This is the story of a classic Cincinnati clothing brand so iconic to the Japanese–a culture fascinated with the lore and materiality of American vintage–that they’re spending vast efforts to revive it as the gold standard in sportswear. Velva Sheen, manufactured in Cincinnati and dating back to 1932, found it’s heyday as a pioneer in licensed and custom apparel printing. After changing hands in the mid 90s, Cincinnati’s own sportswear company was ultimately lost amidst receding economic tides.
Enter Hide Murase and the Topwin company. Hide and Topwin’s passion for American heritage brands has given Velva Sheen new life after recently purchasing the rights to the brand. What’s great about Hide and his company is their undying respect for the Cincinnati original. Even though the pieces are manufactured at Topwin’s facility in California, they’ve made a point of paying homage to the brand’s roots by recreating the original tags, packaging, and production style. “Cincinnati, OH, MADE IN USA” is proudly displayed on the same tags you would’ve found back in the day, and Hide oversees manufacturing, strictly adhering to the garment’s original tubular knit construction.
Article Menswear is extremely proud to be the exclusive regional carrier of this legendary Cincinnati heritage brand. The t-shirts, sweatshirts, henleys, and hoodies we know and love from the brand with over half a century of history, have been lovingly revived by Japanese expertise dedicated to preserving Velva Sheen’s integrity, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring these iconic pieces back to their birthplace.
Over the years, as Article has grown, one thing we’ve learned is that if you want to know what’s good (I’m talking really really good) then you should look at what’s happening in Japan. Our friends in places like Kojima, Harajuku, and Ginza are absolutely killing it in terms of the quality of material, level of craftsmanship, unique and innovative fabrics and, most importantly, the preservation of American heritage.
I recently hung out at Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library, a badass oldschool membership library (think towering stacks of leatherbound books, hardwood floors, and Harris tweed), to record a podcast for the 12th Story discussing W. David Marx’s book, Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it, but his thesis is that Japanese fashion houses and publications were, in many ways, responsible for archiving, reviving, and even improving on some of the most important American menswear brands and styles. What began as a fascination with an idealized version of “Ivy League” style in the early sixties morphed and spread into a national obsession with authentic, high quality threads, eventually positioning Japan at the center of the menswear universe. Today, Japanese craftsmen and designers produce some of the highest quality and most interesting clothing in the world. It’s exciting to see this dedication come full-circle to Cincinnati.
If you’ve ever seen that iconic black vintage tee featuring Mickey Mouse in shades lounging on thick neon letters spelling out FLORIDA, then you know Velva Sheen. Even though they specialized in college and sports team apparel, some of their most iconic and best-selling designs could be classified as the classic “Souvenir” tee. I reached out to one of Article’s spiritual advisors and Cincinnati’s encyclopedic authority on all things vintage, Matty Joy, and asked him to attempt to explain Velva Sheen’s mystique.
Here’s what Matt had to say: “I’ve been collecting vintage clothing for most of my life. I remember the first hand-me-down. It was my grandpa’s original Velva Sheen pocket tee. I always look for their tags when I go picking. A ton of vintage college and high school t-shirts and sweatshirts were made by Velva Sheen, right in Cincinnati. When I heard about the revival, I was trepidatious at first. You know, a lot of companies will buy the rights to a brand and then figure out how to manufacture the pieces so they’ll self-destruct after four washes. But these guys are doing it right, preserving every detail, right down to the original plastic packaging and bringing back the multiple tag designs. They’ve reverse engineered the shirts to create something that’s going to last fifty years. I’m excited to see people in Cincinnati learn about a company with such a big history here and I’m excited to get my hands on the new version, so I can pass it down one day.”
Listening to Matty talk about what this means to him, reminds me of Article’s mission. We didn’t just want to open a cool shop with cool clothes, we exist so that we might add a chapter to our city’s narrative. Cincinnati is an incredible place with a history of people making incredible things. This weekend, we celebrate that history.
In association with Velva Sheen and sponsored by Hudepohl, join us Saturday from 5 – 9pm for Hudy Delights on the house and a playlist by Matt Joy. It’s our homecoming launch of the brand. You’ll be able to get your hands on our first shipment of new Velva Sheen, as well as our custom designed Cincinnati “Souvenir” tee. Vintage Velva Sheen pieces will be on display from Matt Joy’s personal collection, and attendees will receive a limited-edition, screen-printed Velva Sheen x Article koozie. You won’t want to miss it.
(Photos by: Aaron Conway & Mercantile Library)