An interview with Porter Classic

December 15, 2009

Katsu Yoshida snd Leo Yoshida of Porter Classic

Porter Classic is characterized by their curiosity and appreciation of vintage workwear and the craftsmanship behind Japanese Kendo garments. Led by Katsu and Leo Yoshida, the father and son duo present a collection that plays homage to the popular Japanese label, Porter — which was established within their family almost 70 years ago. There’s a rich history here and a genuine appreciation for quality and Japanese heritage. For the better part of 2 years before making their debut, they made sure that the recreation of time specific fabrics was rightfully fitting for their collection. In 2008, they opened up the first Porter Classic flagship shop in Japan’s Ginza district, providing as an outpost for the Porter Classic lifestyle.

For Porter Classic, it isn’t just about recreating what has already been done in the past. It’s also about taking new ideals and combining them with the traditional philosophies behind Porter Classic. It’s about taking it back to the basics. Below are a few words that I was able to share with Leo Yoshida, Director of Porter Classic.

A special thanks to Nicole Mournian.
Illustration by Vincent Santos. Photos provided by Leo Yoshida

*****

Can you tell us about the beginning of Porter Classic and the roles that you and your father play within the label?

It started out of necessity. Few years back, Katsu had to go through cancer operation, treatment, leave of absence from the old company (eventually resignation) but after a while he was like “I need to create again.” So my job was to create an environment for him, where he could create luggage, clothes, jewelries, etc. without unnecessary stress. I’m more like the Scottie Pippen type, trying to score and defend and steal and pass the ball to Katsu’s Michael Jordan, the game winner. We design and direct the lines together, from the Kendo fabric series, or the Palaka series, or the Hickory series but we get tremendous help from the “shokunins,” the artisans, in each genre.

Going “back to the basics” defines much of the Porter Classic philosophy. What are some of the freedoms that you get to explore with Porter Classic that you don’t necessarily get to take with Yoshida & Co.?

[Katsu] It gave me a chance to go back to designing again, instead of managing a company.

Describe the audience that your garments speak to?

The audience varies… the Kendo fabric series are quite expensive, the Palakas are more affordable, Hickory clothing line is popular with the male customers, but Hickory luggage line is popular with the female customers so, its hard to say. In terms of fashion, our customers seem to appreciate good quality rather than low price.

Porter Classic detail

Where do you and your father go to find inspiration?

Inspiration is everywhere. French flea markets, Barnes & Noble, a remote village in Northern Thailand. Movies are always great inspiration too, so are museums. Historical figures, shopping arcades, in-flight magazines, teletubbies, the list goes on…

I’ve noticed that a couple of pieces from Porter Classic are influenced by the Hawaiian Palaka textiles of the WWII era. What were some the cultural significances of these garments that influenced you to translate them through Porter Classic?

Actually, it was pre-WWII (became popular with the Japanese immigrants in Hawaii around the 1920′s). The fascination with Palaka is kind of a long story… When I was approached by the producers of “Honokaa Boy” (a movie based on my novel), it was the same time as the launch of Porter Classic. The movie is based on my real experience as a movie projectionist, in a small Big Island town called Honokaa. I wanted to be part of the production, so I told them that the minor details would be as important as the storyline, the choice of actors, or the soundtrack. Especially the costume. After several meetings, they were convinced that I knew what I was talking about. Luckily, the production was around the same time as the beginning of Porter Classic, so, I could make original costume for the movie AND present it as part of the first PC collection.

Well, after doing some research, the significance of Palakas to the Japanese immigrants during the sugar plantation days was quite inspiring. For them, the Palakas resembled the Japanese “kasuri” fabric, which is known for light kimonos, and it soon became a uniform for the Japanese workers in the plantation. I wanted to do it in the original way, 100% cotton, every thread with characteristic, instead of today’s mass produced polyester/cotton Palakas, which is sold everywhere in Hawaii, but looks very one dimensional and plastic. So we searched for a factory in Japan that had the understanding, as well as the capacity and eventually they were able to recreate the original Palaka fabric.

Porter Classic detail

You’ve mentioned that it took almost two years to find the right resources needed to develop the Porter Classic collection. What were some of the hurdles that you guys faced during these years?

It’s all about finding the right people. You can have all the budget in the world, but without the right team, it’s impossible to create a great collection. Our first obstacle was finding the best fabric. The company that sells kendo fabric specializes solely with the sport of kendo, so for us, an apparel company, to approach them was not easy. Then once we overcame that obstacle, it was finding the right factory to produce the indigo, as well as the tailoring. The fabric is not an easy material to deal with. Nobody’s ever done a Chinese jacket from a kendo facric, so it was lot of trial and error in the beginning.

The creative process of Porter Classic involves a close working environment with you and your father. How are ideas shared? How are creative differences compromised?

We try to listen to one another. Compared to say, five – ten years ago, we don’t argue as much or get frustrated with each other as much. We don’t have that luxury now… I think we really started to treat each other as business partners instead of father-son.

With the collection, how do you decide what will work and what won’t work? Were there any pieces that didn’t make it into the Fall collection due to resource deficiencies?

It’s very simple. We ask ourselves, if we really want to wear that particular clothes. Or carry that particular bag, you know… We don’t care about the trend or what critics say or what the market suggests. In terms of the process itself, the ideas are direct and simple, like, “let’s make a French jacket using kendo fabric”, so after that, we just work on it. The only variable is budget of course.

Porter Classic

Just over a year ago, Porter Classic opened its doors in Ginza. What were some of the other locations that were considered? What was it about this neighborhood that finalized your plans to set fort in Ginza?

Actually Ginza was the only place we looked… It’s the best place in Tokyo no doubt. Movie theaters, best restaurants, great bars, cool camera shops, five star hotels, it’s all in Ginza. Aoyama, Harajuku, Nakameguro, tis all great but Ginza is THE center of Tokyo. Miyuki Street (where PC shop is located) was one of the first fashion districts in Tokyo back in the 60′s. Katsu was definitely influenced by that environment back in the day, and he always had a soft spot for this neighborhood…So when we found out there was a space available, we moved fast. The space, is located under a railroad track, in an arcade called The International Arcade. You literally hear trains passing above the shop. It’s awesome…

Porter ClassicWhen most brands open a shop in skyscraper buildings, we went the opposite way… a beat down narrow arcade… Also, there are lot of foreign brand shops located in Ginza, and we being a made-in-Japan brand, there’s definitely a “we have to stand up against the wave” kind of attitude…

Please tell us about the Porter Classic gallery? Who are some of the artists that have exhibited within the space and what are their relations to the company?

Gallery Porter Classic is one of the first attempts to spread out Porter Classic within the International Arcade. Eventually, we would like to rent all the spaces in there. We have monthly exhibitions at the gallery. One month we would have an unknown artist exhibiting her work, next month we’d have PC collection of vintage Cartier Bresson photos, Leonard Foujita drawings, John Lennon print, etc. The most popular exhibition so far was the Necktie exhibition in October. We made 120 neckties from an antique Japanese indigo fabric, known as “sashiko.” It sold out immediately because each tie was different, one of a kind product.

So far, I only know of two places in Japan to acquire your goods. Are there any immediate plans for international markets in the West to obtain some of your pieces? What should we be expecting to see from Porter Classic in the near future?

We are launching a new luggage brand next year, aimed precisely for the international market. The show is in January, so products will be in stores around March. Komu Yoshida is the main designer for this project, the same designer who created the Porter HEAT series which is the second most popular line after TANKER series. He also resigned from the Yoshida company recently and joined Porter Classic.

Visit PorterClassic.com for more info.



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  1. [...] the whole Yoshida empire which has predomiantely been known for its bags. In this rare interview, Edwin Himself speaks with Porter Classic’s director, Leo Yoshida. Some of our favorite answers are seen [...]

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