Heritage – A word I’ve seen used far too frequently within the fashion industry over the course of the past few years, yet a word that is of great importance for many clothing brands. Despite the word becoming somewhat clichéd in recent times, there is no denying it’s an essential part of a brands image and concept. While some may argue that the recent popularity with workwear is merely a ‘trend’ and that it will inevitably disappear once something else comes along to take its place – in some aspect, they could be right, trends do come and go - that much we know for certain, and the ‘Heritage look’ that we see in every high street window up and down the country will inevitably end up in the sale racks once the fashion bloggers and stylists are tripping over themselves to jump onto the next big thing. However, authentic Heritage cannot simply be discarded; it’s a vital characteristic of any brand and will remain just as important as it always has been.
American and Japanese workwear has been worn by passionate clothing aficionados in this country for decades, long before all these run of the mill menswear shops started to spring up all over the place during the last 10 years. Some of these ‘old school’ can’t help but laugh at the sudden infatuation while others claim it’s actually benefited them due to a wider availability of certain products previously too expensive to import direct from overseas.
If we were to trace back genuine American heritage clothing we would have to go back as far as 1964, way before the era of the internet - to J.Simons’ legendary Ivy Shop and then later on to the self titled J.Simons store who specialised in importing classic American Ivy League clothing. They were selling brands such as Brooks Brothers, L.L.Bean, Redwing amongst a huge catalogue of others, brands that weren't widely available this side of the Atlantic. Nearly 50 years down the line and the shop is still open, despite a few changes of location. It’s evident that an appreciation for classic American made clothing is hardly anything new.
Edwin and Levi’s Vintage denim have become increasingly popular during the last few years, yet it was a place called American Classics on Endell Street - just outside Covent Garden, who were actually the first store in Europe to import Levi’s selvedge denim direct from the states way back in 1981. The European division of Levi’s were even requesting certain styles from American Classics to use for their own archive. Being one of the first stores in the country to stock Redwing, Buzz Rickson, Sugar Cane and Carhartt as well as many more - they became the number one place to go for authentic workwear and U.S military reproductions in the UK, which went on to give the shop the worldwide reputation it still has today.
While many will try to dismiss ‘Heritage’ as just another trend awaiting its death penalty, we know it’s much more than that.
Another outlet which played a huge part in the early days was Interstate, whom coincidently sit opposite American Classics. They were importing Edwin jeans from Japan as early as February 1996, having spotted the brand at a fashion show in Paris 6 months earlier, becoming the first European store to stock the now widely known ‘Nashville’ jean - Edwin’s signature cut. Amongst other items for sale at the time were the Carhartt chore jackets, Pendleton shirts, Dickies work pants and the classic Woolrich parka, all available in Interstate during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Shops like J.Simons, American Classics and Interstate were the pioneers of importing this look into the UK, and they went on to inspire a whole new generation of boutiques and stall sellers offering both vintage and repro’s of classic workwear in towns and cities across the country. Ironically neither shop has an online business, just a loyal customer base gained through decades of supplying quality clothing.
Over the last few years, many people have jumped on the gravy train eager to make a quick buck with a faux heritage background and poorly made mid-century inspired clothing, mass produced in China and sold for pennies. The brands that really count for something will be the ones left standing when it all falls apart, and the die-hard clothing obsessive’s who have been wearing it for over 20 years – simply won’t care. So while many will try to dismiss ‘Heritage’ as just another trend awaiting its death penalty, we know it’s much more than that. Mainstream popularity definitely hasn't done any harm. It restored life back into many factories that were in financial meltdown, and it made very well manufactured products more widely available. It educated many about the importance of brand heritage and gave us an insight into the unbelievable craftsmanship that goes into making some of these products. Yet most importantly it's made a lot of people look at clothing in a slightly different way, and for the benefit of many - that can only be a good thing.
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