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Exclusive Interview – Kazuhiko Hanzawa, Founder of Marvin’s Vintage, Tokyo

Marvin's Vintage, store entrance, Meiji Street.

Marvin’s Vintage store entrance on Meiji Street, Tokyo

Though most readers here know Japan for its denim, the land of the rising sun is also widely lauded for its vintage collections. While we won’t delve into all of the historic details, in a nut shell the Japanese were said to be the quickest to capitalize on vintage clothing several decades ago. Compared to their American counterparts–who valued this clothing as just a piece of work wear–the Japanese looked highly upon these garments and were hasty in their actions. They bought huge quantities of vintage denim for almost nothing and well before anyone else.

Similar to fashion retailing in general, in Tokyo you’ll find the whole gamut of vintage stores. While some offer wide, more affordable selections in order to cater to as many customers as possible, others focus on the top-notch stuff only. Among the latter, one of Tokyo’s most revered and well known vintage stores is Marvin’s Vintage.

Regardless of what you’re in the hunt for, chances are you’ll find what you need at Marvin’s. For instance, their selection of jackets includes military pieces from the classic A-2, L-2, and MA-1 series, as well as more obscure pieces such as the US Navy M-69 or the USAF A-1. However, one specific collection they possess–that is considered to be the most impressive and expensive in Japan–pertains to their vintage denim.

To get a better sense of the shop, their offerings, and the state of vintage denim in Japan, we sat down with Kazuhiko Hanzawa, the man behind Marvin’s Vintage.

Meet Hanzawa-san, the man behind Marvin's Vintage.

Meet Hanzawa-san, the man behind Marvin’s Vintage.

Heddels: Please introduce yourself.

Kazuhiko Hanzawa: My name is Kazuhiko Hanzawa, I’m the representative director of Marvin’s vintage. I am 55, born in Tokyo. I used to work for another vintage shop based in Harajuku called Chicago, a chain store with a wide assortment of vintage clothes. I started over there in ’83 I think, and then in ’91 I started Marvin’s Vintage.

RD: What was the trigger to starting Marvin’s Vintage?

KH: Well, for someone working at a vintage shop, to be independent means to start your own business. I could have kept working over there forever, but I felt like I wanted to start my own thing, and the president of Chicago supported my decision. I was 32. Since I loved Harajuku since I was a High School kid, as it’s for me the most fashion forward spot in Tokyo, I always wanted to start my shop there. It took me a long time to find the right place: not too close from Chicago, and not too far from Harajuku.

RD: Were you handling the same types of vintage clothes from the very start?

KH: Yes, I was carrying denim and military from the start. In the Japanese vintage market, military and denim have been a trend since the 80’s. It’s always been viewed as something cool: it’s the types of clothes that automatically come to Japanese people’s mind when they think of cool American style.

One small part of Marvin's Vintage collection

A glimpse of the inside of Marvin’s Top left: A-2 jackets, right below: the most affordable jeans he carries. On the right: shirts, and the rest is 90% jackets.

Another glimpse of the store. Notice the lower rack: mostly nylon and cotton type military jackets, all vintage and in excellent condition.

Another glimpse of the store. On the left, notice the lower rack of mostly nylon and cotton type military jackets; all vintage and in excellent condition. On the right, some of the most affordable vintage jeans in the store, all from the 60’s to more recent eras.

RD: Please tell us about the jeans you carry here.

KH: I carry pieces from the 19th century, the models with only one back pocket. Levi’s as well as other brands. And also other models up to closer eras, until the end of the Made in USA. In terms of volume, it fluctuates a lot so I can’t tell you an average number per model. Obviously I will carry a lot of the popular items, and fewer of the less popular items.

RD: What would be the most popular model then?

KH: Among the Japanese crowd, it’s definitely the 1947 model. […] Of course, older models are popular as well, but when you go before World War II, it gets very expensive, so when Japanese customers think about buying vintage denim, the 1947 model is the most attractive in terms of price point.

Pieces from the 60s, including the Levi's Big E.

Pieces from the 60s, including the Levi’s Big E

RD: What are the hardest models to get?

KH: Definitely the one pocket models, from the 19th century. Either they come out of the mines, or they’re owned by Levi’s themselves. Take an American family, say the great grand father worked in the mines, if the family didn’t look at the denim the way we do nowadays, they certainly didn’t keep it with care. Even if they saw their great grandfather wear the pair of denim, they’re not gonna keep it forever, and eventually throw it away, as opposed to watches, for example.

So mostly I’d say that these models are often found in mines where people used to work. At that time, denim was pure work wear used on site rather than a piece of clothing worn at home. So when you understand that, you know where there are more chances to find them.

RD: What’s the favorite piece you carry in the store?

KH: Well I do own a lot, but if you ask me whether I’d like to wear a super old vintage pair of jeans, in fact that’s not the case. I don’t consider that the one pocket 19th century models look good. I think that two pocket models have more balance, and look better. You know, owning and selling is a different thing…

RD: So what sort of people buy these older pieces?

KH: Denim makers and brand designers. These are two different kinds, in the sense that brand designers own a variety of other pieces outside of the denim genre, and they often want to have a vintage sample in their collection. And of course, you have people that simply like it, to wear or to keep as a piece of art. Also, in fact there are a lot of foreign customers who come to the store.

Recently, there’s been an increase in rich customers from South Eastern Asia, especially from Hong kong. A lot of them come with the sole purpose of buying vintage pieces. Among my customers, there’s a repeater who owns a shopping mall in Hong Kong. […] Eric Clapton came several times as he seems to love vintage clothing. Last time he came to Japan he visited the store five times.

Models from 1942, 1947 and 1952.

Models from 1942, 1947 and 1952

Jeans from the 1900s up to 1936. The 201 is sold at 3,360,000JPY. I'll let you do the conversion.

Jeans from the 1900s up to 1936. The 201 is sold at 3,360,000 JPY ($30,000+ USD)

RD: It seems that Japan is very strong in vintage clothes, why?

KH: Japanese people were the quickest to understand the potential of vintage clothing. It all started in the beginning of the 80’s. Denim pants are just work wear, it’s basically like our monpe (traditional Japanese work pants)! American people didn’t consider vintage denim as something precious for that reason. The first vintage pieces that were popular in the US were neckties and aloha shirts from the 40’s, as well as suits from the 30’s.

However, for Japanese people, vintage denim became popular because when they saw foreigners wear denim, it looked good in a way that westerners themselves didn’t understand yet. For Japanese people, when foreigners wore Levi’s, it looked very good and definitely contributed in popularizing vintage denim here. […] After denim came the boom of anything vintage, with work wear, aloha shirts. Actually work wear was probably the last, in the 90’s. If anything, Japanese people were the fastest to catch on the vintage boom, and bought everything from the Americans when they didn’t really understand the real value of vintage clothes. […]

The next time you’re in Tokyo, be sure to stop by Marvin’s Vintage and say hello to Mr. Hanzawa at: Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 6-12-15, 150-0001 Tokyo; Tel: 03-5466-2390.

Photos by: Yuri Matsuoka.

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