Every now and again it’s possible to come across something extraordinary when searching for vintage American clothing. Suede jackets are something I’ve always loved but vintage suede can be very funky in the worst possible sense and the vintage aroma can take months to clear. Some items are better not cleaned as suede cleaning chemical can strip colour and leave the items faded. Hence the constant search for the holy grail – deadstock suede jackets. Some months back my broadband went down just as a deadstock 1940s Hercules suede bomber jacket (in original box no less!) was ending. It didn’t even sell for that much as it was not described very well and being sold by someone who wasn’t a regular seller of vintage Americana. Properly described it would almost certainly have gone to a Japanese deadstock store like Second Boom in Evisu.
But good things come to those who wait. In this case an international plan needed hatching – starting with Herb Lester, who found the listing in the first place and emailed me the link (with no small degree of sadness no doubt), but being too large for Mr L. Then the good services of ivy stylist and JSA platinum customer, Fred in LA, were needed as the seller wasn’t set up to take payments from buyers with non US addresses. You know how it is, once you find something like this you’re not going to wait on an email from a seller on a weekend when they could be canoeing up some river without wifi…
Although not strictly an Ivy item, more a mainstream American classic, the suede bomber is something I have coveted since I was a teenager watching Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in Somebody Up There Likes Me. In the mid 80s you could find pretty good quality ones around the retro stores of Les Halles or St Germain. In London almost impossible save for the caramel coloured Schott examples for £400 in the KIngs Rd (then a Kings Ransome too!). I remember a particularly nice loden green one I bought on the Left Bank. Many though were made of cheap pigskin split suede but that one was cowhide, a great jacket in its day.
In 1999 I had to travel to LA for work and I got Sherri, then owner of Golden Bear in San Francisco (and still all US made) to dig one out for me and she kindly offered to put a shawl collar on,( like the ones she remembered selling to John Simons and that I could never afford at the time), and ship it to my hotel in Century City. Unfortunately, she completely misguessed my size and that amazing jacket ended up with John Rushton. (John has incidentally recently asked me to find a new home for that particular jacket which I would guess is roughly a 44).
Then, last year, I found one in Argentina, on a polo and saddle maker’s website called Arandu. After a lot of to and froing in my bad spanish, they finally sent me one in the post and in such a home made parcel that it completely escaped customs. The parcel and communication gave the impression of a tiny outfit, and the jacket was hand signed on the tag by the workshop maker.
When I went to Buenos Aires in May this year, I couldn’t equate that hand packed, hand written, parcel with the seriously high end store, complete with lifesize polo pony mannequins showing off their saddles. In Argentina these jackets with a shawl collar are worn by almost all men of a certain age and class, and usually in the rust colour of old American-style deer skin suede. The only downside is that they are a little stuck in the 1940s and so all of the jackets have shoulder pads in – but these have proven simple to remove as they’re only hand tacked in under the lining.
In the same upmarket area of Recoleta in BsAs where Aradu is based, I also came across Rossi & Caruso, a very high tone store that equates itself with Hermes – again with a saddle making history going back to the 19th century. Here the jackets were a little heavier and a little more 50s/60s in style, albeit with the requisite shawl collar.
Argentina is probably the only place left on the planet with a European Anglo Ivy tradition where the sterling has some value, these jackets, whilst expensive by local standards, were remarkably cheap compared to anything remotely comparable in London or Paris, especially from such an upmarket store. I ended up buying two, a deep rich brown and a deep forest green. You can’t be confronted with items you’ve loved for over 30 years and then not take advantage of them!
Having now three of these jackets, I wasn’t really in the market for another, but when Herb sent me the link to this Montgomery Ward Tartan Suede bomber I couldn’t resist picking it up. Deadstock stuff fascinates me – especially when we’re talking about items that have been sought after since at least the 80s in Japan and elsewhere. The fact that this stuff still turns up in nearly 20 years into the internet is always incredible.
The tags on this jacket show that it’s made of the kind of chamois suede that was hugely popular in American from the 1940s onwards – both Scotch, with their still current Scotchguard technology, and Dupont, with their Quilon brand, made water and stain resistant coatings for suede jackets and many, like this example, were also washable! The tanners of this particular item, Kroy, marketed their suede as “Miracle suede by Kroy washable dry cleanable water and stain resistant–American Certified Institute of Laundering”. Such claims helped fine suede to move from being the domain of the rich to being an everyday catalog item – even boy’s bomber jackets could be found in suede!
Montgomery Ward was the original mail order catalogue, set up in the 19th century to supply farmers and homesteaders with items from back East that were simply unavailable in the West. The original source of all today’s online stores that allow us to buy niche or foreign made products from anywhere in the world!
There is only one aspect of this deadstock jacket that I’m not so sure about – the size! Whilst I have experience of vintage bombers being very short in the body and sleeves in a 40 or 42 compared to any modern clothes (try finding a Catalina derby jacket longer than 24/25 inches!), I think even a 1950s size 46 may be pushing it for me. If that’s the case, when it arrives it may have to be rehomed. That will be sad, but at least I do have some great Argentinean jackets to be going on with. (Since starting to write this article I’ve also researched firms who will alter suede garments so that may be an option to take the chest in a little).
I will update when it arrives…