If you read Heddels regularly, the term “military reproduction” has maybe lost some of its luster. So many of the garments we know and love come from military origins, so perhaps the market can start to seem oversaturated. If you want to get back to the things that make repros great, look no further than Buzz Rickson’s, whose attention to detail and innovative methods will almost certainly restore your faith.
Often mentioned in the same breath as other giants like The Real McCoy’s and Eastman Leathers, Buzz does what few brands have the time and resources to do—not only get the stitch for stitch accuracy we’ve come to expect from our reproductions, but go even deeper, to the molecular level, to ensure authenticity, wearability, and that vintage je ne sais quoi we love in our clothes.
History of Buzz Rickson’s
Toyo Enterprises, the parent company of modern brands like Sugar Cane, Buzz Rickson’s, Sun Surf, and Tailor Toyo began its life under a different name: Kosho & Co. Kosho began operating in the 1940s, and though English translations of the history are few and far between, we can surmise that its inception may have had something to do with the booming wartime manufacturing associated with Japan’s involvement in WWII.
Regardless of its origins, Kosho was one of a select few companies to really start to thrive on the post-war landscape. They began marketing clothing to American servicemen, starting after WWII and ramping up as American GIs were stationed in Japan to wage war in Korea and Vietnam all the way through the 70s. There wasn’t yet a need for reproduction militaria, as those garments were still in use, but there was a market for breezy, colorful Hawaiian-style shirts and souvenir jackets. What makes all the Toyo repro brands unique is that they were actually born out of the period they work so hard to emulate.
Though Buzz Rickson’s wasn’t established until 1993, long after Kosho had become Toyo, the brand’s parent company still had roots that were inextricably tied to the American military occupation of Japan and the styles that came with that.
Buzz Rickson’s & The Philosophy of Meticulousness
The brand takes its name from Steve McQueen’s (who else?) character in the 1961 film, The War Lover. It was only appropriate that the brand take its name from an aviator, after all, Buzz Rickson, despite their enormous, meticulously-researched lineup, is far and away most famous for its flight jackets.
Buzz Rickson’s success lies in its almost-absurd dedication to accuracy in reproduction. The designers at Toyo don’t just pick up vintage pieces and copy them, they will quite literally go down to the molecular level to ensure their product is in fact 100% accurate. Take for instance, the above MA-1.
The specific nylon used in the iconic flight jacket seen above wasn’t recorded. In order to determine exactly what sort of nylon they would need, they took samples off the jacket and found the nylon’s melting point and compared it to other samples to determine the nylon’s exact makeup. If Buzz’s designers go through this process and realize no one makes that exact style of vintage nylon, then they’ll track down an old machine that makes it, repair it, and go from there.
BR’s status as one of the sub-brands of the larger Toyo Enterprises means that they have the time and capital to really ensure that things are perfect. Where a smaller brand might have to cut corners, Buzz has the institutional support to take samples to the lab and even restore old equipment to get the most perfect iteration of whatever garment they’re making to the consumer. Feel free to peruse their list of materials on their website.
They’ll even use infrared spectroscopy to dial in on the color of a thread. In fact, during the infrared analysis of the famous sage green MA-1, Buzz Rickson’s experts found that in some cases, the back of the green fibers could have up to three complementary colors that gave the main color depth and caused it to fade in a more nuanced, classic way. Of course, upon finding this, the brand committed itself to dyeing only with period-accurate methods, as opposed to more modern and convenient methods.
The iconic flight jackets fans know and love make up the backbone of the Buzz Rickson’s line, but they’ve expanded their range significantly since their inception. A Buzz Rickson’s line sheet is divided up into the different branches of the military, painstakingly recreating all manner of garments worn by those servicemen. In order to fully pay homage to the outerwear of the 40s-60s, Buzz has also delved into the civilian sportswear side of things, as many vintage sub-contractors for the military used their manufacturing expertise to make jackets for the folks back home too.
Buzz Rickson’s pieces weren’t even available in the U.S. until 2003, and even now they can be extremely difficult to track down. That being said, to see a full collection in the flesh or History Preservation feels like being a kid in a candy store. That is, if the candy store only stocked deadstock militaria and workwear.
Buzz Rickson’s and William Gibson
In the early 2000s, science fiction author, William Gibson, received a befuddled letter from Toyo Enterprises, asking why on earth he’d written about a jacket they didn’t make. The confusion stemmed from one of Gibson’s novels, called Pattern Recognition, in which one of his characters wore an all-black MA-1 jacket… a jacket made by Buzz Rickson’s. Gibson had heard from a friend that this new brand was making waves back in Tokyo and so he used their name in the book.
But because black wasn’t a color used by the American military in their old uniforms, the jacket couldn’t possibly exist in the main Buzz Rickson’s line. People, unbeknownst to Gibson, had been writing to Buzz Rickson’s, asking where and how they could get this amazing blacked-out MA-1 they’d read about. All this hoopla resulted in the William Gibson line from Buzz Rickson’s, which makes full-spec military garments, just in murdered-out, all black colorways.
Buzz Rickson’s Iconic Products
Everyone makes a repro USN chambray, but who could possibly do it more justice than Buzz Rickson’s? All made to-spec and featuring custom fabric, buttons, and even thread, this vintage fit shirt looks amazing and stands out in a sea of overly-snug and inauthentic imitators.
Available for $110 from History Preservation.
William Gibson MA-1
100% to-spec construction with the notable exception of that William Gibson black, this jacket is a runaway hit. It’s been carried every year that Self Edge has been open and remains extremely popular. This jacket was initially meant to be a limited release, just for Buzz Rickson’s tenth anniversary, but clearly, it was too good to stop making. Every minute detail matches 1957 USAAF specs and the wool-lined nylon will take a beating and last you many, many years.
Available for $675 from Self Edge.
A-2 Flight Jacket
Few pieces of clothing are more iconic than the A-2 flight jacket. Its debonair detailing and standing in the world of leather jackets is only overshadowed by the iconic Schott Perfecto. This second most-famous leather jacket of all time was worn by aviators in the early years of WWII and has retained a crucial foothold in the collective consciousness ever since. This is Buzz Rickson’s bread and butter, of course. The horsehide from which it’s made was arduously tanned to exactly match its vintage predecessors. All made to spec and manufactured in Japan, this one is a no-brainer.
Available from History Preservation for $1,675.