Motofumi “POGGY” Kogi talks the relationship between archive and fashion; vol.03 feat. Yutaka Fujiwara(BerBerJin) (Part 1 of 2)

From high end fashion to street fashion, the concept of the archive is inseperable from the modern fashion world. To find out what influence the concept of the archive has on the creations of different brands, in this series we welcome Motofumi ‘Poggy’ Kogi and another guest to discuss this question. For this third instalment, we invited the man who is even trusted by Levi’s when it comes to vintage denim jeans; Mr. Yutaka Fujiwara from BerBerJin. From the BerBerJin store that all vintage-lovers visit, located in Harajuku’s Tonchan Street, we bring you this discussion between these two men.

--- First, could you tell me how you two met each other?

POGGY: “Originally I started my career working at UNITED ARROWS (UA)’s BLUE LABEL STORE, which was also located in Harajuku’s Tonchan Street, diagonally across the street from BerBerJin.”

Fujiwara: “Unfortunately, these days a Seven Eleven moved into the building.”

POGGY: “At the time, the general idea was that second hand clothes were supposed to be cheap. But the items that were sold in BerBerJin’s cellar store were often quite valuable. At the time I didn’t really have much money myself, but I would often go to the store and listen to Yutaka talk about second-hand clothes, thinking that one day I’d love to own clothes like they sold there for my own one day; that’s why I used to come there in my lunch breaks. Also, there is this model of slim type jeans by Levi’s known as ‘606’, which Yutaka was really quick in selling before any of the other stores at that time were really aware of it.”

Fujiwara: ”Yeah, I would be wearing those same jeans myself as well. I like the designs by Lee as well, they have similarly designed jeans, very thin. One day when I was drinking at Toriyoshi in Harajuku wearing those jeans, I ran into Kogi, who promptly asked me ‘What’re those jeans you’re wearing?’, and I told him ‘They’re by Lee, but they’re similar to the “606” model’, and he was like ‘Nice!’. And that’s how we started working together.”

POGGY: “UA does a collaboration with Levi’s every season; back then, I was part of the sales staff and one day said something like this to one of the “You know about this interesting model called the 606? I heard about it from this guy at BerBerJin, so maybe it’d be interesting if we did something like a triple collaboration with the three brands?” It was just an idea but it ended up being realized and actually sold quite well.”

Fujiwara: “It was quite amazing, we sold a thousand pieces immediately.”

--- A thousand!?

Fujiwara: ”800 at UA and 200 at our place, haha!”

[All laugh]

--- These days it seems pretty ordinary to have a collaboration between a brand shop, a second-hand store and a brand, but this is more than ten years ago, right?

POGGY: “Yes, this was about fifteen years ago.”

--- So you were really ahead of the times. Mr. Fujiwara, when did you start working at BerBerJin?

Fujiwara: “Back when I was 21, so it’s exactly 20 years from now.”

--- Did you work at any other second hand stores or apparel stores beforehand?

Fujiwara: “No, I only worked at BerBerJin. Our store recently celebrated its 22nd anniversary, but the store itself actually started out in a back alley at the end of Takeshita Doori. I used to go there myself as a customer at the beginning. Back then, the current representative and vice-president started out with a store about 13 square meters in size; I would be going there quite often. Around that time, I already heard the story they were considering to move, and asked them if I could work at their store. At the time, I’d just quit the company I had been working for and had been working part-time jobs for a while, so I was pretty passionate about working at a second-hand store. And if I had to work somewhere, it had to be in Harajuku, because that felt like the centre of all action. I was lucky enough to have the representative and vice-president take me under their wing, so I ended up working at the store after the next location had been decided.

--- Mr. Fujiwara, what was it to lead you to be interested in vintage wear and second-hand items in the first place?

Fujiwara: “I think it all started around 1994, ’95. At the end of my time in middle school, I was already interested in the American Casual style. After I entered high school, there was this upperclassman who was really fashionable. He was already quite well-known back then, wearing vintage denim jeans and driving around on a second-hand bike. I was invited to hang out at his home, where in his closet he had a heap of Nike sneakers as well as a mountain of denim jeans. And so he took me to the only three vintage stores that existed at that time in Kochi Prefecture, where I started becoming a regular after a while. The people at those stores taught me a lot of things about vintage wear as well, which lead me to be even more interested and at the end lead me to a job as well.”

--- Was vintage culture already a big part of fashion back in the day?

Fujiwara: “I think I didn’t really look at vintage as fashion at all back in the day. Back in the day the authority on fashion were of course the magazines, and they always had a standard page for second-hand clothes. I learned about denim jeans by reading those pages every time. I didn’t really listen to any music back then, so all that I knew was brought to me by my older peers.”

--- So you’ve stayed close to your roots all this time. I assume you’ve been digging through many second-hand items all this time, but have you ever felt like you’ve explored all there is to explore?

Fujiwara: “I think that if you’re working at a second-hand store, you have a kind of responsibility to study about all genres at least on a basic level; thanks to a lot of people around me, I’ve managed to become quite knowledgeable about denim jeans. But for example, when it comes to military wear, there’s some people out there who are almost maniacs when it comes to that genre. These people are only satisfied when you can find the one specific item they’re looking for. If you manage to do so, you can hear some amazing stories about that genre, and that means I get to learn some new things again as well. Basically, it’s really difficult to get a good grasp on all different genres at the same time; by becoming acquainted with a lot of maniac fans of each genre and exchanging information with them, I can finally say that I’ve dug down to rock bottom.”

--- POGGY, did you do any digging at your local stores for second-hand clothes back in the day? 

POGGY: “I was also always reading Boon and looking up to second-hand clothes, but everything was quite expensive. In the nineties, there were also the original items sold by brand shops, but there weren’t that many just yet, so it was either buying imported second-hand or going for designer’s wear. The brand shop originals also weren’t like they are today; instead of intricately designed fashion, they were more based on second-hand items. For example, there were items like the 501, which was finished as an item but felt like it could use just one more touch to be more easily wearable; there were a lot of items like that. So I feel that a lot of the roots of today’s fashion can be found in items from that period. People at a second-hand store tend to be much more knowledgeable about the details, the materials, more than the designers themselves. About the history of clothing, as well.”

Fujiwara: “That might well be the case, yes.”

POGGY: “Another thing is that people working at a second-hand store can go to a warehouse, put their hand into a bag and know things about the item, right? The era it was made, for example.”

Fujiwara: “Well, just by touching it might be going a bit too far, but sometimes I see a color and think to myself ‘Huh, that’s a rare color’. I can tell a lot about an item just by looking at it.”

POGGY: “To know about second-hand clothes, which kind of trend existed in what decade, you have to look up a lot about history as well.”

--- So thinking back on the way people were living back then also means considering the clothes they were wearing back then. Does that mean like things like changes in cleaning agent through the decades could also be a clue for the age of the item?

Fujiwara: “It depends on the historical background, yes. There is a certain point at which washing machines and dryers start to appear. A lot of items start to shirt after the dryer start to become more common in America.”

--- Is Japan unique in the fact that there’s so many people gathering items such as vintage denim wear as part of the archive?

Fujiwara: ”Yes, I definitely think it’s pretty rare. Of course, collectors and maniac fans exist abroad as well, but as far as looking into the existence of vintage wear I think the Japanese have a special way of obsession over them. For example, my partner with whom I’m writing a book about vintage Levi’s items goes all the way when looking into an item. He doesn’t just look up old reference materials on the internet, he is determined to actually look at the item itself. With this partner, if we’re trying to value a specific vintage item, we have decided for ourselves that we need to look at at least five instances of the same item to give a final verdict. There’s always one or two items that have details that none of the others have, errors, so-called B-quality items. Comparing the real deal with itself and investigating it to the bottom, I think digging down like that is really a part of the Japanese spirit.”

--- Is there still any chance of finding such insanely rare vintage items these days anymore in places like thrift stores?

Fujiwara: “When I go to America to buy items it does happen sometimes that it just turns up out of nowhere, but I get the feeling there’s less and less of that these days.”

--- All right, let’s take a look then at these items you brought and hear their stories one by one.

Fujiwara: ”This is a Levi’s jacket I’ve bought about 12, 13 years ago, the 506XX model, also commonly known as the ‘1st’ model. The model itself is from around 1941. When I bought it, it had only been washed a single time, so it was a deep dark blue, but I’ve been wearing it for twelve years since then, so yeah… These days there’s cleaning agent on sale that makes sure the color doesn’t disappear but there was no such thing back in the day and I washed it quite often back then.”

Fujiwara: ”I first heard about this model from an old man who came to my store as a customer. He told me he was looking for a large-sized ‘1st’ model. The model he was looking for was a big-sized model with a ‘patching’ on the back side, which he’d seen somewhere before. I had no clue what a patching was, but I promised him to look for it the next time I went to America to buy new items. So there I asked HTC’s Zip Stevenson if he personally owned any ‘1st’ model, to which he answered ‘Oh yes, I have some dead stock laying around’ and showed me a size fifty item. Immediately I noticed there was an extra line on the back, and I thought ‘Oh, this is it!’. The size was so big that the width wasn’t enough, so there was a patching added in the middle. It looked pretty awesome, you know. I bought some for the store as well, but I’d decided I wanted one for myself and while looking for it, I found someone who told me ‘I can never sell something this size, so I’ll sell it to you, Fujiwara’, which is how I bought a thin ‘1st’ model, the first I ever bought. I think it was about 30000 yen?”

Fujiwara: ”I’ve been wearing it ever since then, and this one time when I was being interviewed for a magazine, I mentioned it kind of looks like the letter T from behind, which the writer for the magazine interpreted as a ‘T-back’. That started a kind of tradition where fans of this size started calling it by that name. I learned afterwards that the 1st model has a patch on it from size 46. On large-sized items, there’s always a letter E after the ‘506XX’ on the patch, which stands for extra and that starts at 44. Unfortunately, none of the catalogues by Levi’s at the time mentioned at what size the back part started to split in a T-shape. After looking at many and many items and checking it personally, I found out it started at size 46. But then again, from the fifties it wouldn’t be split yet at 46, and instead started at 48. I’ve actually also been to Levi’s San Francisco head office to show my own four to Paul, a designer at Levi’s Vintage Clothing (LVC) to explain to him what people meant by a T-back.”

--- Looking at it from the standard size feeling of today’s fashion, it actually looks just right!

Fujiwara: ”When looking at the numbers, 46 sounds like it should be about XXL, but in the case of the Levi’s 1st model it only gets wider in width. This item of mine has also shrunk a lot, but even then it doesn’t feel like it’s too big at all.”

--- Yes, looking at it right now it looks just right.

Fujiwara: “These days wearing large-sized fashion is a trend, which coincided with the prices rising. Some items that used to be 300.000 to 400.000 yen about five years ago can now be found in Koenji for prices like two million yen.

All: “Wow!”

Fujiwara: “I wonder when they’ll stop rising, honestly.”

POGGY: “In the past everyone was wearing their “1st” models in the exact size that fit them, so items like this were not really wanted by anyone. That’s what caught Yutaka’s eye and inspired him to study up on the item; by spreading that knowledge through the media, the price went up by a lot.”

Fujiwara: “It’s happened more than once that Mr. Kogi asked me to ‘buy some more of those T-backs’.”

POGGY: “At the time, I didn’t have the financial liberty to buy any myself. If I could buy them now, I definitely would!”

POGGY: “This ‘507’ model, also known as ‘2nd’ is even bigger, right?”

Fujiwara: “I bought this piece about four, five years ago, but I’ve known about it since I saw a smaller edition about fifteen, sixteen years ago. That time, a customer brought in this model, saying ‘Mr. Fujiwara, I always see you wearing a look combining the ‘1st’model with other items, but this is what it looks like wearing a ‘2nd’model. At the time, all I thought was ‘Oh man, that shape looks horrible’. I didn’t want to give any high price for it at the time, so I end-ed up giving up on buying it altogether. In the end, I hadn’t really managed to find any items of the same model, so I was really lucky when this one showed up.”

POGGY: “It almost feels like the models by Balenciaga that are being sold these days.”

Fujiwara: “The length of the 2nd model is also shorter than the 1st. The first was made so that if you laid it flat the sleeves would be directly horizontal, and they were made quite widely be-cause they were originally designed as working wear. As for the 2nd, they started being designed as a fashion item from the fifties, the sleeves are bent towards the lower end and are more tight-fit. As far as looks go, the silhouette of the 2nd model is really cool, or maybe even beautiful. But then, the ends of the sleeves are designed tight-fit so they feel shorter; in a lot of cases, the pants actually did become shorter over time.”

--- But this ‘2nd’ model is fairly big to begin with; because it’s also a T-back model, it fits surprisingly well with the current trends.

Fujiwara: “After the 1st and the 2nd model, here is the 3rd. From here on, the design itself is completely different. This is in a way the finished version of the Levi’s denim jacket. The style that is used here has continued to be used as a standard from this period on. The number used for the 3rd is 557; there’s a big patch on these and the length of the body is a bit short. From the end of the sixties, the article number changed to 70505. Last year I went to Santa Monica in Shibuya for the first time in a while where I saw it hanging on a rack there. On the original item there was a slightly erotic embroidered patch, so I could never really wear it in front of the kids… But a lot of fashion-lovers really enjoy it when you show them an item like this.”

Fujiwara: “The patchwork can be a bit thin or the armlength a bit longer, or sometimes the shape around the waist can be tight as well. So people who care about the length of the time might better go for this 70505 model; I guess you could call it the 4th as well. But for the 557 model, there was also a version made with longer sleeves known as the 558 model. There are really not many of these out there, but that is the idea that was carried over onto the 4th model, which also has a longer version under the article number 71205 instead of the regular 70505. On this item the patchwork has come loose so you can’t read it anymore, but obviously the length is longer than normal, so I’m fairly certain this is a 71205 model.”

--- How much did it cost you?

Fujiwara: “This item was 26.000 yen. I felt it was kind of expensive at first, but the item is long-er than usual, so I bought it in the end.”

POGGY: “You don’t find these everyday either..”

Fujiwara: “I’ve seen Mr. Kogi wearing this 3rd model underneath another jacket before, so this longer version comes up in our conversations time to time as well.”

Yutaka Fujiwara

Director of one of the most well-known vintage shops in Japan, BerBerJin. He is especially knowledgeable in vintage denim items and worked together with others to publish『THE 501®XX A COLLECTION OF VINTAGE JEANS』, a publication describing the Levi’s 501 series of vintage wear in 2015. From 2018, he has started his own YouTube channel to further knowledge about the charm of vintage denim wear.

Motofumi “POGGY” Kogi

Born in 1976. Started working part-time at UNITED ARROWS in 1997 and opened his own store, Liquor,woman&tears in 2006 after working for the press for a while. In 2010, he opened a new store called UNITED ARROWS & SONS, where he worked as director. In 2018 he went independent and is gathering attention for his various activities, like working as the fashion director for 2G, a store in the recently renewed Shibuya PARCO building.

Photo_ Shiga Shunsuke
Text_ Maruro Yamashita