The Japanese Fashion Mag Edition
On fashion, inspiration, and the line between edit and commerce
W. David Marx is a longstanding friend of WITI and our man in Tokyo. He wrote a very good tweet thread about the cultural history of Japanese fashion magazines and we had him edit it for WITI. This is just one of the great anecdotes from his amazing book, Ametora.
David here. One of the most distinctive features of Japanese magazines is their similarity to catalogs. Rather than long articles, essays, or celebrity profiles, most of the pages just feature dozens of products laid out along with prices, retailer information, including the store address and phone number.
The origin of this format, which began in the mid-1970s, oddly, was not the Sears catalog but the American Sixties counterculture.
The direct inspiration for this catalog format was the Whole Earth Catalog — Stewart Brand’s hyper-saturated guide to the tools necessary for self-sustainable communities, published from 1968-1972. (Steve Jobs called WEC “Google in paperback form.")
The Japanese illustrator Yasuhiko Kobayashi and editor Jirō Ishikawa were in New York in '69 to do reportage on youth culture, when they came upon the Whole Earth Catalog inside the Doubleday bookstore. Kobayashi couldn't figure out what the WEC *was* or what it was trying to achieve, but he was intrigued and brought a copy back to Japan.
After puzzling over the Whole Earth Catalog for years, Kobayashi and Ishikawa finally decided to make a "Japanese version." But instead of doing a semi-philosophical manifesto about sustainability and human civilization, they just made theirs a mock mail-order catalog of American-made products: clothing, outdoor supplies, tools etc.
In order to create the magazine, they traveled to the U.S. and took photos of three thousand different objects: Madison Avenue repp ties, Pendleton knockabout cardigans, Jeff Ho’s Zephyr Production surfboards, and the generic shovels, rakes, plows, screwdrivers, and pliers that sat in suburban garages.
They called the resulting 274-page catalog Made in USA, and it drowned readers in product shots. The mook (magazine+book) also included a fifty-six-page reprint of the 1974-1975 Hudson’s Camping Headquarters mailer. It was a runaway smash hit and sold 150,000 copies.
Bolstered by the success of Made in USA, the same team went on to found Popeye Magazine, focused on California youth culture rather than the previous “heavy duty” mountain-y aesthetic. But they again adapted the same catalog design from the Whole Earth Catalog. Popeye's instant success then made the "catalog magazine" format the hot design convention for all consumer goods magazines.
Advertisers loved the catalog format because it directly pushed their products to consumers as legitimized purchases. Consumers loved it because they could learn about hundreds of "legitimate" products and shop for them before even setting foot in a store. Products in Japan often sell out as soon as magazines hit the shelf, as kids will call up the store and reserve what they see before they can visit the shop.
Not only did Made in USA and Popeye create the dominant conventions of Japanese magazine design, but much later these magazines inspired the American magazine Complex (which took direct inspiration from Popeye-clone Hot Dog Press), and arguably, the product focus of fashion blogs like Hypebeast also borrowed a lot from Japanese magazines. And all of this rampant materialism starts with the very anti-materialistic Whole Earth Catalog. (DM)
(Kobayashi and Ishikawa in 2019)
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & David (DM)
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