Big in Japan

You can’t fully prepare for your first trip to Tokyo. Yes, you can buy the Monocle guide, re-watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi and pack your full suitcase inside a larger, empty suitcase in anticipation of all of the treasures you’re planning to bring home, but none of it can prepare you for the experience of being there. The scale. The tidiness. The bowing. For the sartorially inclined, visiting Tokyo for the first time is like spending your life eating orange sherbet only to discover there are actually hundreds of other flavours of ice cream, all of them fascinating, most of them better than orange sherbet.

I recently spent a week in Tokyo, walking the streets, riding the subways, eating copiously and wanting to buy everything in sight. From the vintage denim shops of Shimokitazawa to the luxury department stores of Ginza to the sci-fi street style of Harajuku, I was overwhelmed by not just the vast selection, but how well executed it all was. Here, eastern and western influences come together to create something unique. It felt both like visiting another planet and coming home. I’m just one of many recent converts to the Japanese way of doing things: Chefs flock to the noodle counters and sushi bars in search of transcendent tastes; tech geeks make pilgrimage to Tokyo’s electronics district; and, likewise, fashion is increasingly turning its gaze eastward for materials, inspiration and enlightenment.

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Made in Canada’ or bust: Standing on guard for Canadian men’s wear

Six days a week Glen Viberg works the line at his Victoria factory, stitching leather, trimming soles and inspecting each pair of boots bearing his family’s name before they’re boxed and shipped. When Glen’s father, Ed, started making logging boots here in 1931 there was a thriving garment industry in Canada, with factories across the country cranking out everything from parkas to underwear. As anyone who has read the tag on a T-shirt or a pair of sneakers in the last few decades can attest, this is no longer the case. Now, thanks to free trade, cheap overseas labour and an ultra-competitive fashion market, made-in-Canada men’s wear is becoming a rarity. For Viberg and a handful of others, however, the Canadian men’s-wear industry may be a shadow of its former self, but it’s nowhere near dead.

“There are only two ways to do it,” says Brett Viberg, Glen’s son, who took over as CEO of Viberg Boots in 2008 and was faced with the challenge of boosting stagnant sales. “Either you do mass production and try to price compete with offshore,” he says. “Or you revamp your factory into a higher-end product.” Brett chose the latter route steering the company away from selling boots to lumberjacks and welders and reshaping Viberg as a high-end fashion brand. It would have been more profitable to move operations overseas, but aside from the fact that it would have put his dad out of a job, Brett Viberg’s pride in the family business prevailed. “If you’re going to try and make something that has your name on it there’s no way you’re going to put it into somebody else’s hands,” he says. “It’s a choice from the get-go.”

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As options abound, men’s sandals become a coveted accessory

“Would you like to try those on?” The sales guy startled me as I stared, enraptured, at the piece of moulded foam and nylon in my hand. The sandal was composed of two bulbous blobs of foam joined by an austere footbed and topped with a suspension bridge vamp of shiny synthetic fabric. It was entirely black and looked like something you might wear around the house if you were Japanese and lived in the future. The label said Rick Owens; the price sticker said $710.

“No, thanks…” I stammered. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to try on the shoe. But in the moment I was so mesmerized by this object, so thoroughly confused by its weird lines and curious shapes, that I wasn’t sure that this was something that could even be tried on. I put it down and left the store, flustered.

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Sure, I regret the banana coat, but who hasn’t made a style mistake or two?

I might have known something was wrong sooner, but such is the case with regrets: I thought I looked great. It was coming on winter, and I knew I was unprepared, so I headed to my local Mountain Equipment Co-op to sort myself out.

I wasn’t inclined to spend top dollar, but I found something down-filled in my price range that had both a hood and insulated pockets, key features for blizzard season. It was also reasonably stylish: a standardcut parka in a colour that made a statement. Toting it home I felt both pleased with myself and prepared for the worst winter could do.

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Most men can wear anything to work, so why would one choose to wear a suit?

I was at a meeting recently with a couple of colleagues in the men’s wear world, two impeccably dressed guys in jackets and expensive leather shoes. One wore an immaculate blue sport coat with white buttons, a yellow tie and spotless suede bucks, with a two-tone Rolex glinting subtly under his crisp white shirt cuff. The other wore a perfectly tailored pinstriped suit (the pants held up with button-fastening suspenders), vintage gold watch and an Italian silk tie. Every part of their outfits was considered. Despite feeling good about my jeans and chambray buttondown ensemble when I left the house, I now felt shabby by comparison. A few years ago, when tailoring and classic men’s wear were at the height of trendiness, all the fashionable guys were wearing blazers and skinny ties. Now Don Draper is out, Yeezy is in, and the act of putting on a suit by choice has taken on a new significance. For guys who still choose to wear a suit every day this isn’t a style statement, it’s a mix of strategy, philosophy and propriety.

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Could uniform dressing be the secret to a simpler, more stylish life?

Back when I worked at a men’s magazine, before I went freelance, there was a sort of low-level arms race between the editors over our wardrobes. We’d fuss over each others’ new windowpane blazers and attempt to one-up each other with the Goodyear welts on our monkstraps. Showing up with a new jacket or pair of trousers was an exercise in anxiety: Would it pass muster? Or, worse, would no one notice at all? Suffice to say, I thought about what I wore to work a lot more when the office was not also my kitchen table. There was one guy on staff, however, who didn’t get in on this game: Matt, the autos editor. This is because Matt wore the same thing every day. His wardrobe consisted of a pair of chinos in black or navy, a cotton button-down in blue or burgundy and a pair of desert boots. On fewer than five occasions I saw him add a blazer to this ensemble for formal events, but otherwise it did not change.

Some men wear a uniform because they have to. Others wear it because that’s the only thing they ever want to put on. Matt is by no means alone in the latter category – he’s in the company of software tycoons, heads of state and some of the world’s most successful creatives. My closet is filled to bursting with shirts, jeans and blazers for every temperature, occasion and season. I’ve always enjoyed the process of picking an outfit in the morning: creative expression through fashion. Now that I work from home, however, I’ve found my regular rotation shrinking steadily. What if there’s a better way?

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Timing is Everything

Trying to understand an obsession with expensive watches is hard - trying to explain it is even harder.

I have an uncomfortable confession to make: I think it’s totally ok to spend thousands of dollars on a watch and, given the opportunity, I have not hesitated to do so. I have many guilty pleasures, among them American light beer, disco and The Bachelor, but this one is different. For one thing, it’s ridiculously expensive: there are beautiful watches at every price range, but the ones I yearn for tend to be in the neighbourhood of $10,000-plus. For another thing, as a guilt-ridden left-wing urbanite it goes completely against both my politics and my morals. Sorry starving children and endangered species! I could have helped you more but I’m spending it on jewellery! I have a weekday watch, a weekend watch and a watch I wear only when I go to the beach. I also have a watch that belonged to my grandfather that works only intermittently, so it lives in a drawer gathering dust. I will never be satisfied. I fritter away countless hours scrolling through catalogues and used watch forums - usually when I’m supposed to be doing other things - coveting my next purchase. Like a zealot acting on orders from on high I am helpless to resist. It’s a difficult thing for me to comprehend, and even harder to explain.

“I feel like it happened without me being aware of it,” says Ryan Moleiro, a friend who works in advertising and who shares my enthusiasm for teeny-tiny gears and guilloché dials. “Once you start it just kind of feeds on itself.” Like mine, Moleiro’s first significant watch purchase, a vintage piece he spent months tracking down on the internet, was the most money he’d ever spent on anything without an engine or a basement. “The status element was part of it, but the more I read and learned, the more I wanted to know and the more watches I wanted to own. It’s a never ending obsession.” It’s a common story among watch collectors, who acknowledge the strangeness of their habit while admitting its power over them. Watches tap into something deep in us, something that defies both logic and reason.

“I could very readily make the argument that it embraces logic and embraces reason,” says Michael Friedman, the in-house historian for Audemars Piguet, a Swiss watch brand founded in 1875 and renowned for their exquisite craftsmanship. This was exactly the response I was hoping for from Friedman, who is as much an unabashed watch nerd as he is a charismatic enabler. “Watches are designed to essentially last forever,” he says. “These objects stand in absolute defiance of the planned obsolescence that surrounds us.” Buying something built to outlive you, he argues, is an incredibly alluring idea. 

A man does not, however, need a watch. He has his phone, he has the dashboard of his car, the display of his microwave oven. A mechanical watch will neither send a text message nor warm a frozen burrito. It’s like wearing an elaborate tricorn hat or leather pants: sure, it provides an element of protection from the elements, but we all know that’s not what it’s about. There’s something pathological at play here.

Friedman is undeterred. “Time as we know it is relevant to only our little corner of the universe,” he says, taking it up a notch. “All watches - all time - derives from astronomy. These watches are a model of the solar system that has existed for billions of years and will keep existing for billions of years after us.” I take off my watch and, as I sometimes do, gaze through the crystal case back at the gears moving together in unison. The rotor slowly circles the outer perimeter while a dozen smaller wheels spin on their axis beneath. It is a self-contained universe, a machine greater than the sum of its parts. I had never thought about this before. Friedman presses on, his enthusiasm reaching an apex. “Time measurement devices serve a special place in our lives whether we’re conscious of it or not. It’s something that we’re witnessing every day with the rising and setting of the sun, the phases of the moon, the passing of the seasons. Right from the origin point of mechanical watches you see them representing memento mori.” 

I think of the watch that belonged to my grandfather, a man I never knew. It’s gold-plated, a mass-produced 1970s quartz model with a cloudy plexiglass face and his name inscribed on the back. It was the first watch I really cared about. It barely runs, but I know I’ll never be able to get rid of it. How could I? Displaying the time of day is a major part of what a watch offers people like me, but we all know that’s not what it’s really about.

Strathcona Stockings makes socks that are closer to wearable works of art 

Strathcona Stockings makes socks that are closer to wearable works of art 

Socks, once the most boring element of men’s wear, are now at their most outrageous

There’s a Japanese orgy happening in my loafers right now and I couldn’t be happier about it. The means of this rare and life-affirming event is a pair of socks silk-screened with a collage of traditional Japanese ukiyo-e paintings in pale, delicate hues. The socks depict scenes of men and women, reproduced in remarkable detail, in various improbable poses. The garments themselves are soft, sturdy, made in the U.S.A. and as lovely to wear as they are to look at. Welcome to Socks 3.0 : equal parts luxury item, technological marvel and wearable art.

Until very recently, men’s socks were by and large monochromatic affairs, as uninspired in design and construction as the clear plastic bags in which they were sold. You had your whites and your blacks, your highs, your lows, your sports and your dresses. Occasionally you’d come across a jazzy argyle, but that was a rare find. Then a few years ago, as the rising tide of men’s wear surged, our tube-socked feet were lifted to a new high-water mark when the men’s statement sock was born.

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Why is jewellery such a difficult style move for men?

There’s a men’s perfume ad you might have seen recently. In it Johnny Depp stands in the desert, squinting off into the distance, a slight scowl playing across his lips like someone’s just arrived to lunch half an hour late and didn’t even text. He pushes up the sleeve of his black buttonup shirt, revealing a tattooed arm but also a collection of thick silver rings across his fingers, beaded skull bracelets and rosary beads on his wrists. A small silver hoop glints in his earlobe. He looks calm, masculine and – despite wearing all black in the desert heat – cool as an iceberg. This is a man who knows how to wear jewellery. If I were swapped into the photo adorned with sterling rings and topaz baubles, I doubt I’d look half as good. And I’d certainly feel a bit silly. Granted, I am not Johnny Depp. I have not starred in any CGI pirate movies and did not recently purchase a Greek Island for my girlfriend, but none of that should matter. At this point in men’s fashion just about anything goes, so why does jewellery remain such a difficult style move for so many of us?

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Toronto's Himel Bros. makes its leather jackets to last a lifetime 

Toronto's Himel Bros. makes its leather jackets to last a lifetime 

 

Why men should shop for enduring quality – and style

In October, Los Angeles-based clothing designer Manuel Rappard launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $20,000 to create a jacket. The hook? Not only would it be made in the U.S. from top-quality materials, it would also be guaranteed to last 25 years. And all for the very reasonable price of $159, with delivery in time for the holidays.

Rappard, a German-born former Google analyst, based the design on a 1940s navy deck coat, a staple of traditional American men’s wear prized for its functional cut and ageless aesthetic. Made from sturdy cotton duck with military-grade hardware and reinforced stitching, this coat would, Rappart assured his backers, not only still be in one piece in 2040, it would still be stylish, too. “My mother taught me from a young age that quality matters,” he says, citing an old-world model for his apparel business. “If you make things yourself then you should make them right and make them to last. That was always the motto both in my family and the culture I grew up in.”

His campaign was funded in a single day. By mid-November Rappart had almost $300,000 in orders for his Quarter Century Jacket. A well-constructed piece of clothing with a timeless design at a good price? Sign me up. The fashion world is often inscrutable, but this made perfect sense.

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