We visit an old favorite in a new location as The Real McCoy’s opens its London store, the first standalone location outside of Japan.
Hitoshi Tsujimoto, founder of The Real McCoy’s, realized a long-held dream late last year with the launch of a London location. Having previously opened 10 busy stores across Japan, Tsujimoto's latest addition takes over a small but perfectly formed space on Henrietta Street on the outskirts of Covent Garden. The quiet road behind the bustling Piazza looks set to become the next menswear destination, gathering a range of like-minded names together; Nigel Cabourn’s “Army Gym” already sits comfortably just a few doors down.
It’s certainly hard to think of a better brand to draw people to this quieter corner of WC2. Having pioneered a label that has redefined “repro” for over 18 years, Tsujimoto’s commitment to perfection has kept a loyal fan base wanting more, while drawing in newcomers after the very best in men’s basics. We sat down with old friend Max Sardi, store manager, buyer, and a man who knows American vintage inside-out, along with Assistant Manager Elliott Atkinson, to walk us through The Real McCoy’s world.
Can you tell us a little about The Real McCoy’s and its early days?
Max: The brand has been going for 18 years now. Hitoshi Tsujimoto started off as a vintage collector and buyer in the ‘70s, operating under company title “NYLON.” He discovered pretty quickly that there was a huge market for vintage Americana in Japan and it was this that formed the foundation for The Real McCoy’s. He’d always dreamt of selling in New York and London, hence the name. With the store-in-store in NYC’s Blue in Green and now us, he’s finally done it.
Working with Lewis Hull from Superdenim just made sense as the e-store has been selling The Real McCoy's for some time now. This project has been in the making for six months but there was a lot of talk beforehand. The guys wanted to get it just right.
How would you describe the brand?
Max: For me, it’s as good as it gets. Our customers always tell us how great the garments look after years of wear, it actually improves over time, just like a vintage piece. It sounds clichéd, but with this type of clothing, it’s a process.
Elliott: For Hitoshi, it’s a hobby and a passion so there’s no compromise.
Max: There are some really good staples that have made The Real McCoy's what it is today - sweatshirts and leather for example. They are so anal with every single detail. They don’t stop until they’ve achieved the right weight, the right feel. Hitoshi has collected all his life, not just vintage [clothing] but everything in that arena: cars, bikes, art - you name it. It’s about lifestyle and he has a great artistic eye. Consequently everything is produced as it would have been back in the day, whether it’s World War II or the 1920s. It all comes down to precision. Having said all that, one thing that’s really clear when you meet him is that he loves what he does and has a lot of fun with it. He works hard but he knows how to enjoy himself.
Talk us through the different elements that make up The Real McCoy’s
Max: There’s a whole range of divisions and there’s a very clear distinction between each one: Militaria, Sportswear, Classic Americana, Joe McCoy’s, Denim and the dressier Double Diamond label which is based on early workwear. It's very “Boardwalk Empire,” with that strong European feel from the immigrants who made America home; it's also very French in places. Basically they cover all bases that they think are worth rediscovering. Every year The Real McCoy’s publish a catalogue with "Lightning Magazine" - a collector’s item now - showcasing each segment. They own a lot of licenses to repro: military and contracts, leather under the iconic Buco label. In fact they purchased the company and the rights to Buco a while back.
What’s the most popular line?
Elliott: Sportswear. That’s what gets people hooked. You come in for a sweatshirt and next month you're back for a jacket, then shoes, then jeans. Tees and sweats seem to be the gateway to the label.
Max: Yes, sweatshirts are a staple. We’re all wearing one right now. You just put it on and don’t think about it. But it’s the fine detail that set these apart.
Would you say that detail has been key to the label's success?
Max: The effort that goes in is amazing. For them, it's not about being commercially successful, it’s about bringing something back to life. For example, these scarves and cardigans here are entirely hand-knitted by a group of ladies based in Kobe. The weight and quality just tells.
Elliott: It may seem like a small thing but it’s the labels that really stand out for me. Not particularly a necessary detail, but those who know really appreciate these touches. What really impresses me is the number of die-hard vintage collectors who would only wear originals, who are now coming into the store and buying into The Real McCoy’s. I think that in itself speaks volumes.
Let’s talk about some of your favorites in-store right now.
Max: The Field Sports jacket in Navy boiled wool with reinforced horsehide trim, popular in the '30s and '40s, very classic workwear. This is early Americana, the equivalent would the British donkey jacket from the '70s. My favorite at the moment though is the Submarine Jacket, a civilian constructed jacket in double-facing herringbone melton wool. The USN adapted it in the '30s to be worn on submarines. It’s extremely rare in the vintage world. It sold out within the first hour when it released in Japan and the same happened here.
The leather is particularly beautiful, especially in the A2 jacket.
Max: They’re a real staple of The Real McCoy’s, the A2 leather aviator. They breed the horses specially in Poland for these jackets, and they’re made according to contract specs from back in the day. They’re crafted by a really small team based in Kobe; everything is done by hand. It takes at least a couple of months to make just one jacket. These are like tailor-made suits in terms of the effort that goes into them.
The brand isn’t afraid to add a little update here and there, right?
Max: The standard M65 Field Jacket is a good example. The newest version is a camo fabric which has been entirely dyed in indigo. At first sight it looks almost black, but with wear and washing, the camo pattern starts to show underneath. It's kind of a lighthearted play on a classic.
Is denim a big part of the brand?
Max: Hitoshi has collected deadstock dry denim for years, so it was very natural to start reproducing it. They actually bought a small denim company and factory to make it exclusively for the brand. It’s a collection based on the history of the fabric, running from the ‘30s through to the ‘60s. Everything is unbranded, clean and simple with some inspiration from old Levi’s, of course. They're mostly unsanforized, around 14 to 16.5oz, so a standard weight. Currently we offer about seven different cuts.
What were you looking to achieve with the look of the new store?
We just wanted to have a good feel in here, a few references, but not dressed from head-to-toe. It’s a small store, so it’s very intimate. We get to chat to everyone who walks in; it doesn’t really matter whether you’re buying or not. We just want people to feel comfortable.
Elliott: You certainly don’t have to be a die-hard fan, that’s not what we’re about. The more people who are interested the better.
Max: Essentially, we do classic items that are here today and will still be sold in five years time. For London shoppers that’s quite unusual because they’re used to seeing “new” and changing stock all the time. We make the basics and they never go out of style. The fact is, a chambray shirt is a chambray shirt, a pair of jeans is a pair of jeans. There’s something here for everyone.
The Real McCoy’s, 15 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8QG