by Ansel Swindells (@Swindeed)
Most folk are likely to think of a really buff cartoon sailor when they hear the name Popeye. For those with an interest in menswear, however, Popeye is more widely recognised as the ‘Magazine for City Boys’. The Tokyo monthly is a coffee-table centrepiece for garb-lovers of all ages, and the themes of its issues are equally as wide ranging. Alongside clothing, recurring editions encompass food, films, music, travel—basically all the good things in life.
Popeye the cartoon and Popeye Magazine are actually connected, however. The spinach-eating sailor may be something of an unlikely muse for a fashion publication, but it was he who actually inspired its name.
One of the magazine’s founders, Yoshihisa Kinameri, settled on using Popeye as a title after noticing that it could be read as a nifty play on words. The notion of keeping an ‘eye’ on ‘pop’ culture neatly summarised the magazine’s ethos, so it was a perfect fit. Kinameri paid homage by featuring the Sailor Man as Popeye Magazine’s debut cover star, a legacy which was recently revived in 2016 when the iconic first issue was republished for its 40th anniversary.
The origins of Popeye Magazine can be traced back to the Whole Earth Catalog, a zany countercultural publication from America. Although Kinameri and his editorial pals were unable to read most of it, they were captivated by its catalogue format as well as its philosophy of self-teaching. These values were to inform the creation of Made in U.S.A., a book-cum-magazine precursor of Popeye from 1975 that catalogued anything and everything deemed ‘American’. This reignited an interest in Americana among Japanese youth and in many ways laid the groundwork for Popeye, which came into existence only a year later and was headed up by many of the same people.
Within the past decade or so, Popeye’s readership in the West has increased to the extent that it seems to have fully shed its cult status. This is no small feat for a publication written entirely in Japanese (save for a few decorative words in English here and there). Considering the language barrier, the word readership is perhaps a little problematic, but therein lies the magazine’s success. Popeye is a good-looker with its own unique aesthetic, so it’s a real treat to just admire the pretty pictures and the slick design. This visual appeal is immediately apparent in Popeye’s Instagram feed, which has amassed a fairly hefty following over the years.
The magazine seems to be navigating the digital waters with relative ease, which is somewhat surprising given that its editor-in-chief during the 2010s—Takahiro Kinoshita—was a bonafide Luddite. He proudly revealed in a 2016 interview with Monocle that he didn’t even own a mobile phone. Of course, disdain for digital and affection for analogue are often two sides of the same coin. Kinoshita’s die-hard devotion to print is almost certainly what secured him the job in the first place. The role he undertook as editor-in-chief in 2012 was particularly important as he was tasked with restoring an ailing Popeye to its former glory. As someone who’d read the magazine religiously as a teen, Kinoshita saw that it had lost its distinctive charm in the noughties and believed that it needed less adverts and an injection of culture. The results speak for themselves—Popeye Magazine bounced back from low circulation figures and once more became the glossy that city boys know and love today.
Magazine House, the publishers behind Popeye and many other legendary titles, have made it clear that translated editions are not in the pipeline, and rightly so. The magazine is so appealing as it is that translating it would run the risk of its special charm being, well, lost in translation. Unless you fancy brushing up on your Nihongo, it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for editions titled ‘Fashion Issue’ or ‘Style Sample’, as these tend to be picture heavy on the garb front and contain bucketloads of street snaps to feast your eyes on. We have recent editions of Popeye in stock here at Couverture & The Garbstore, discover the range below: