CULT ITEM: SOUVENIR JACKET
By Will Morley, 10 October 2016
From the SS15 catwalk shows (Pringle, Louis Vuitton) to the shoulders of stylish celebrities, to the wardrobes of streetwear-savvy guys everywhere, it's clear that 2016's hottest outerwear ticket has been a riff on the souvenir jacket or ‘sukajan’.
Originating in post-WWII Japan, souvenir jackets were commissioned by occupying American soldiers to commemorate their time overseas and included bright, ornately hand-crafted designs, mixing both Eastern and Western themes. Japanese (and even Chinese) dragons, tigers, cherry blossoms and trees sat side-by-side with American eagles, military iconography and phraseology, making them the OG fashion collab. Collared and quilted bombers were crafted (sometimes from excess parachute silk) but it’s the varsity-style shawl collar jacket that has become popular with vintage hunters and modern designers alike. Think of a sukajan as the new baseball jacket, but turnt – brighter, lighter and a serious statement piece with sauce.
One of the most popular youth trends in 60s Japan was the American preppy look. Those who didn't want to conform wore the sukajan as an act of defiance, signalling their blue collar outsider status and forever (perhaps unfairly) linking the jacket to criminal gangs. This collector’s piece from the 50s is so mouth-wateringly dope – with its reversible velvet-like interior and crisp, contrasting design – it would be a crime not to wear it. For a throwback outfit with modern flair, we’d pair it with a pale Oxford shirt, cuffed jeans and Vans.
It wasn’t just American GIs stationed in Japan that had souvenir jackets made. Examples can be found from both the later Korean and Vietnam wars, usually less ornate and reflecting the draftees negative feelings about their terrible situation with phrases like ‘When I Die I’m Going To Heaven Because I’ve Served My Time In Hell’. These were the guys who would come back, drop out and form biker gangs, and whose style still remains the blueprint for tatted-up troublemakers worldwide. Destroyed jeans, a faded tee and high-top canvas sneakers would complement this perfectly.
Last summer, we posted about Zayn Malik parading his peroxide bonce at a Louis Vuitton show – well, not only was he there to view a collection with pieces inspired by sukajan jackets, he was also wearing one. Synergy, guys. Vuitton’s versions were appropriately bold, shorn of any military connotations and emblazoned with delicate flora and fauna that wouldn’t look out of place in your missus’s wardrobe. It’s an item that could be the ideal way to ease you into the gender-neutral androgynous look.
Never one to shy away from colour, Wiz Khalifa attended a Super Bowl party earlier this year with his own unique take on souvenir jacket style. His classic sukajan hybrid had a bright red lining, gold dragon embroidery and a thread count that could only be described as through the roof. Note that he’d swapped out his trademark skinny 'cool pants' jeans for a much more on-trend slim-straight cut and accessorised with a chunky necklace.