The Apartment, located in Tokyo’s Kichijoji, is a shop that has had a worldwide influence in the collection of vintage THE NORTH FACE, carries vintage gears of various other outdoor brands, and revive these vintage pieces. It is a shop that anyone working in the fashion industry would pay a visit if they come to Japan, which makes it a shop that cannot be ignored when we talk about archives on a global level. We want to learn further what the owner, Takayuki Ohashi, perceives from the archive trend. In this interview, we will focus on mont-bell, a Japanese outdoor brand that is internationally recognized.
---What made you start paying attention to archive items by mont-bell?
“When I go to purchase things to sell at my store, I go after items that I find comfortable wearing. mont-bell is a brand I’ve always loved for their down inner jackets, and their caps which I would buy every season. Also, whenever I went to the US, I would see a lot of people wearing mont-bell products, which was sort of surprising. Of course, these people are fashion-conscious folks, which made me realize how the brand is highly acclaimed overseas. It’s different from the impression we have of the brand in Japan. In Japan, it’s more of a brand intended to wear as a family, but overseas, they’re highly rated as products.
That’s when I started to look for old mont-bell products, and what I found through the items’ details was that the brand has evolved so much over time. The details used were things that you would never imagine finding today, and sometimes designed on peculiar areas of the clothing. Even today, they sell weird items like downs that look like a hanten (traditional Japanese winter coat). I think that things like that would become more interesting 10 or 20 years from now. There’s a bunch of interesting finds when I look at them through this filter. I felt that there’s so much more I can discover from this brand’s treasure trove.”
---Are the mont-bell products worn overseas vintage items, or items that are currently sold at retailers?
“Current ones. I’ve never met someone wearing vintage mont-bell overseas. There’s a ton of foreign visitors that go to the mont-bell stores when they’re in Japan. I think it’s only because they haven’t been exposed to old mont-bell items yet, but they may soon discover how exciting the old stuff are.”
---It’s the same in the Japanese archive market too, right?
---Do you think that displaying the mont-bell items in larger quantity delivered a message to the customers?
“I think it did. When it’s a one-off thing, customers don’t quite get what you’re trying to go after. In recent years, we’ve tried selling ARC'TERYX from around 2000, and old mont-bell items, but when they are just sold individually, they are just sitting there like background noise for the customers. When these items are sold in a more organized manner, the customers start to get the message that we’re trying to do something on purpose. So we try this strategy from time to time. When there’s a certain item or brand that we want our customers to notice, we really drive our focus on how to present it to them.”
---From which eras are you trying to find mont-bell archives?
“Mostly from the late 80s and early 90’s, but there’s a lot of recent ones too because they can get remarkably interesting.”
“Like this one. I think this item is pretty recent. It’s called ‘Bug Proof Anorak’ and used as a bug repellant, but the design looks like something you can maybe find on the runway. I’m still at an early learning stage for mont-bell (laughs). I don’t have a thorough understanding of the brand’s design style yet. Especially since they sometimes release weird stuff out of nowhere. They’re hard to grasp, so I’m still researching about them. The old stuff and the new stuff, they’re all so interesting (laughs).”
“There are other brands that have released things that have like cushions attached to the sleeves, or I should say a jacket that uses fabric that you can lay out and sit on. I thought that this is similar to the mont-bell approach. You would think it’s an object used to prevent getting your butt wet when you sit on the ground, but you realize it’s a jacket (laughs). I guess it lacked functionality though, since you can’t find items with similar detailing anymore (laughs).”
---It seems like mont-bell is a difficult brand to dig in to.
“You can sometimes find them when you go to like a really old, grimy Japanese thrift store. It’s harder to find at a proper vintage store (laughs). It’s something you might be lucky to find when you’re digging through a pile of garbage. The kind of place you might find off the beaten path on the side of a national highway where there’s a whole bunch of random stuff.”
---They may be good at creating odd items because It’s an outdoor brand that has family-friendly elements, but with a wide range of design tastes.
“Another thing to make note of is how their pricing doesn’t make any sense for the fine quality that they produce. Like you would find things that use GORE-TEX priced at a ridiculously cheap price. I think that’s why the items currently in stores are really interesting to look at too. I would ask foreigners where they’re going today and everyone’s response is ‘going to mont-bell’. It’s an amazing brand.”
---I think you would agree that today there’s a trend that consciously focuses on archive fashion. For example, there are Instagram accounts that are popular for posting original Supreme. Do you think that this movement will continue?
“I’m not very well-versed in fashion. I don’t have the kind of artistic sensibility that you need to create something from scratch. I think it largely has to do with how I’ve always loved hip hop, but I’ve always liked conceptual things like rare groove. I find something very compelling through things that the majority don’t know the value of yet. When I start collecting archives, I do it at a timing when I see that people’s perception of values start to reverse, which is also when things start to get more interesting. So that’s why mont-bell wouldn’t have been interesting to collect 3 years ago. It’s a brand I kind of sit and wait until I find the right, interesting timing (laughs). I determine that timing by observing how values and trends shift.
We often use the term ‘dig’ now, but I think it’s beginning to have a different meaning to it. I think it’s mostly used by young people when they find something for really cheap at a thrift store, but for me it’s different. I think a true digger is someone who can find something that no one thinks is valuable, but is able to provide added value to it. Isn’t that how designers at Supreme and Ralph Lauren create things? So for someone like me who grew up wearing brands from that generation, we’re more exposed to creations that are based off of something original that was created in the past. I think for this generation, archive fashion will remain. But of course, it’s also important to continue to encourage people to be innovative. We need more people that can build things from scratch since we’re starting to lean more and more toward archives.”
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.