The Real McCoy’s: Modern authenticity, casual luxury
Although I’ve known The Real McCoy’s and been a customer for quite a long time, I’ve never really known the company itself very well.
So it was niceduring a recent visit to the new shop in London to interview Emika Tsujimoto - the daughter of the Real McCoy’s founder Hitoshi Tsujimoto, and now the manager here.
One of the things I didn’t realise, for example, was quite how much of the Real McCoy’s product it makes itself.
I knew it’d always owned some production, but given the breadth of the range - from jeans to horsehide, canvas shoes to cashmere knits - I assumed most of it was made in other Japanese factories.
Actually, about 70% of the product is made in-house. When the company started, more than 20 years ago, it began with making just the A2 jacket. That’s gradually expanded, and the plan is to carry on doing so.
“My father is also insistent that all of our workers are locals, trained so that we create a pool of skilled labour in Japan,” says Emika. “The vast majority of other ‘made in Japan’ brands use temporary foreign workers,and that’s not so good in the long term.”
Emika herself (above) admits to not being much of a product person. She grew up in her father’s shadow, and learnt how to manage the business rather than the kind of quality details a customer might focus on.
“We have seven stores in Japan, so a lot of the work is managing people,” she says. “That’s my role now in London - to run the store and make sure we get our message across to everyone that comes through.”
Still, when I do ask Emika to highlight some quality points in the Real McCoy’s product, she’s not short of suggestions.
“The A2 jacket [below] is still very special for us, and the horsehide takes a lot of time and effort to get right,” she says. “For example, it takes a month of hand dipping the leather to dye it. And then one whole skin goes into each jacket - so we can take our pick of which leather we use on which parts.
“Most other brands will cut up a skin into as many pieces as they can, and for example hide a more wrinkled piece in the inside sleeve, keeping better ones for larger panels like the back.”
I thought this was interesting given my vintage horsehide jacket we covered recently - it doesn’t bother me, but that clearly wasn’t a premium product.
Also, it reminded me of something a Northampton shoemaker told me a few years ago: that the difference in leather quality between a bespoke shoe and one of their shoes wasn’t that they bought worse hides, but that they had to use every single part of it, whereas a bespoke maker had the budget to pick and choose, and not use everything.
At The Real McCoy’s, the horsehide offcuts are used to make various things, including model animals. A row of these sits along the top shelf of one side of the London store.
I told Emika that - I think correctly - The Real McCoy’s is attractive to PS readers because of its unswerving attitude to quality, which they value in other areas but can be lacking in casual clothing more generally.
Her response, after a gracious thank you, was to talk about another piece from the range, the MA-1 jacket (above). Nylon isn’t my style, but it was still interesting to learn that they developed this particular nylon exclusively, recreating the original material which had more ends in it than any other, making it stronger and more wind resistant.
“Then what you don’t see is that, behind the nylon is a layer of wool pile. Cheaper brands use a wool/cotton mix, which isn’t anywhere near as warm, and we also use cuts in ours, strategically placed in areas the wearer moves, like the elbows,” she says.
“The most satisfying thing is that combination of wind resistance on the outside and warmth retention on the inside.”
Those two jackets are the kind of military reproduction The Real McCoy’s is famous for. But interestingly, in recent years they’ve been slowly expanding into other areas.
A good example is the mohair cardigan (above). It's a piece of the 60s rather than the 50s, and was made popular again in the 90s; it doesn’t fall neatly into the usual buckets of military, motorbike or sports clothing; but it’s really a beautiful product.
I’ve never been particularly enticed by mohair knitwear - much as I love Nirvana, I don’t want to dress like Kurt Cobain, and the trend led by brands like Needles and Marni didn’t attract me either. But when you try on the Real McCoy’s version, you suddenly understand the appeal.
Most mohair knits use a yarn which wraps the mohair around a synthetic core. This is flimsy and cold, just aiming for that distinctive fluffy look. The McCoy’s one is wool and mohair spun together, and has a really luxurious feel - open and malleable, but soft and warm.
“I find the warmth great under something like a leather jacket,” says Emika. “Sometimes I just want to wear leather in the winter, but it’s not that warm - the mohair does a great job of insulating you.”
Emika describes The Real McCoy’s as a ‘uniform brand’, which is a term I’d heard before, but never really thought about.
“It’s a way to describe these genres of clothing,” she says. “If it’s about uniforms in a broad sense, then it includes military uniform but also sports teams who wear the same things for training, and motorcycle clothing.” It also usefully includes workwear, whether for mining or herding cattle, given workers would usually wear similar clothing.
Emika is also keen to emphasise that the goal driving Real McCoy’s is authenticity. Which I admire and appreciate, but actually don’t think they always follow - in a good way.
Being inspired by quality clothing and classic styling from the past is great, but it nearly always needs some updating. Flight jackets, for example, were made for men that spent a lot of time sitting in a cockpit, and wore exclusively high-waisted trousers. They were very wide and very short.
I like The Real McCoy’s because they usually do a good job of making these pieces contemporary and wearable, without slipping into fashion. The current A2 is longer and slimmer than the originals, but at the same time, isn’t changed so much that it will need to be tweaked every few years, with fluctuating fashions.
Which of course also means the customer doesn’t find their clothes look out of date quickly.
“I think if you always have an awareness of clothing more widely, like my father has, then you don’t slip into authenticity just for its own sake,” says Emika. “We also try to improve the quality of products whenever new techniques make that possible.”
This usually means buying new, in-house machinery - which is always expensive. Emika says that when the company started doing its own loopwheeled products, old machines only existed for the smaller and middle sizes. Anything bigger required a new machine to be designed from scratch - no one historically was big enough to need an XXL sweat.
The London store is actually the company’s first outside Japan, and it took a long time for Hitoshi Tsujimoto to be able to come over (given various lockdowns) and get it finalised.
The other store, on Henrietta Street in Covent Garden, was actually run by a wholesaler and a franchise operation. Hitoshi wants this new, larger store to get across the various messages of quality and uniform clothing more completely - which is why Emika moved to London to run it.
“So far I’m really enjoying living in London,” she says, laughing at the fact that all my oldest daughter wants to do is move the other way, and live in Japan. “There’s a wide range of people - more than you get back home.”
Now it’s possible to visit The Real McCoy’s in person - and not spend all my time scrolling through product lists or measurement tables - I’m sure I’ll be covering them more. If anyone has any questions of specific products, it might be best to leave them until then.
Although if I can answer anything in the meantime, either on pieces included here or ones I already own, I’m happy to do so.
The Real McCoy’s London is at 2a Sackville Street, open Monday to Saturday.
Note: purchases in store are final, with no returns or exchanges, so make sure you’re sure before you buy! This does not apply online.
Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt