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November 23, 2017
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James Dean and his cat Marcus: an Americana icon (photo by Frank Worth)

Once upon a time, American style was distinctive. Before international fashion was readily available in North America, the style often referred to as "Americana" embodied the quintessential American spirit and iconography of post-WWII America. Americana didn't just apply to fashion; it also touched on automotive design, advertising, film, music, and just about anything else that appealed to down-home values. For a refresher, refer to James Dean, Ralph Lauren, the '57 Chevy, or Frank Sinatra. More recently, Americana style has been increasingly interpreted outside of America, placing its fate in the hands of non-American designers and consumers. 

nonnative denim jacket
(Source nonnative.com)

It's difficult to come up with a single term that defines the look other than, perhaps, laid-back. Slim raw denim jeans (the pre-wash didn't come until later) and denim jackets, plaid and denim long-sleeve shirts, leather work boots and boat shoes, simple blazers, crisp white t-shirts and ski jackets all have had their place in Americana men's fashion. The pieces reflected the American man: a bit of a rebel, a little salt-of-the-earth, and gearing up towards the sophisticated. The style has withstood the test of time and has had a number of revivals: the late 60s (the beginnings of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein), the mid-80s (Tommy Hilfiger), the 2000s, and the style continues to resurface with new nuances, even though critics have assumed that the look would soon disappear. While some icons and influences of Americana style and culture were from abroadsuch as Nicolas de Gunzburg (France), Elizabeth Taylor (England), The Statue of Liberty (France) - the style itself has largely been a homegrown effort. That is, until now.

For the past few years, Americana has been catching on internationally. With the resurgence of vintage culture, a return to functional wear, and attention to production values, tried and true pieces and brands have returned to the limelight and, notably, in places where they weren't before. While Americana vintage wear is still mostly found in North America (which makes sense given that the clothes were originally made there), it is being imported into other countries for resale and new brands interpreting Americana are popping up globally. One only needs to look at any style blog to see that this movement is taking place. A good starting point is the "menswear" tag on popular microblogging site, Tumblr. Clicking on this simple tag will instantly overwhelm you with Americana style from all corners of the globe.

The pieces reflected the American man: a bit of a rebel, a little salt-of-the-earth, and gearing up towards the sophisticated.

The internationalisation of Americana is vividly evident in Japan. Brands such as Sophnet and Neighborhood are creating classic-looking pieces, while White Mountaineering and nonnative are producing fusion pieces based on original Americana archetypes. Both are reviving the style and, with the help of Japanese street style, are spreading the look around the world. As with many high-end, independent Japanese brands (that have only been available outside of Japan in the last few seasons), the brands initially had a very small, close-knit cult following internationally. Within a short period of time, however, global distribution of Japanese Americana exploded and it became available off the shelf right next to a home produced counterpart. While Japan's influence on fashion outside of the Americana style is nothing new - take a look at the past two or three decades of Comme des Garçons - it hasn't reached this height in the past and is showing no signs of slowing down.

American fashion first started permeating the Japanese apparel landscape post-World War II, at the same time that Americana style was first taking off. Denim hadn't yet made its way over to Japan and no one in the country had begun to produce it. Enter K.K. Tsunemi, owner and designer of the denim brand, Edwin. Tsunemi imported and sold American-made jeans, until he began to manufacture them in Japan. The early Japanese denim industry burgeoned into countless other denim lines, with Edwin leading the pack. Not only was Edwin producing high quality selvedge denim and heavy ringspun denim in the 60s (yes, in the 60s), it also invented the stone wash treatment and several other denim game changers. Denim is only one characteristic of Americana, but it has been a big reason for the transfer of style and construction knowledge between the United States and Japan. Japanese methods of denim production have been a visible part of the streetwear trends of the past few years, effectively tethering itself to the reemergence of the Americana trend. 

Sophnet 2011 style shot (Source: soph.net).

In essence, Americana brands are creating lifestyle brands. Their attentiveness to production and motifs harken back to when America's values were firmly rooted in hard work, longevity, and personal lifestyle. Products were (and are again) built to last and made for the individual. At the same time, large companies such as Levi's have returned to their roots with their Made & Crafted line.

It's one thing for culture to posit symbology with items like apparel, but it's something completely different to assume that symbology can't travel. Non-American companies have found a niche that they love working in and many of them are incredibly skilled at it. It's enjoyable to see a slice of classic American lifestyle having a re-birth. The style creates a unique opportunity to view the effects of time and location on the values indicative of Americana, while what was once work wear has now become more about fashion and leisure. Furthermore, the inclusion of the international community and the rate at which the trend is becoming more and more apparent raises the question of whether Americana simply embodied American ideals or if they were actually global, all-encompassing values to begin with. 

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