Yuki Matsuda is the owner and creative force behind Meg Co. and its holdings, including Yuketen, Monitaly, Epperson Mountaineering, and Chamula. As Yuki and I say goodbye outside Veterans Memorial Stadium in Long Beach, we review his haul from the antique market, where we've spent the last two hours:
Matt eventually finds us. That's no small feat considering not only the crowd, but also Yuki's constant movement. Before he founded Meg Co, Yuki sold Louis Vuitton, Levi's, Rolexs, "anything that was vintage." During that time he perfected a discerning eye, which allows him to move like an eel through today's crowd without missing a thing. As he approaches each booth, his trained gaze scans for anything of interest: a hint of turquoise amid a pile of bric-a-brac, a pattern barely visible under a pile of rugs, a glimpse of something he didn't know he was looking for.
Walking at a good clip to keep up, I ask Yuki, "You come to this swap a lot. What kinds of things do you find here that inspire you?"
"Fabric, silhouette," he says. "It gets my head rolling." We momemtnarily stop to admire a vintage piece hanging in a stall. "See this thing?" he says. "A Western fifties jacket. Fifties shirts, sixties, seventies—you get everything here. American heritage, fashion stuff. This 1918 backpack, you can't find this in the stores." He motions with his arms to indicate the swap meet as a whole. "Different fashion all over here."
With that, a vintage trunk catches his eye and we're off again.
Native American jewelry influences many Yuketen products, like this and this. While we see a lot of turquoise and silver today, none of the pieces meet Yuki's exacting standards. One collection did come close, though. After inspecting the nearly ideal goods, Yuki fills me in. "Real turquoise, real silver," he says. "But also, it has to be made by a Native American. It has to be handmade. That was machine-made. You could tell by the edges, how they finish. Machine-made makes everything cut, handmade stuff is more rounded and nicer."
This high standard helps inform an exchange we had earlier today. I asked Yuki about other made-in-America shoe brands copying his designs, which I've seen more in the last few years. "Those guys, they try their best, but you know, we think more," Yuki said, I think speaking to the level of considertaion that separates him from his peers. "I'm older than them, so maybe I have more experience. It's different. We're trying to make it better every time, and anything we need to change we change.
I said, "When I first met you at Capsule in 2015, Yuketen was going through a big change with fit. What brought that on?"
"I want to be the excellent company, not just a good company," Yuki said. "Constantly trying to improve. It takes time. It's not just, 'OK, here's the problem; let's fix it.' We fix it, but it takes about two years, like one millimeter, one-and-a-half milimeter here. 'OK, so now it doesn't fit anymore. What's wrong?" And we have to remake and remake. It takes time. It's an ongoing thing."
I wouldn't presume to speak for Yuki, but when he says "fix" I'm fairly certain he means "perfect," as anyone who has ever tried on Yuketens can attest.
A writer doesn't invent new words (unless you're late-career James Joyce). Musicians don't invent notes. But if you arrange those words and notes in new sequences, you create art, or at the very least something you can copyright. Yuki didn't invent the Maine guide boot, camp moccasin, oxford, or any of the other forms of American footwear that he works with as the creative force behind Yukten.
But he endlessly plays with those footwear forms, cross-pollinating design elements across them. And though heritage-inspired brands actively avoid the word "artist," descriptors like "craftsman" or "artisan" don't do justice to what Yuki Matsuda does.
Today one piece in particular captures Yuki's attention, and I'm guessing his imagination as well. We stop at a booth where Yuki knows the owner, who deals in military gear. There's a super-light pink camo parka-windbreaker hyrbrid-ish ... thing that Yuki asks me to try on. Then he asks his assistant, Yusuke, to model. This jacket has a pouch on the back, presumably to cover a soldier's backpack—but without a pack, a membrane of thin cloth hangs like copious loose flesh, a Quasimodo hump deflated. Time and sun have bleached the camo print, leaving pinkish onion-skin fabric. Yuki and the owner banter about origin, quality, and price. "Very nice detail," Yuki tells me during his inspection. "Very cool old military piece, but the condition is not that good for my collections."
We say our goodbyes and thank the owner for letting us take photographs. "No problem, guys," the owner says. "Thanks for stopping by. But no thanks to you," he says to Yuki, busting his balls, "because you didn't buy anything." Yuki laughs, but only for a second. Within a few steps, he has regained his focus, which now seems particularly intense. For the first time today, he walks slowly. He confers with Yusuke in Japanese. Ulimtately Yuki heads back to the tent while Yusuke, Willie, and I wait behind.
"Is he good at negotiating?" I ask Yusuke.
Yusuke smiles. "Very good."
Yuki returns shaking his head. "If you wash (that coat) a couple of times, it would be falling apart," he says. As we walk, the wheels have clearly started turning for Yuki. We round the corner of one aisle and head down yet another one. "I don't need to have that coat to make a coat like that myself," he says. "I can use ..." His voice trails off. We pick up the pace.
A week later I receive an email from Yusuke. He asks for photographs of the coat, which I happily share. It wouldn't surprise me if after receiving the photos, Yuki started sketching and dreaming about fabric and form: maybe move one design element from an M-65 or fish-tail parka here, make the hood removable there ...
It's easy to see why Yuki loved the coat: Its dimensions were audacious, but they served the purpose of concealment for both the soldier and his backpack. The coat is, much like Yuki's best designs, extravagant but not excessive. And if Yuki is working on his own interpretation, I don't want to tip off his competitors and imitators, so we decided not to publish the photos here. I'll keep an eye on the Monitaly S/S 18 collection, to see if it includes Yuki's take on an unusual infantry raincoat discovered here at the Long Beach Swap, his favorite place to go to get his head rolling.