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., 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