Tatsuya Nakamura and Tomoyoshi Takada of Beams – and Ivy Style

Friday, July 5th 2019
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Tatsuya Nakamura

Japanese fashion drives so much of classic style that we barely see in the West. Italian brands can be huge in Japan, yet barely be covered here.

Partly as a result, Japanese buyers are some of the most knowledgeable in the world. They are usually bespoke customers, for example, as well as having a wide experience of trends and brands.

I’ve met Tatsuya Nakamura of Beams (above), one of the most important of those buyers, several times over the years.

But we’ve never talked in depth, and so I took the opportunity to interview him while in Tokyo recently, focusing on Japanese fashions and how he has seen them develop over his career. We were also joined by younger but hyper-stylish buyer Tomoyoshi Takada.

 

Tomoyoshi Takada

Permanent Style: Thank you for taking the time to meet me, Nakamura-san. It’s lovely to be here in the Beams offices surrounded by all the collections.

Tatsuya Nakamura: A pleasure, Simon-san.

Perhaps we could start by talking about style at the moment in Japan. Have you seen clothing become increasingly casual in recent years, as we have in Europe?

Yes, streetwear has been growing for several years, but it’s definitely hit its peak recently. You now see quite a clean split between smarter, tailored dressing on the one hand and streetwear on the other.

Tailoring has been strong here ever since Italian style – what we called ‘Classico Italiana’ – became a big trend around 20 years ago. It was taken up so much that it still drives a lot of what men wear today, and has in fact stopped streetwear from becoming so big.

In the West we often think of Japan as very fashion-driven, with nothing being popular for more than a few years. Is that accurate?

In general I think it’s true, but Classico Italiana was an exception, because it became the default for tailoring here – replacing the dominance by English or American tailoring in the preceding decades.

 

Iterations of Ivy, from the Beams magazine archive

Is American style still popular in general? I know it was a big influence after World War Two.

Ivy Style has come in and out of style, and gone through different iterations.

It was popular after the War until the 1970s, for example. Then in the 1980s there was a version called French Ivy. And American Ivy brands became popular again in the 2000s, spurred by Thom Browne among others.

Were you into Ivy Style, personally, when you were growing up?

Yes, I was particularly into French Ivy in the 1980s.

This is a look that’s hard to define, but it mixed a lot of English and French brands – Chester Barrie, John Smedley, Lacoste – as well as some American ones. Myself and Kamoshita-san were both fans of French Ivy.

 

An old copy of Popeye magazine, from the Beams archive
An example of French Ivy, from the magazine

Is it hard to stay with one personal style in Japan, given the changing trends?

Yes, it is hard. Though people don’t tend to change their style fundamentally. They just tend to make small changes, often.

Were you pleased when Ivy Style became popular again recently?

Yes, although it has been updated rather to be relevant. So it’s more of a mix today – Ivy but with elements of Italian and British tailoring mixed in.

If you don’t do that you look like you’re wearing costume.

Could you give me an example?

Sure - a popular look at the moment is a cricket sweater worn with military chinos or combat trousers, and then a tweed jacket or a biker jacket over the top.

The clothes are the same as the past, but the combinations are different. With original Ivy Style, that sweater would have been worn with checked trousers for instance, but never military vintage.

We have a great archive of Japanese magazines that illustrates all these changes. [Shown throughout this post.]

Men who are in the 40s or younger now, they haven’t gone through the first Ivy trend, so they don’t understand how the original Ivy would have been different. It seems natural to them.

 

A feature mocking the French Ivy look
Illustration of different 'Trad' looks

Are these styles being mixed together in a particular Japanese way? Is there something we could really call a Japanese style?

Well, there is one Japanese style which is rather bad. That’s the businessman look of black suit, often with a brightly coloured tie, like pink. And pointed shoes that curl up at the end. I don’t know why, but 70-80% of businessmen in Japan dress like that.

On the good side, there is a lot of original and distinctive mixing of styles. It’s very creative. More people here are into fashion, and are open to ideas.

Japan also tends to lead a lot of trends around the world. Often we will see mixes that emerge here and then appear elsewhere.

I admire a lot of the English brands at the moment though – people like the staff at Drake’s, or at Anglo-Italian.

What other brands do you think are doing this well, updating tailoring?

Two I’d highlight are Stile Latino and Lardini – more on their overall look and style, rather than the cut or quality of particular items. They’re always trying to say something different.

Older, bigger Italian brands use luxury materials but can be a little boring. Always the same. Some of them are very classic, some are very bright and loud, but in both cases they haven’t changed at all. The best brands evolve, and find a sweet spot between those two extremes I think.

Of course, I also have tailoring made – bespoke from Dalcuore, made to measure from Stile Latino and Ring Jacket.

The suit I’m wearing today is made by Ring Jacket in our current Beams model. It’s a mix between styles, with the Neapolitan make but an English ticket pocket.

A lot of Beams buyers seem to have their own distinctive style. Are they encouraged to express themselves?

Yes, we try not to dictate at all. In the same way that all the Beams stores are different, depending on the local market and the feedback we get from staff.

In fact, all of the Beams buyers come from the retail staff, which is a big difference between us and other department stores.

How would you describe your personal style?

Grounded in classic style, but always with an awareness of other ideas and trends.

I generally wear tailoring like this during the week. Then at the weekend a fine roll neck with denim perhaps, and sneakers or a boot. Perhaps a jersey jacket.

In summer, a cotton-drill trouser, fine polo neck and perhaps espadrilles. Never shorts. In both seasons I try to always keep casual clothing simple – not too many layers.

[Tomoyoshi Takada enters the meeting]

Takada-san, how about you?

Takada: I’d describe it as Japanese mix style, probably. Mixing together British, American and French styles. Because what I’ve lived through is all these going in and out of fashion – unlike Nakamura-san.

When he was growing up there were far more rules to clothing, to what things were worn together. Those didn’t exist for me.

I’ve learnt a lot from others at Beams, their background and the clothing they wore. We talk about it a lot. It’s one of the things that makes Beams special.

What’s it like living in Tokyo? How does that affect clothing?

Takada: There are very few formal events here, very little black tie. But more smarter evening events where you might dress in darker, simpler clothing. The tuxedo has been undermined a little by being worn for weddings.

But men still like an opportunity to dress up. Often in the stores at the weekend, customers will come in wearing smart clothes, a well-tailored jacket and trousers. They like the opportunity to put different clothes together.

Nakamura: The summer here is also very hot and humid, with temperatures around 38 degrees, which makes it hard to wear lots of clothes.

There is a thing here called ‘Cool Business’, where office workers are allowed to take off their jackets and ties. Men also wear a lot of short-sleeve shirts, which I don’t like. But they are practical.

You do see men trying to wear jackets in the summer though – and coats as soon as it gets cooler. They will suffer for their fashion.

It’s always nice to hear that – we might not have predictable seasons in England, but at least we can wear tailoring most of the year.

Nakamura: Yes, I travel a lot obviously, and like going to England for that reason.

Thank you both for your time, and for the look at the magazine archive.

Nakamura and Takada: Our pleasure.

Photography: Permanent Style. Thank you very much to all the Beams staff for their help with this interview and feature.

Below: Some of my favourite looks from Nakamura and Takada's Instagram accounts: @beams_nakamura and @tomoyoshi_takada

One of my favourite recent look books was 'All you need is Ivy', Beams A/W 18/19 - here