Welcome back to the Rough Riders. RATS Japan returns for Fall/Winter 2013 with a new collection, continuing to expand upon the ‘Way of Life’ motif. As with the ‘Yuku’ (Japanese [iku]; ‘to go’), who live ‘by attaching to the ground like a brown rat’, the Rats brand plays heavily with concepts of outsider-ship in its releases, describing itself as an ‘antithesis to the values that would have been fixed’. It could be argued that a brand such as Neighborhood expands upon the technical side of the motorcycle and greaser cultures of 20th century America, whilst Rats feels more like the artistic and emotive interpretation, with imagery and graphics that re-enforce this.
Following on from a Spring/Summer season that featured graphic tees heavily, the brand has returned for winter with a rich collection of constructed pieces. Many pieces are notably referential to the 1940s, by name and design, with the use of rayon and restrained colour palettes making a subtle nod to wartime fashion. Otherwise, the label’s Gitman-via-Grunge approach to menswear is strong, presenting edgy and atypical renditions of historic silhouettes.
Starting with shirting, the brand has produced a mixture of conservative button-ups and flannel shirts. Soft-spoken pieces like the Cotton Flannel and Cotton Crew Neck form solid foundations following the graphic-rich summer. Likewise, the Frisco pants in corduroy, wool and twill, provide a clean and streamlined selection of bottoms in a variety of textiles, without trying to break out of the box on the wrong side.
Appropriate complimentary releases like the 40s Zip Knit and Cowichan Sweater also sit comfortably within the conservative 20th century aesthetic, whilst flashes of colour in the CPO and Woolen Check shirts add some vibrance to an otherwise functionalist collection.
The brand has come into its own, however, with this season’s outerwear. From Deer Suede bombers and Melton Check Coats to Corduroy jackets with leather ornamentation, each piece looks developed to the highest possible standard. My personal favourites have to be the padded denim vest and waxed cotton lace-up Motorcycle Jacket, the latter of which really looks on point with the shorter body check-flannel lining.
A selection of accessories is also available, including a neat ‘R’ neck tie for any addicts of Americana, a selection of eyewear & leather belts and a Swastika scarf – it is, however, worth noting that the design makes use of the horizontal symbol as opposed to the diagonal, and is likely a reference to the Buddhist concept of ‘Dharma’ upon which the brand’s own ‘Way of Life’ philosophy invokes (There is even a faction of Taoism known as the Red Swastika Society that played a huge role in positive social change across the sinosphere during the 1900s).
My initial reaction was discomfort, nonetheless, but it is important to remember that these products are designed and released in Japan for a primarily Asian audience. Westerners should just exercise some common sense and steer clear of the swastika.
The accompanying lookbook brings vibrance and energy compared to the previous season, while the setting in what appears to be downtown New York takes the theme away from Bonnie & Clyde towards a morose, urban backdrop that brings out the Rattus Norvegicus side of the brand. The styling is as somber as ever, outfits ranging from unassuming, layered styles to casual weekend combinations with a diamond-cut fit. The subtle use of colour throughout the collection is emphasised when pieces play off of each other, particularly the rich, earthy orange that appears throughout the release.
Rats is an interesting brand because of its proximity in style to several of the bigger name Japanese brands, such as WTaps and Tenderloin. As Japanese design aesthetic often appears to be, the brand feels more like a new way of solving a known problem than an attempt to solve new ones – explorations of similar territory but using different reference points.
But, as mentioned in the introductory paragraph, I feel like the Rats brand is very good at crafting an unspoken narrative within its pieces. Single-colour releases should seem restrictive, but instead make respective items feel conclusive and iconic. I’ve never thought that I would need a corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches, but the Rats offering really looks so archetypal, so definitive, that I almost feel like I should have one, if not to wear, then purely for personal reference.
The overall feeling I get is one not unlike the brand’s lookbook itself. Rather than a wide collection of pieces that allude vaguely to a notion, I instead see a concise collection of garments that form the snapshot to be observed. Within the macro-image of the pieces as a whole, we can see there is a clear and palpable culture to be enjoyed within the collection. This is what the brand talks about when it alludes to a ‘Way of Life’. It is life, certainly, and of the many ways you can choose to take, this is one.
RATS product is only available from stockists within Japan. If you contact an individual such as Stylistics at StylisticsSpace, you will be able to make proxy purchases for any pieces that grab your attention. Visit the Rats website to learn more about their stockists, and enjoy a small selection of my favourite pieces from the Collection below. Peace.