Merry Xmas fellow denim-heads!
The Xmas special for the blog this year is a conversation with Davy Zhu, proprietor of Lieutenant & Co., one of the premier menswear destinations in Melbourne. In the one year since opening, Lieutenant & Co. has introduced some pretty diverse and in-depth elements to the Americana style here in Australia, bringing in incredible pieces from brands ranging from Connors Sewing Factory to Ace Western Belts.
So, I took a trip into Melbourne city, to catch up with Davy and find out his thoughts about all things Americana so far…
Congratulations, Lieutenant & Co. is almost one years old!
What are your thoughts so far, having been so busy setting up shop?
The store has been open for almost a year, and I’ve met many interesting customers – people I’ve never thought I’d meet, with unique styles and personalities – this has been perhaps my greatest reward.
Also, it has been a personal challenge. I am not a businessman by trade, and I’ve built up Lieutenant & Co. as a hobbyist. Over the years, working in menswear and suiting, I’ve accumulated some knowledge to help me in running this store as owner and sole proprietor. But nothing had prepared me for the hard work involved in running a small business… yet, there is a certain happiness and satisfaction that comes with it too. This is a happiness that is unique to building up something that is your own creation.
Over the years, a few Japanese brands have emerged as the most popular among work-wear and denim circles of the Western markets, and the Western retailers of these brands – such as Momotaro Jeans and Samurai Jeans – all have a fairly similar vibe.
Yet, Lieutenant & Co. and the brands represented in your store are rather different compared to what we’ve been used to seeing outside of Japan. Could you comment further?
I feel like denim and Americana, as we’ve seen so far, are fantastic. Many denim-focused Amekaji brands have solid tradition and a certain authenticity, and I’ve been a big fan – it’s been great to see these brands creating a renewed interest in denim and Americana.
However, I decided to create a different atmosphere here at Lieutenant & Co., in order to demonstrate that there are varying styles and influences within Americana, beyond 5-pocket jeans. I hoped to showcase Americana in a holistic and multi-faceted way to my customers, as there exists so many different elements in the Americana clothing culture. Limiting our focus to only denim can sometimes be restrictive, I feel. The outlook for work-wear can be very broad in scope, and I believe it doesn’t necessary need to be centered on jeans all the time. The focus could be on something as simple as non-denim work pants.
We often talk about the fading and ageing of indigo denim with wear, and much of the time we neglect to discuss the patina process on other types of fabrics. For example, I’ve seen very nicely aged linen cloths on well-worn suits. Many elements within our hobby can age with grace and beauty. This is not a criticism of denim, of course. I’m a huge denim fan, and I’m forever building my denim collection too. But it’s much more fun incorporating multiple fabrics and styling elements into our Americana wardrobe for sure.
My personal interests in tailoring and classic work-wear also plays an important part in shaping the curating of products here at Lieutenant & Co. Though, I don’t wish to kit my customers out in cosplay garments. The pieces sold at Lieutenant & Co. should easily integrate into your existing outfits, and effortlessly combine with other garments in your wardrobe. The idea is for a seamless combination of Americana elements which will not be out of place in your everyday life.
With regards to the store itself, my aim is to create an authentic feeling of the general stores and American haberdasheries of old. From the light fixtures to the layout of the glass counter, from the wooden cabinets to the solid shelves, I wanted to transport my customers back in time, in a sense. To impart an authentic feeling, to evoke nostalgia.
You mentioned the brands sold at Lieutenant & Co. have a different feel to the basic, or pure, Amekaji that have been popular so far. Could you elaborate a little bit more on this difference?
The brands which Lieutenant & Co. represent are all dedicated and specialized, and thus it makes sense that fans of these makers must also be similarly enthused, and have a strong sense of nostalgia for the emotions and aesthetics created by these expressions of Americana. These enthusiasts are perhaps a little different from fans of ‘pure Amekaji’, not so much attached to one single aspect of Americana – motorcycle culture, for example – but are attracted to a distilled or matured version of Amekaji. The house-style of Belafonte is a perfect example of what I mean by distilled Amekaji.
Most of the brands stocked here at Lieutenant & Co. have returned to the roots of menswear. Perhaps these garments are based on clothes that once existed, or perhaps they have been created based on the fiction of Americana. This integration of classic menswear and Americana flavor is very much in vogue in Japan at this time, with a strong sub-culture being built around this style. This style of menswear have impacted other spheres of Amekaji, and you can see influences of this style in brands such as Stevenson Overall and Trophy Clothing.
In many cases, this trend has helped various brands refine and consolidate their own house-styles. Looking at Belafonte too, which we have in store – the brand has really matured in its designs by additionally focusing on classic menswear, rather than being stuck on the looks of basic work-style. That is not to say work-wear is not important – Belafonte has launched the sub-brand of Hammeralls, which evokes the memories of overall makers of the early twentieth century.
Other brands continue to be unwavering in their dedication to work-style. Dappers, for example, are developing Stifel-style wabash twills and Sweet Orr shirting reproductions for their upcoming releases. Attractions, on the other hand, continue to be devoted to Rockabilly, going as far as reproducing old-school creaming soda! The makers behind the garments here at Lieutenant & Co. have not forgotten their roots.
Traditionally, Australia has been a tough market to crack, as far as higher end menswear and niche clothing are concerned. What are your thoughts about navigating this difficult landscape as a brick n’ mortar store?
What are your plans and ambitions for Lieutenant & Co. going forward in the next one or two years?
I must acknowledge that retail has slowed down in Australia in recent times, and our market – as far as Americana and work-style goes – is perhaps not as advanced compared with bigger markets such as the USA or Japan.
The internet has had a major impact on brick n’ mortar stores too! This is especially true for Lieutenant & Co., as we don’t operate a web-store.
Yet, I must say, one of the reasons behind the slow-down of in-store retail is a lack of effort and vision on the part of us shop-keeps. If a store is specialized, and the proprietors invests creativity and hard-work, I believe brick n’ mortar stores can continue to do well. Our local consumer base is still small, and the central business district here in Melbourne is rather small too, so I feel we can accommodate a large number of niche retailers. More unique products will surely stimulate the market.
The problem here in Australia is the ‘sameness’ and monotony that you encounter everywhere in the retail scene. The same stores and brands exist in every shopping center, all selling the same products. It’s little wonder consumers have taken to the internet… people who are interested in their clothes do not want to wear the same clothes as everybody else, and thus consumers are compelled to shop online both for variety and specialization. You can’t blame your customers for shopping online if no effort is being made in the physical retail space.
Of course, I don’t intend for Lieutenant & Co. to focus on only ultra-niche clothing. I do want to introduce more approachable options, and also popular brands from Japan too. For example, we are taking stock of some Rocky Mountain Featherbed pieces soon, and I am somewhat unfamiliar with this type of ‘outdoors’ style, but this would be another essential element of vintage Americana to contemplate. Other Japanese brands will surely follow.
We will continue to focus on our core brands, such as Belafonte and Anatomica. I’m hoping to also look into collaboration pieces, such as leather jackets and down vests, with our current brands. The design of upcoming collaboration pieces is something I’m still researching. Please look forward to them!
A big thanks to Davy for his insights. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more dedicated retails spaces like Lieutenant & Co. here in Australia. And, surely, I’ll be back at Lieutenant & Co. next year for more exciting stuff, which I’ll show you on the blog as well.
Well, that’s it for Indigoshrimp for 2018! Thanks for your attention this year, and know that you can catch me on Instagram in the meantime.
Merry Xmas and Happy New Year 🙂