The craft and eccentricity of 45R

Monday, April 19th 2021
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The 45R store in London is a little jewel on Brook Street, just round the corner from Fenwick’s, next to the far more imposing Issey Miyake. 

I can imagine Permanent Style readers being drawn in by the indigo textures on display in the window, by the organic-looking cotton shirts and range of bandanas. 

But inside it can be hard to know where to look, and the prices can be a little alarming. Jackets are £500 or £600, the bandanas over £80. It would be easy to glance at a few price tags, tentatively handle a hemp T-shirt and then quietly leave. 

45R needs a little explaining.

It is one of my favourite stores in London, and Giulio and Simon that run it are lovely. The clothes are genuinely unique, and new mini-collections arrive every month. I find I pop in regularly, even if I rarely buy anything. 

But 45R is not the most accessible. It is probably best thought of as a cult brand, which means - on the one hand - that it enjoys a passionate following among a small number of people but - on the other - is perhaps not for everyone, or at least takes a little time to appreciate.

So what do those followers like? What makes it unique?

The most obvious thing is that all 45R products are developed from the yarn up. This means the yarn is designed, sampled and commissioned exclusively; the same is done with the material woven from that yarn; and then with the clothes made from the material. Most hardware, buttons, linings and so on go through the same process. 

Nothing is just bought in; nothing is the same as anywhere else. This might seem crazy, and in a way it is. It’s certainly indulgent - plus inefficient and expensive. That, plus the cost of importing everything from Japan, is why the clothes cost so much.

The advantage is that the large design team in Tokyo have complete control. And every aspect of everything they make is unique. 

If you’re a young guy trying to put together a solid, quality wardrobe, this might have minimal appeal. 

But imagine you’re a 50-year-old sartorialist instead. You’ve been dressing well and buying good clothes for 30 years. There’s nothing you haven’t seen, and every fundamental of the wardrobe is more than covered. 

In that case, a shop that consistently offers beautiful, idiosyncratic clothing is appealing. 

Everything is very well thought-through. The clothes are a little playful, but always wearable. They’re also organic, and crafted, with a near obsessive respect for traditional techniques.

And the collection is never the same: there are four collections a year, one a season, split into three deliveries. So something new every month. 

This vision, creativity and consistency is what makes a cult brand. 45R (actually still officially ‘45RPM’, but the branding is 45R) has been rigorously following the same approach since 1977. Which puts it in the same brand as cult brands like Margaret Howell, and perhaps Miyake too. 

In fact, thinking of it as a Japanese Margaret Howell isn’t far off the mark. There is a similar attitude to craft, to quality, and a similar following. 

Let’s take a couple of examples. 

The deck shoes pictured above are one of the few things I’ve bought from 45R in years. I did so during our recent visit because I increasingly wear this style, and these are the nicest example I’ve seen anywhere.  

The material of the upper is an indigo-dyed linen, tightly woven in a manner similar to duck canvas. The linen texture brings out the best in the indigo, showing various shades of blue. The weave makes it tough, and look tough. And the catalogue shows how it will fade nicely over time. 

There are many good cotton deck shoes. I love my Doeks, the blue of which is indigo also. But this is different; 45R is always different. 

The sole is vulcanised by hand of course; the indigo is organic and hand-dyed; the sole is even a unique creation, with deep ripples in the rubber. How many other small brands develop their own sole unit? 

The shoes are also hand lasted like a top leather shoe. The rubber is uncured. There’s a leather lining in the heel to stop it wearing down. The list goes on and on.

In fact, if you have nine minutes to spare you can watch this video of the design team talking through how the shoes were made, how to wash them and how to wear them. 

In the Brook Street store, all you have to do is ask. Simon and Giulio are very careful not to swamp casual visitors with information, but if you make it clear you want to know, they will happily explain every detail. 

That’s how you avoid tentatively handling a T-shirt and then leaving. Start a conversation.

The other thing I’ve bought over the years from 45R is bandanas. The patterns on these are always hand drawn - no computer design involved - before being scanned and then screen-printed. They’re different every season, and often have a depth of colour that comes from Ai dyeing (organic indigo). 

Most of the ones I’ve bought have been simple and classic. But every season there’s some different idea: oversized, linen, hemp, gauze. 

Hemp feels particularly lovely, for anyone that hasn’t worn it. It has some of the texture of linen, and the slippery hand of silk, but looks very similar to cotton. That’s a hemp one below. 

One other reason I think 45R enjoys such a cult following is its focus on durable clothes. Everything must last and age well. 

That linen duck, for example, is also used in clothes, like the piece below that’s like a mix between a coverall and a hunting vest. It’s not my style, but it’s clear the material is strong as well as lightweight. 

This focus on ageing is fundamental to having a loyal following, because customers see the brand’s promises fulfilled. They see the indigo on their overshirt delicately fade over time, just as the guy said it would, but also that the seams stay strong. 

This is another way in which 45R is similar to Margaret Howell. Which is another store I pop into regularly, but buy one thing a year at most. It’s just a pleasurable place to browse, to wander round and let inspiration strike you - even if it’s nothing more than a texture or a furniture book. 

A couple of years ago the thing I bought was a tea caddy, from Kaikado in Japan. Which led to us visiting their manufacture in Kyoto. And it’s something I use and appreciate every day. 

I’d like it if PS readers understood 45R enough to pop into the store, and find it interesting. There probably isn’t enough of that today: everything too transactional, the time from awareness to purchase shortened as much as possible. 

The London store has only been open since 2018, while New York (Mercer Street) has been going 20 years, and there are three branches in Paris. It would be nice if the English appreciated this eccentric Japanese institution just as much. 

It certainly has more principles - craft, tradition, quality - in common with other PS brands than you might think, as you wander down Brook Street, and have your eye caught by a straw hat in the window.

www.45r.uk, 6 Brook Street

This is part of a week-long focus on London retail on Permanent Style. Read the plea for everyone to support good stores here, and the first article on Adret here

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

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Anonymous

Simon
Are you secretly one of the people that has made a fortune out of the Pandemic?! I hope you someday return to recommendations that are at least vaguely affordable!

I am in two minds. completely get the highest level of craft and purity of artistic vision that places like this and Adret offer.

On the flipside – something utterly unobtainable surely cannot be the model for revitalising retail as you espouse!

bamboccio

Great article Simon – 45R is a gem like you said!

PS: Giulio not Julio.

Jeldrik

Not quite my style, but a style I’m more than happy to see on others! These are the best articles… about clothes that I can appreciate without being tempted to buy.

Wu

Hi Simon,

in terms of comfort, how do the Doek and 45R deck shoes compare? I’m looking for a white sneaker to replace my trusty Superga, which look cool but have a sole a tad too thin to be comfortable for a long day of city walking in the summer. The cork insole of Doek looks super comfortable, but I wonder if 45R’s attention to detail might be superior?

Tommy Mack

“everything too transactional, the time from awareness to purchase shortened as much as possible”

I’ve definitely been guilty of this in the past and of baulking at buying from “fancy” city centre stores because I figured much of the price is swallowed up by the operating costs of the store. Which perhaps makes sense when buying something mass-produced and utilitarian but as you say, for artisanal goods, it’s often worth paying a premium to see and feel the items and even more importantly interact with knowledgeable staff.

I’m definitely of the mindset now of buying less of better* rather than impulsively filling my arms from the sale rail as I did so often when younger, like a demented fox biting the head off every chicken in the coup for fear of missing out on a bargain!

*Something that I’ve only recently started to register (in great part thanks to reading PS, I think) is that “better” in this context doesn’t just mean in terms of objective quality. Something I realize I’ve done several times in the past is buying a heavily discounted item that’s *almost* the exact item I want and then a few weeks or months later, feeling vaguely unsatisfied, buying another discounted item that’s slightly off the mark in a different way, rather than just buying the thing I want in the first place!

Tommy Mack

All part of an online culture of instant gratification I guess. With specific regard to clothing, Instagram etc I wonder if it’s driven in part by marketing framing wants as needs to drive demand. We see this trickle-down into the language we use around clothing and indeed other consumables (“must-have”, “essentials” etc)

If we need something that tends to imply more urgency than merely wanting it.

It’s was somewhat different when I worked in a school or an office but if I look at my own wardrobe now, the prevailing reason I’ve bought nearly all my clothes is for my own pleasure. This might seem an obvious point but I think it’s something we don’t always admit to ourselves, especially as men.

I’m perhaps over-thinking this but hopefully by seeing wants as wants rather than over-exaggerating my need of them I’m learning to make better purchases but also as you say in the article, to enjoy the process of choosing and learning about clothes and to value good shops and the people who work there too.

David

Another nice excursion that I’ll probably take a look at.
That said, judging by the shots, this looks to be another ‘Total Concept’ job heavily inflated by Asian styling.
Nothing wrong with that but I wonder where and when exactly one would wear this stuff ?
It would be interesting to hear Simon’s response and / or Giulio’s take.
I’m all for adding a little frisson to things but it has to be within the context of my style. A&S Habadashiery are good for this.

James

I think A&S, Adret and 45R are all very wearable in their own right. I have a number of items from Adret, like mock necks, a shirt and their denim trouser which fits wonderfully and can be worn with almost everything in my wardrobe and a number of A&S in which i feel the same. 45R is wearable but slightly more rugged chic, I wear 45R with my trainers though.

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

Apologies that this comment is somewhat unrelated but i have just spent an hour or so diving into the comments on various old articles. Very enjoyable.

I would like to ask out of interest how many comments you receive that don’t get published? I understand that you vet them. Some of the threads benefit for some of the more ‘robust’ exchanges but i wonder if you receive a high level of trolling that doesn’t get published? Its interesting to view this site in the wider context of online discussions which very often descend into something rather unsavoury very quickly.

Peter Hall

The linen jacket is definitely ‘can I find a use for that?’ Being in my mid fifties ,I certainly have most of the bases covered. My first thought was canal side walks to the pub and a grandson on my shoulders on the way home.
Nicely thought provoking,Simon

Matthew

There’s a 45R shop near to where i live in Wan Chai (Hong Kong) but I’ve always found it somewhat unapproachable, not least because of the prices, despite finding it attractive. Even the website is infuriating to navigate – not a good experience at all.

Maybe I’ll give it another go after reading this – but after another quick look at the website – maybe not.

Stephen

Hi Simon,
Thank you for this article. I have never heard of 45R. I am certainly looking forward to a visit at some point.
The canvas sneakers are of real interest to me as I am looking for something like this that’s very comfortable and with a degree of support. I seemed to have developed ‘trainer feet!’ having worn them most of the time in lockdown.
Regardless of personal taste and cost, I am finding this series of articles interesting and informative and a source of ideas. It’s always good to learn about new things. , so hopefully you may go beyond this currently planned series of articles in the near future and ‘thank you for doing the leg work’.

Brian

Hi Simon, I really enjoyed the video. Whilst I personally wouldn’t pay £250 for the shoes, I now have a much better understanding as to why they do.

Stephen

Hi Simon
I’ve just posted a comment on 45R, then looked on the website. Some very interesting items and a well curated selection. Just one point, I mentioned I liked the indigo sneakers, unfortunately I’ve now noticed they only go up to a size 9.5 UK. I don’t want to detract from good brand, however I would expect sales to be limited if sizes don’t go above 9.5 on-line. Do you know if they have larger sizes in-store?

Stephen

Hi Simon,
Thanks I emailed them and 9.5 UK is largest, which seems a bit limiting in the Euro and wider market. Otherwise an interesting collection, for which I think a visit is really worthwhile not least for sizing.
Ironically Uniqlo sneakers appear to only go up to 9.5 online!

Keith

Thanks Simon.
As usual, an interesting, well thought through and enlightening article. I find a lot of pleasure discovering and exploring new brands/shops that offer something different to the usual Italian and British brands. That is not to dismiss said brands – I have spent many a hard-earned pound on them.
Building an understanding of the aesthetic, ethos and craft of new brands, particularly in the flesh, is for me one of the joys of the retail experience.
Sometimes the prices are out of reach, but knowing what’s there and the price can be very useful come sale time!

Nick

Always great when your introduce us to brands and artisans we hadn’t heard of before, thanks! Will definitely pay them a visit. Would be great to hear more on bandanas. I love the idea of bandanas adding a bit of colour but struggle in thinking how one could wear them without attracting too much attention. Also, you mention you are wearing more boat shoes, would be interesting to hear which shoe they are replacing, sagans, common projects?

Chris k

Simon,

I’ll second this point regards bandanas and would certainly appreciate an article. They’re something that I’m increasingly interested in trying to make work, in a similar style to the way you wear them, neatly under a crew neck. Given I wear crew necks so much, I think I could make it work. I think it’s a mixture of you wearing them, as well as the influence the Colhay’s look books are having on me, but it just seems to add something, especially when there’s a little subdued colour in there.

Thanks and much appreciated as always,
Ck

Robin

I think it’s fair to say that shops selling these types of items at these kind of prices are not really going to suffer post-pandemic.
Anyone able to afford these unique items will continue to do so and maybe more so given that money is “burning a hole” in most people’s pockets.

Whilst I applaud your effort in highlighting these shops to help them once they open up it’s more the regional MTM business that will have real difficulty surviving.
But those kinds of businesses may not make garments to the exacting standards of PS.

Peter

45R is fantastic. Like you I pop in the store once a year or so, and am always amazed by their stock and the process they use to produce their goods (using persimmons or strawberries to dye things orange or red, respectively) . The store in San Francisco is staffed with extremely pleasant, low-key people that truly love the clothes and are a fountain of information, as you stated. It’s definitely a vibe I can appreciate, even if I don’t find myself wearing it all the time.

Cheong

Peter, thank you for mentioning they have an outpost here in San Francisco. Silk scarves are not practical for me in casual California so I definitely want to check out their bandanas.

Anonymous

The shoes look marvellous but it turns out they only make them up to size 9. There must be such people but none in my acquaintance, except my ten year old nephew, and his eligibility is likely to be temporary.

Yash

Hi Simon.

I love these deck shoes. The design seems slightly more refined than the Doek ones.

How does the fit come up in terms of width and length? The UK sizing is in 1/2 sizes and I am wondering if one needs to size up or down. So if you were a size 8 for example, do you need a 7.5 or 8.5 equivalent?

And from your experience would these be comfortable to wear all day out and about, say walking around a zoo with the kids?

Many thanks.

PR

Hi Simon
Really enjoying this series of articles. Whilst I’m highly unlikely to ever purchase/wear these types of items (and that’s coming from someone who used to wear obscure Belgian designers 20 years ago before progressing to more tailored garms with many thanks to you over the years), I’m really enjoying reading about the process. Whilst I may not revel in the final product (and wouldn’t it be boring if we all agreed on a look) , it doesn’t take away from the absolute admiration of the process and craft.
Look forward to the next slot.
Cheers

Sigurd

Great article. 45R is really an admirable brand, although prohibitively expensive and hard to get, except for occasional visits to Japan, Hong Kong and Paris. Their deck shoes seems to be unavailable outside of Japan and London however. What about the sizing on Doek’s sneakers? They seem not to be available in half sizes. Size up, down, or keep your size?

matthew cavill

Not familiar with 45R but appreciate the tip-off and will certainly make the detour in future. Also intrigued by the reference to Margaret Howell – I’ve always been interested in your take on their offer, Simon. Emphasis on materials and longevity feels like a good fit for PS, but imagine styling and fit less so? I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a few pieces over the years and to my mind they’re a wonderful example of products that age beautifully (another PS touchstone!)

Mark

I looked in the window of this shop the other day. If I had not previously read about it here I would have guessed it was womenswear. A high proportion of the items are dresses.

Anonymous

I don’t know how much this matters but the rubber soles for the deck shoes are only uncured when they are applying them to the lasted upper. Vulcanization and curing are being used as synonyms here. So once the uncured rubber is attached to the upper, it is cured/vulcanized in ovens.

withhheld

I collect higher end polo shirts – including yours by the way, I know, what a hobby 🙂 -bought a white one from 45R over the internet on the basis of this review.
Wow – not good at all.
Shabby button holes, thin plastic buttons, loose threads, un-ironed.
No sign of craft – collar is undistinguished, shirt is entirely machine made off a completely square block with absolutely minimal sewing.
The ‘Zimba’ cotton is dry, thin and exhausted with the same hand feel as a sarong bought on the beach in Bali, and is vaguely see through with the ‘cheap shirt’ bonus feature of a significant and awkwardly different level of opacity between shirt and collar so that it looks like a contrast collar – but it isn’t.
Or maybe that is the eccentricity part you were referring to 🙂
On close inspection, site photos are re-touched to hide the design defect – perhaps this is what they referred to when they spoke of extensive product development?
The full retail price is for this remarkable piece of marketing hype is 164 Euro plus shipping.
It is quite literally the worst polo shirt in my collection, even worse than the stinker that is Handvaerk.
I think the whole experience is quite funny but honestly not quite sure what to do with it – I would donate it to charity but that seems a bit unfair – poor people deserve good clothes not bad ones – any suggestions?

withhheld

Fair point about subjectivity.
Given the rate at which their stores are closing I suspect others are find the value proposition dubious too : )
A bit ‘off thread’ but I thought your short sleeve polo was very good ‘value’ – expensive but distinctive, great materials, elevated but not flashy design concept and a bold decision that seems to have paid off putting out a white edition – surprisingly hard to do a good one in this colour because it amplifies issues.
It would really round out my collection if you could release this in chocolate brown and nice dark olive green : )