New to us, American men’s clothing atelier J.Press is hardly what you would call a whippersnapper. It was founded in 1902, and since we, MR PORTER, have only been around since 2011, it already has more than a century on us. Plus, given that its original proprietor, Latvian immigrant Mr Jacobi Press, set up shop on Yale University’s venerable campus, it could probably teach us a thing or two to boot.
Indeed, in keeping with this backdrop, the brand has been among the vanguard of Ivy League style since the beginning, setting the standard for preppy attire. The collegiate items that have since become tropes – Oxford shirts, varsity jackets and cream chinos, down to the sweater draped ever-so over the wearer’s shoulders – were pioneered by J.Press, along with Brooks Brothers, who also had stores on the grounds of the top tier of American learning institutions, including Harvard and Princeton. Amid the brand’s archives, you’ll find neckties with repp stripes and paisley motifs, fashioned from foulard, herringbone tweed Chesterfield jackets and the official scarf for Yale’s secretive Skull and Bones order. Properly old school, you could say.
But for J.Press, things really started to get interesting in 1986, when the brand was acquired by Japanese holding company Onward Kashiyama, which had held the license for the label for its domestic market for the previous 14 years – itself a first inroads into Japan for an American brand. Since the release of the fashion photography book Take Ivy in the mid-1960s, Japan had fallen for Ivy League style in a big way and the preppy look quickly became a subcultural uniform that endures to this day. The brand’s distribution has since grown sixfold, but, rather than be retooled for this new market, what is driving business is its storied heritage.