reasonable, and it was just around the time my kid was born. Small kids look almost like Polo Bears, right? Especially when they’re sitting down.
So that got me thinking that if they wore a Polo Bear piece it would fit them pretty well, so when I was abroad buying clothing for the store, I would buy something from the current season as a souvenir; after continuing that for a while, I’d gathered a lot of different styles, so I just kept on collecting them because it felt interesting.”
--- In your collection, you also have some T-shirts which were made as merchandise for Kanye’s first album. Could you say that the appearance of Kanye had a big impact on your fashion style in itself as well?
“I guess that’s true. He was the first one to do a throwback to items people were wearing in the nineties. For example, in the later years of the 90’s, there were some people who started going back to some old-school looks. I am not into that kind of thing at all. It’s like nostalgism and it feels like something old men would wear.
Hip Hop is not something to go back to, it’s the feeling that there’s no use going back, or at least that’s how I felt. Of course, in the 2000’s there was this period everyone started wearing throwback jerseys and feel like wearing those Muslim Keffiyeh caps again; it felt kind of nostalgic, but it also felt like that would be going straight against the spirit of Hip Hop. I remember feeling really strongly that there was something wrong with that. But at that timing Kanye appeared, and he was using the sounds and samples in a similar way, doing throwbacks to all kinds of things, and I found it really amazing how he could be using throwbacks to take it all in a whole new direction. At the same moment Missy Elliot started her own kind of return to the old-school style, wearing the hats from Kangol, and that’s the moment I finally was able to understand it all. So this was how a real throwback should be done, you know?”
--- These bears that look like they’re based on the Antarctica Crossing style, were they also released by THE NORTH FACE?
“In 1989, there was this project where six countries worked together to cross the Antarctic continent horizontally on a big sled called the International Trans-Antarctic Expedition, and from the Japanese side a man called Keizoh Funatsu joined; the group was led by an American man called Will Steiger, and there were a lot of goods made based on him. Like for example sweatshirts, T-shirts and the like. This teddy bear is one of the goods made at that time, so it wasn’t really released from THE NORTH FACE in that sense. It’s more like Will Steiger’s personal bear. I was collecting a lot of bears made for Japanese projects, and when I gifted one of those to a friend abroad, they would send me something back in return; this process would continue several times until it became a collection, haha!”
--- This doll from Nautica, this is probably the panda you found at the clothing store in Kasai all that time ago, right?
“Yes, this is the same one as that first one I found all the way back. At the time I was already wondering why they’d made a panda. A while ago, I saw a poster with a panda motif as a symbol to resist against racism. A panda is both black and white, and it lives in Asia, right? When I understood that, it suddenly felt really interesting. Pandas are still part of the bear family, you know? American brands usually bring out bears, and of course Nautica is also an American brand but it’s run by people from Asian descent. Because they have that kind of background, I think, they chose to go for a panda. When I understood that a while after I’d first seen it, my desire to own one got a lot stronger, and so I was always telling people around me how much I wanted one, there was someone who managed to find it and he gave it to me as a present.”
--- Do you have any other bears you find particularly interesting?
“The ones by Helly Hansen also put a lot of effort in the clothes and are quite sturdy so I find them really interesting. Other than that, there’s some more brands outside of Nautica which did not go for a bear. Marmot, for one, went for a marmot (General term for any rodent of the squirrel family, genus marmot. They mostly live in mountainous areas). Also, this one I think no one actually owns but there’s this huge rucksack by THE NORTH FACE made of tarp called Basecamp Duffle which graffiti artists love, I love it myself as well;
as the name suggests, it’s a duffle bag to take with you to your base camp, for example when climbing Mount Everest, where you put it on both sides of a water buffalo to have it carry your baggage. So there’s a plush doll of a water buffalo based on that. Abroad I have a friend who owns one, and I keep on asking him to trade it to me for anything, but he won’t budge. That’s interesting as well, that there’s similar plush dolls that are not bears but other animals. If you seek even further, maybe you’ll find even weirder and more amazing ones.”
Owner of the Apartment and the Apartment SOHO in Kichijoji, that proposes the fashion and lifestyle linked closely with that of New York’s culture.