Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Free & Easy

Free & Easy magazine
number 110 (December 2007)

Free & Easy, launched 1998, has a cult following in Western style circles. It's a thick glossy Japanese magazine. Most of it appears to be a comically detailed report on the classic and casual style of the Western male. It's difficult for us to discern particulars, though. It has the occasional and mysterious English buzzword but, as my cosmopolitan friend puts it, "it's all in funny" apart from that.

US forces dazzled us in World War II. We never got over aspects of the culture they introduced, and it got to the point where we preserved what the US neglected. Our love for rhythm & blues, rock & roll and rockabilly led to the British Invasion.

US forces dazzled Japan after World War II. The country never got over aspects of the culture their captors introduced. Japan valued ever more what the US discarded. It's got to the paradoxical point where the best US clothes are Japanese. The reproductions are artefacts themselves, and North America covets even catalogues like Free & Easy.

The past is a mythic, better country. That's what Free & Easy implies, and that's one of the reasons I love it. Steve McQueen naturally tends to figure a lot as well. I do wish I understood it all more, though. Is it a bit homoerotic? I'm not gay, just confused. A salty sea dog on a Harley is a typical photo shoot, so it's at least the pictorial celebration of a spectacular midlife crisis. The cartoon diagrams that detail outfits make me laugh. I plan to sit down a lucky Japanese girl I know and make her read several issues to me.

My Rugged 211

Free & Easy editor Minoru Onozato put out a book last year called My Rugged 211, which features a couple of hundred of his favourite style things. (If repetition is anything to go by, rugged in the world of Free & Easy is the best English word ever.) It has genuine and intentional charm and humour in places, but it's repulsive compared to Free & Easy.

My Rugged 211 is sort of bilingual. Something's obviously lost in translation (I hate that film, by the way). The unfortunate thing is, that's only part of the problem.

Onozato explains how his childhood hero was an iconic Welsh rugby player called J.P.R. Williams. That rugby player's career, he says, is "far beyond mine". Onozato then describes himself in comparison as a humble "editor in chief ... fashion creator and ... executive officer of a listed company" (I make it sound as if there's huge amounts of text, but it's mostly photographs).

False humility aside, 50 of Onozato's 211 favourite style things are Ralph Lauren. Free & Easy also has its issues, so to speak. Both the book and the magazine have a soft spot for stupidly big four-wheel drives, and stupidly big racist Eric Clapton can turn up in the magazine.

My Rugged 211 is about £50 on eBay. The magazine upholds the belief you have to spend a good deal of effort and money to appear free and easy, that much is obvious. The current average price of a back issue on eBay is about £30. You can get the latest copy for £22.50 including postage from End Clothing, a Newcastle upon Tyne clothes shop, if you're fast. Too late, February's has gone. (If only you were in Japan, it'd be a mere ¥980/£7.50.)


  1. When in Japan last year I couldn't resist going to the Free & Easy Rugged Museum. I expected amazing vintage and deadstock stuff, but in reality the nice bits were behind glass (like a real museum) and their own brand stuff was very so-so. The magazine was being edited in the mezzanine level and I bought a few back issues. They did find me amusing though as not many foreigners seem to have made the trek to their out of city centre location. Far more interesting was the stock as 2nd Boom a vintage store in Evisu...
    All the best
    The Weejun

  2. I'm tempted to go to Japan this year. It's the temptation to come back broke that worries me. I'd still visit the Rugged museum, albeit with lowered expectations. I'll add 2nd Boom to my dream itinerary, anyway. Ta.

  3. Here's a map Paul showing 2nd Boom and others.
    Last year I noticed that clothes had become really expensive there what the £ being worth buttons and the best items being Japanese only imports from western brands.

  4. Thanks for this. The exchange rate is certainly against us. Shame Japan gets exclusive superior versions of Western stuff, too, but I think that'll change.

  5. Would you happen to know where I could get an issue from 2005? It's the issue with Steve McQueen on the cover. I did a modeling shoot for the magazine and I lost my copy. Any help/info would be much appreciated! Thank you!

  6. That's impressive! Steve McQueen turns up frequently on the cover of Free & Easy. He turned up three times in 2005. He's in a chair for April (#78), on a motorbike for July (#81) and in a blue cardigan for November (#85). I don't own any, I'm afraid. I've seen the November issue on eBay occasionally. Do eBay's worldwide search and type: free easy magazine. Your issue might well turn up at some point. This is quite a long answer for how unhelpful it is, but good luck.

  7. Free and easy is best of best magazine for vintage , thxx and love Japan culture !

    1. From momo france / USA / Nippon vintage culture based new York