Ametora Interviews: Takeyoshi Hayashida, former secretary to Kensuke Ishizu
Takeyoshi Hayashida joined the legendary Japanese clothing brand VAN Jacket in 1963 and soon became personal secretary to founder and president Kensuke Ishizu. He held that job for many years and remained a close confidant to Ishizu through the next several decades. Hayashida famously gave Ishizu office space to start something new after VAN’s bankruptcy in 1978. (And yes if you are wondering, his brother, Teruyoshi, was the photographer of famed book Take Ivy.) I sat down with Mr. Sadasue in August 2013 to learn more about working under Ishizu during the peak years of VAN Jacket.
When did you join VAN Jacket?
I joined in 1963. I went to Seijō Gakuen university, and when I graduated that year, I was planning to join the brand JUN [ed. VAN’s rival]. JUN’s president Mr. Sasaki asked me to join. He had been in the Rikkyō basketball club, so he liked to hire athletic kids. I played ice hockey. At the time, JUN was European and a bit effeminate. It had been a swimsuit company at first and made a lot of money making bikini briefs for men.
So I was working for JUN part time, and one day I went to go visit Mr. Ishizu at VAN. I stopped the JUN truck in front of the VAN offices and went up to see him. They let me go through when they heard I was the younger brother of cameraman (Teruyoshi) Hayashida [ed. who at the time did a lot of photography for VAN and Men’s Club]. Ishizu told me, “You’re light on your feet, you’re an athlete, and since you went to Seijō, you know how to look good in a suit.”
Seijō students wore suits as a uniform, which was rare. At the time the only schools to put students in neckties were Aoyama Gakuin and Seijō. But the Aoyama Gakuin uniforms had no collars. Seijō students wore real suits: navy blue in winter, gray in summer.
So he said to me, “You look great in the suit because you’ve been wearing one since you were in elementary school. You wear it with skill.” At the time I was wearing the only expensive suit I owned, which I got at Tailor Moriwaki where [former Prime Minister] Tarō Asō gets his suits made. Ishizu said, “That’s a great suit.”
So you joined VAN soon after?
After I met Ishizu, he said, “Come to my house tomorrow.” So I went to his place in the Sanei-chō district of Yotsuya. My little sister had been there a lot, so I went there with her. And when I was there, Ishizu said, “You can be my secretary.” He decided it on the spot.
Did Ishizu talk much about what he did before VAN?
No, he never said much about that. Almost no one knows that he was arrested for making really nice shirts. This was right after he started VAN. The police said, there couldn’t be shirts this good made in Japan. Those first shirts he made sold really well in Kobe to the Occupation troops. And he was able to put away a lot of money.
How did your brother, Teruyoshi Hayashida, first meet Ishizu?
Through Men’s Club. He shot for Fujin Gahō magazine, mostly high-fashion stuff. And then started working closely with Ishizu.
What were the VAN employees like in the 1960s?
At the time they would always say, I don’t need a salary. They were all rich kids from good families. They just liked clothes and felt like they had to work there. No one was particularly strict, nor weird, nor ideological. Everyone just thought about fashion all the time.
When did you realize that VAN Jacket was very popular?
Employees could never buy anything from VAN, because there was never any stock left. We made everything in Osaka, and then had about 100 salesmen in Tokyo. A week after the deliveries came in from Osaka, there was nothing left. The sales guys would just send it all to the stores, and then they’d just goof off for the rest of the month. I always thought, Wow, there are companies like this?
But they only played hard because they sold a lot?
Yes. Everyone worked hard — a lot of working through the night. But because everything sold out immediately, our retailers were always asking for more stock.
At the point you joined was VAN 100% Ivy?
No, maybe only 70%. We were also doing “continental” [ed. European-style] clothing. Some people in Osaka liked that. That’s personally what I preferred. But only one or two pieces of the Continental styles would be shipped to Tokyo.
Did Toshiyuki Kurosu and Shōsuke Ishizu make the company go towards more young people and Ivy?
Yes, once they established the planning department.
What did Ishizu do at VAN once they were more in charge of making the clothing?
He became “Ishizu, the celebrity.” He would appear on NHK. The high profile led to a lot of people bashing him in the press, although most of them regretted it later. A novelist told one of the newspapers, “These idiots at VAN even put their logo on underwear.” That probably looked dumb for Japan at the time, but now it’s normal, right? I saw that guy a few years ago, and he said, “I’m sorry for saying that back in the day.”
How did the different executives split up their work at VAN?
Takagi was in charge of sales for Osaka. At the time Osaka was still technically the headquarters. Ōkawa ran sales for the Tokyo branch.
The planning department was divided into two: Kurosu and Tani were in charge of Ivy. And then Suzuki and Yanagihara were in charge of European Continental and Mods. When Kurosu went to do Kent, Tani looked after all things Ivy.
Kent wasn’t American — it was English. There was a discussion about the name being the same as the British tobacco brand. But in the end, they liked the elegance of the word “Kent.” At first, Kent didn’t sell well at all.
When did it start selling well?
Maybe 3–4 years after we started? We couldn’t get anyone to make a Kent shop. Then they finally made a Kent corner in Teijin Men’s Shop, and after that, we started to do more shop-in-shops.
Right now brands just make their own shops. Why did VAN rely on a franchise model?
I just don’t think there was enough time. They were very busy, and that’s probably the real reason. For example, in Yokohama, we got lots of requests to do shops, so we thought, where should we wholesale to? And we first went with department stores.
Department stores were against Ivy at first, right?
Yes, they opposed it. However, the retailers in the countryside started selling really well, so we used that as leverage.
Because they had their own lines?
Yes. And the shirts corners were the department stores’ cash cows. And those sections massaged elite men’s egos because they would make the shirts based on your measurements.
When you heard about a VAN crew going to shoot Take Ivy, did you worry about the project being too expensive?
Yes, that was a lot of money. The crew had a send off party, and Mr. Ōkawa from sales — who was later Wrangler CEO — said, “Rinden [Ed. his nickname, an on-yomi reading of Hayashida], is this company really okay spending that kind of money?” So there was some level of anxiety.
And when they got back they didn’t know if the things we made would sell or not. But Ishizu had confidence — it’s going to be fine, it will sell.
How did your brother end up shooting Take Ivy?
That was all because of me. My brother did not know Mr. Ōkawa very well. He was not the type to self-promote. But he was doing really well as a cameraman. He shot a lot of women’s high-fashion. Paul Hasegawa [ed. VAN’s PR person, Take Ivy writer] had already decided on a cameraman. But I lit up Ōkawa and Ishizu about my brother and said you should take him instead. And the cameraman they chose ended up not working out. But my brother never knew that he went because of my influence. No one ever told him.
Did you look at clothing from the Take Ivy photos and then make it that season?
Yes, there were things that were very close imitations. Like our ⅔ roll button jackets. They also went to the Coop at Harvard and Yale and bought up a bunch of sweatshirts. And they brought back pennants from the school co-ops, and we made copies of those to sell. Those flew off the shelves.
It was controversial in 1960s Japan to put logos on undergarments like T-shirts. Was VAN the first to change this?
It was definitely VAN. At first T-shirts did not really catch on, and we got criticized for making them. But then kids would line up to buy VAN T-shirts. We didn’t make very many, so they would all sell out. Then kids started to reserve them and then line-up on the day of sales.
Why didn’t you make more?
We used an underwear place in Okayama that did round-body shirts (marudō). VAN wasn’t that big, so they wouldn’t make us very many.
When did you start making VAN-branded novelties?
In the 1960s. The very first was when we made a sweatshirt for National bicycles. (see image above) After that we made things for almost all the top companies, like Sony. We were the top brand, and working with us helped the other brands increase sales. VAN was definitely the first company to have a division dedicated to novelties.
I remember one day I was carrying these Coca-Cola sweatshirts from Shibuya to Aoyama, and I ran into the CEO of Coca-Cola Japan. He helped me carry them inside, and he called over all the his employees to show them off.
VAN employees wrote all the articles in Men’s Club, right?
Yes. No one knew about Ivy, so it had to be us at VAN writing them. It wasn’t like we wanted Ivy to be like a religious cult. But we needed to build the clothing base for people in the 1960s up until the mid-1970s. And we succeeded: You’ll notice this if you go to formal ceremonies. Our generation wore things properly. Now you’ll see people in jeans at weddings…
What did Ishizu think of the Miyuki Tribe?
He never said, “Let’s support them.” Absolutely not. That would have been bad. But they weren’t doing anything immoral. They were just hanging out.
We did get a lot of calls from parents complaining that they were spending too much of their allowance on VAN. There was a lot of that.
When Ivy fell out of style, did that impact the business?
We stopped making a big deal about Ivy, but Ivy just went on as was. Where we really failed was making all a bunch of new brands for the big box retailers. That was maybe 1972–1973.
How did you end up hosting Ishizu after the bankruptcy?
[Fellow VAN employee] Ōshiba and I looked after Mr. Ishizu until the very end, when no one else would. When he had gone bankrupt, when he was in pitch-black Aoyama all alone. We said, sensei, if it’s okay with you, why don’t you come here. And the next day, he came to our office and said this is great, could I rent a room from you? We loaned it to him, and he worked really hard. And after a year and a half, he saved up, and the president at Itochu at the time said, “Sensei, that’s too small so come and we’ll give you a whole floor at Fashion System,” and he said, “I’m fine here with Hayashida-kun and Ōshiba-kun.” I was so happy.
How was Ishizu as a boss?
I don’t remember Ishizu ever giving me a cent. He still owes me money from buying him smokes all those years.