Who “designed” the 1964 Olympics uniforms?

W. David Marx
Sep 8, 2016 · 8 min read
The Japan team makes its entrance to the 1964 Olympics Opening Ceremony. (from The Complete Tokyo 1964 Olympics Film)

A new article by fashion critic and scholar Hisako Anjō brings recognition to Yasuyuki Mochizuki, a little-known tailor shop owner who worked on the famous red blazer. But questions remain about the influence of VAN Jacket’s Kensuke Ishizu and who really should be really considered the “designer.”

A note: This essay has been significantly changed since its initial publication, and I made further changes on October 22 after Anjō pointed out that I incorrectly said the 1960 uniform was “all white,” when in fact it did have red piping. I have corrected this error and provided links to photos of the jacket.

On September 6, fashion critic and scholar Hisako Anjō (安城寿子) published a feature on Yahoo! Japan News investigating the origin of Japan’s now famous red blazer and white pants combination worn at the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. In recent years, the uniforms have become associated with VAN Jacket founder Kensuke Ishizu (石津謙介), but Anjō argues that Yasuyuki Mochizuki (望月靖之), who ran Kanda suiting shop Nisshōdō, was directly responsible for the design.

The design

Before we look into who is responsible for the design, it is good to remember the nature of the final product. The 1964 Olympic jacket was a single-breasted blazer made from bright red matte worsted wool, gold buttons in a three-two roll (although in some photos the top two buttons are buttoned), three patch pockets, and a center back vent.

Many of these elements were radical for menswear at the time. Standard suit jackets in Japan were ventless and had a low two-button stance. VAN Jacket — sole proponents of the “Ivy” look in 1964 — were one of the few companies selling three-button jackets, and the three-button jacket with high button stance later came to be synonymous in Japan with “Ivy.” Meanwhile gold buttons were seen as gaudy, foreign, and generally undesirable. When Toshiyuki Kurosu of VAN Jacket tried to sell the brand’s navy blazers in 1962, department store buyers told him to remove the gold buttons. Patch pockets would have also been rare.

And needless to say, the red color was extremely controversial. Conservatives complained about the red jackets being “childish” and “feminine” upon their debut. In 1962, Kurosu and Kazuo Hozumi decided to make red blazers for their Traditional Ivy Leaguers Club. Their own tailor pushed back, “Are you really sure you want to make them red?” Kurosu and Hozumi wore the resulting jackets once to a party but were later too embarrassed to wear them out on the town.

The evidence for Mochizuki

Anjō’s most compelling evidence for Mochizuki’s design of the jackets is a photograph that shows the uniforms displayed in a shop window with a placard reading “Design: Yasuyuki Mochizuki.” She also uncovered a October 16, 1964 Yomiuri Shimbun article, which notes that Mochizuki pushed for a red blazer design, and a Nissen Journal article that adds he had been advocating for a “vermillion” (shuiro) blazer since the 1960 Rome games.

As outlined in his autobiography Pedaru wo funda taiya no ato (1985), Mochizuki started tailoring the Olympic uniforms for the 1952 Helsinki Games. When Oxford-educated Prince Chichibu commented that his jackets were not actually “blazers,” Mochizuki became obsessed with giving the teams more authentic versions in the future. In 1956, he tried to convince the Japan Olympic Committee to go for a red jacket. They balked, and the final product was a low-button stance two-button blue blazer with grey piping and metallic buttons (video). In 1960, he offered a red jacket with white piping and a white jacket with red piping; the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) settled on the white jacket and paired it with white pants (video, image). In 1964, Mochizuki’s dream finally came true when the JOC agreed to outfit the team in a red blazer with white pants.

Anjō’s case lays out two important points (1) Yasuyuki Mochizuki definitely led the Olympic tailoring effort in 1964, and (2) Mochizuki had likely been pushing for a red-and-white design, including a red blazer, for many years before 1964.

The evidence against Ishizu

While the proof of Mochizuki involvement is clear, Anjō offers less compelling evidence that Kensuke Ishizu had nothing to do with the 1964 design. She points to an Ishizu quote in a June 4, 1964 Yomiuri article complaining that Japan should adopt ready-to-wear Olympic uniforms like the United States rather than use a tailor to make every single garment. (Of course, Ishizu would make this argument: his business VAN Jacket was trying to singlehandedly convert the Japanese menswear world from tailoring to readymade.) In the article Ishizu praises the choice of red blazer as “prudent” (「賢明だった」), which Anjō believes proves he was not involved. “If Ishizu had designed the official uniforms,” she writes, “it’s inconceivable that he would have praised his own work that way.” This may be true for a “normal” Japanese person, but not Kensuke Ishizu — a constant self-promoter who had long written anonymous articles in Otoko no Fukushoku advocating for his favorite styles!

Late in her piece, after wondering why in the world people believe Kensuke Ishizu had something to do with the 1964 design, Anjō readily admits an important point: Ishizu is listed in the official register “Persons Engaged in Opening Ceremony Operations” as the designer of the male “staff” uniforms — judges, interpreters, etc. As a leading menswear expert, the Japan Olympic Committee hired Ishizu to be an official advisor on what men would wear in an official capacity.

He is not, however, listed as the athlete’s uniform designer.

The issue is: no one is! And this includes Mochizuki. If the register simply said “Opening Ceremony athlete uniform designer: Yasuyuki Mochizuki,” there would be no debate at all.

The evidence against Mochizuki

Mocihizuki’s own account hurts his case for authorship of the uniforms: he never had the power to unilaterally create the uniform designs. He would submit ideas, but the Japanese Olympic Committe (JOC) rejected them, and this included the uniform’s basic color. Mochizuki long wanted a red jacket. In 1960, he offered a red jacket, and the JOC went with his white one.

Before Anjō published her piece, fashion critic Shūhei Tōyama wrote an article for the website Byron about the behind-the-scenes tension of the 1964 uniforms. In the piece, Tōyama makes the point that Mochizuki was neither a designer nor a tailor. He managed a tailoring shop and came to be a strong asset to the JOC because of his prowess organizing other tailors to sew the uniforms.

Tōyama identifies Masataka Kaijima (貝島正高), who wrote a few famous tomes of tailoring, as the man responsible for the jacket’s actual master pattern. This is different, however, than the design.

What is unclear from the information we have is who decided on the final design elements. Mochizuki had always wanted a red jacket, but what about the gold buttons, patch pockets, and an Ivy-esque 3/2 roll with high button stance? These elements represented Ivy League style at the time and would seem odd in 1964 to someone like Mochizuki who had had become established in the Japanese tailoring from the pre-war period.

Evidence for Ishizu’s involvement

Tōyama notes that Tsuneyoshi Takeda — formerly a Prince who became a commoner after the War — organized the design efforts around the 1964 games. Takeda personally invited top designers Hanae Mori and Kensuke Ishizu to oversee uniform design.

As stated above, Ishizu certainly worked on the production of readymade clothing for Opening Ceremony staff, but the controversy is whether he also worked on the 1964 athlete uniforms. Tōyama states, based on unnamed sources, that the formal uniform design was complete by the time Ishizu joined, leading the VAN Jacket founder to bicker in the press about Mochizuki’s tailoring group.

In 2007, the JOC website ran an interview (mysteriously taken down on September 8) with VAN Jacket employee and Ivy League style expert Toshiyuki Kurosu about Ishizu’s influence on the 1964 uniform. Kurosu readily admits in the first paragraph that there was no “designer” of the uniforms but there was a “tailor.”

Kurosu’s account contradicts Tōyama’s by suggesting that Ishizu did work on the Opening Ceremony uniforms. Kurosu states that it was Ishizu who decided on a three-button single-breasted design, but could not decide on the color. He ordered Kurosu to the National Diet Library to bring back photos of all the previous Olympic uniform designs. Kurosu returned empty-handed, at which point Ishizu told him, “Okay, we’ll do red.”

Admittedly, Kurosu was not involved directly in the Olympic uniform process, but his own work in 1964 made him believe that Ishizu was making significant decisions regarding the jacket design.

Why were old tailors designing an Ivy blazer?

What seems to be missing from Anjō and Tōyama’s accounts is why exactly Mochizuki’s group of 63 tailors would have picked a blazer style associated at the time almost exclusively with VAN Jacket’s “Ivy”? Tōyama disagrees with this assessment, writing in 2014, “More than the American Ivy Look, the Japan team blazer at the Tokyo Olympics has a much deeper flavor of British tailored jackets.” Certainly this is true from the pattern and construction — it’s tailored and not ready-to-wear — but in the framing of 1964 trends, that particular three-button stance felt very, very Ivy.

Perhaps the tailors reached their own Ivy-like design conclusions based on an understanding of traditional British university athletic blazers — they could have taken the gold buttons and patch pockets from this. But that button stance: the three-two roll is very American. I would also note that from the photos, the jacket also seems to use an American style “natural” shoulder.

[NEW 10/22/16] The 1960 blazer adds more complexity to this issue, as the jacket both has gold buttons and patch pockets, and could be a 2/3 roll.

Toshiyuki Kurosu‘s red blazer with gold buttons made in the early 1960s, that looks almost identical to the Olympics blazer. (source: Kobe Brummell Club)

There was no “designer.”

In the end, we should admit that multiple individuals in 1964 tried to influence the JOC to accept their design. We have both Ishizu and Mochizuki advocating a red blazer, but it is unclear how the JOC — who had always fought the color red — came to accept it. Perhaps Mochizuki created an early design and Ishizu helped push it through? Maybe Ishizu suggested it, and Mochizuki claimed that he had always had the idea anyway?

The main point is that we do not have enough information about the decision-making process to truly know what happened. That being said, Ishizu never claimed to have “designed” the blazer, whereas Mochizuki was more of an organizer of tailoring efforts than a designer auteur.

A very dangerous part of this “controversy” is projecting our 2016 understanding of “authorship” back onto a design project in 1964. It is fair to say that the uniforms had no “designer” at all. They were chosen by committee, and we are reduced to arguing about whose design ideas influenced the final product.

Implications for Ametora

Whatever the case, I have to admit that my account of the Olympic uniform story in Ametora relied too much on Kurosu’s story and thus gives Ishizu too much agency in deciding the uniform design. I also got one detail completely wrong: the tailor (likely Mochizuki) did not go to the hospital upset about the design, but upset that so many people hated the design.

The most important lesson, however, is that even if Ishizu had nothing to do with the uniform design, the final product was later understood as Ivy. Honestly, it looks almost identical to Ivy-style Japanese blazers from the era. And the jacket’s appearance at the Opening Ceremony worked to legitimize a key garment that VAN Jacket was trying to sell. No one benefitted more than Kensuke Ishizu in late 1964 from the mainstreaming of a three-two roll blazer with gold buttons and patch pockets.

Ametora Extended

Footnotes, spin-offs, and updates to W.

Ametora Extended

Footnotes, spin-offs, and updates to W. David Marx’s book “Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style.”

W. David Marx

Written by

Tokyo-based author of “Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style” (Basic Books, December 2015). Co-founder/editor of Néojaponisme. wdavidmarx.com

Ametora Extended

Footnotes, spin-offs, and updates to W. David Marx’s book “Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style.”