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Remember When Junya Watanabe Designed a Remote-Control Car?

Sam Reiss

Snake America is an e-mail newsletter that covers vintage clothing and sometimes furniture, usually for sale on eBay, sometimes on other digital auction platforms.

Vietnam camo shorts

I love a good mis-listed auction and I love a good Vietnam auction. This is both, a pair of shorts from then listed as wartime camo pants. It is a sin to omit detail when you are trying to make money. The genuine article here is rare: most of the shorts used for swimming in Vietnam haven’t lasted into today. Why would they? Swim trunks, wartime or otherwise, generally don’t last or get passed along. These shorts can be found brush pattern and tiger stripe and regular OG-107 green. One shows up on eBay a couple of times a year if that. Searching “Vietnam shorts” on eBay yields standard army green boxer shorts and children’s clothing made in Vietnam. The boxer shorts are identical in cut to the ones Brad Pitt’s character wore in Mr. and Mrs. Smith (USA 2005) but aren’t white. They are pretty good.

A couple of the Vietnam collectors I know say these are swim trunks. If you click on the auction, you’ll learn that the shorts have a belt. I didn't know you could swim with a belt on. I guess they did. It is crazy how different things were, even just 40 years ago. The writer Paul Goldberger posted a Tweet not very recently with a photo of Yale's architecture department hanging out. Not diverse at all, and also entirely wearing ties and jackets. It's from 1989. No group of people would dress like that today. It is not that long ago. In a lot of art documentaries from that era, all the interview subjects, if they are men, wear ties and sports coats. In sports, athletes wore the same thing off the field. So did musicians. There could have been a tacit agreement between working photographers to not photograph anyone in a collarless shirt until the Berlin Wall fell. Crazier boycotts have lasted for a longer time. Everyone was just itchy until history ended.

The wartime extension of this formality is that even in Vietnam, soldiers swam in belted short pants. I love it. One rule of the world is people think the generation after them is looser with tradition and appearance than theirs. I am sure the generals at the time thought their troops were so casual compared to the grunts they themselves came up with. Half the movies from the 1960s have guys swimming in church pants in them. And the generation before them, or two generations before? Forget about it. In America's revolutionary period everyone wore five layers of clothing. This country was founded by slave-owning white men who wore wigs in the dead of summer and who fought mostly identical men in different colored sport coats.

The nice thing about these shorts is their cut. They are so short and aggressive. There is an identically cut pair from Prada you can buy now that is black and the belt is better. You can wear either with church socks or a sports coat or a starched oxford. It is nice now that fashion editorials and adverts feature models in church shoes, wool socks and bathing suits. Sometimes in the photo there’s a cigarette butt put out on a plate of eggs. Now and then there is an open newspaper. Everyone is hungover but their skin is dewy. That's what it's all about. Loucheness: not the mixing of high and low, but practical and impractical, belted swim shorts and maybe a Bloomberg terminal. It took 200 years for this country to figure out you shouldn't wear a belt in the pool but now we’re sinning again. I wonder what happens when we move on from that.

Junya Watanabe remote-control car

I am usually happy to stick to clothes in this space.

And yet.

One afternoon a month ago I found this Junya Watanabe-designed remote-control car and thought to myself, "Snake, you can't write about this. Ever." Even though it speaks to how brilliant a designer Watanabe is for partnering with Tamiya, the most important remote control car company there is. And that the car has spots like a cow—no car, human- or remote-controlled, has done that before, really. Is this really a post-clothing item? You can't just dress well and then come home, sit on a crate under a bare lightbulb and eat Heinz Beans, in the HTML color #1B7E8B blue can, on a collapsible card table. You need things for the house, like a remote-controlled car from an important clothing designer. Sometimes the burning desire to buy a credenza is all we have.

But it’s a lucky happenstance that this car was released with a pair of Pump Furys, also designed by Watanabe, in 2012. He is I think the best sneaker collaborator there ever was. In 2004, Watanabe made an all-olive drab Nike Vandal that quickly sold out but which barely gets discussed, and did not get discussed much at all at the time. It’s a shoe that comes into my head often. It was quite ahead of its time. Vandals are pretty loud because of the strap, but also up the middle, with that big swoosh. This was just the dullest green. It looked like then that it could have been released at any point in the past 35 years. Still does.

I think that's where Watanabe was with these Pump Furys. They’re pretty similar. The cow pattern is good because it is loud, severe and warm. Cows have to be the first or second animal children learn to identify, and so they feel naturally friendly to everyone in the societal compact. And yet their black and white pattern is harsher than a leopard's spots. I think it is a good pattern for our age, unsettling and welcoming, and outré. I also think Pump Furys are the best slip-on sneakers there are, because of the holes in them, and because they are so loud. I like them loud. But these are too loud for me.

Originally Appeared on GQ