Rin Tanaka is THE authority on vintage American clothing and the man whose wardrobe I’d most like to hang out in. His My Freedamn series of books have both informed and induced gasps from those who care about all things Scovill zipped and selvedge sewn. His Inspiration Festival held every year in California is the series come to life. The guys at Manufacture were lucky enough to sit down with the man himself for a chat about American culture and its impact on his life and work.
Read Part 1. of the interview after the jump. Words – Glenn Kitson. Photography – Antony Crook.
Click through the gallery for images. Full Interview over here.
Interview with Rin Tanaka author of My Freedamn – MANUFACTURE
Rin Tanaka’s obsession with vintage Americana made him up sticks from Japan and move to the west coast of California to follow the surf and the selvedge. Beginning his career as a music journalist and then a photographer, Rin’s compulsion to collect, catalogue and document different aspects of American culture led him to self-publish his own series of books. These books are now effectively a definitive reference source for anyone interested in the history of performance manufacture.
His first My Freedamn book sold 15,000 copies, a remarkable amount for a first time self publisher. The My Freedamn series of books delve deep into US subcultural scenes from Surf to Skate to Biker or Hippy culture. From West coast to East coast and everything in between with Rock n’ roll joining the dots and being the link that holds the fabric of the American spirit together.
They are the definitive tomes of US subculture and product, covering everything from t-shirts to motorbike helmets meticulously, with an obsession and details second to none. They are the go-to-books for the likes of Ralph Lauren and they inspire many a designer with even the vaguest interest in Americana.
We discussed these matters with Rin who as an outsider perhaps has a unique take on what makes US culture so great. My friend Antony Crook and I met him at his lock up/office/home just by the sea in San Clemente on the southern Cali coast. His place was filled to the brim with all the things he so clearly loves, mounds of garments, records, posters and memorabilia – a real trove of treasures.
Rin had been out till late the night before on a job photographing the Japanese garage band ‘Guitar Wolf ‘ who were touring the US. When we arrived, in true Rock n’Roll style Rin was catching 40 winks. With Ella Fitzgerald playing on an old Jazz 45, we sat, chatted and drank green tea.
Glenn Kitson – So what brought you to the States?
Rin Tanaka – Originally I studied to be a musician. I came over to the States and stayed in Mississippi, Memphis, New Orleans and Chicago to study Rock n’Roll. I came to learn the guitar but Japanese people love cameras and I took one everywhere I went. And with me being around musicians such as BB King I became a photographer and a music journalist. I would send my photos to an editor in Japan and he would send me back cheques!
Glenn – what brought you to San Clemente?
Rin – Good waves! It is a very famous city for surfing. I came here first on vacation with my wife, to surf and take in the culture. We came back a few times and then eventually settled.
Glenn – So what drove you to create My Freedamn?
Rin – My philosophy is very Rock n’Roll but using ‘another’ subject and I have loved vintage clothing since being a kid. It goes hand in hand with the music and Rock n’Roll music comes from the United States so it was natural for me to fall in love with Americana. I love the British style too but it is Americana that really captures my imagination.
Glenn – It seems to be a characteristically Japanese thing to tap into Americana?
Rin – It is quite simple. After WWII the American GI’s were based for many years in Japan. For instance, in my home town Yokohama there was a huge American military station so I grew up watching American people from a very young age. Yokohama had a lot of foreigners living there, in particular Americans and I remember being very impressed by the American cars. I also remember the fashion too.
This is the reason why Japanese people are interested in Americana, after WWII we saw them as our new ‘brothers’. In reality, American and Japanese culture is quite opposite. The Japanese are more quiet!
Glenn – Did you have an expectation of what the US was like before you arrived and did it match that expectation?
Rin – It was as expected. The United States is a big country and there are many people from many different countries who arrive here and begin to speak English and add to the culture whilst becoming Americanised. It is the American way and I did expect to see this. Yes, it has matched my expectations.
Of course, there are problems and these last few years we have felt the effects of the economy. In the past the economy was booming and now there seems to be less money around and yet the US population still grows. People got greedy. I didn’t expect these problems when I moved here, in fact I expected an easier way of life and an easy way to earn and make a living. At first I did but this is now going up, and I don’t really need too much!
Glenn – Did you always have a desire or an ambition to self publish books?
Rin – I was originally working with a publishing house but they didn’t really understand what I wanted to achieve so I had no choice but to publish myself. Fortunately, right from the beginning I have had good people around me such as my friends at a Japanese printing company who needed a job, demand for print has decreased these last few years.
Glenn – There’s still a great need for print even though much of our information comes from the Internet these days.
Rin – That’s right but nothing beats print.
Read Part Two of the interview over at Manufacture.