Ivy Boy, born 1963, is looking just as youthful as ever.
Because he’s not a real boy—shades of Pinocchio—but rather an apple-cheeked illustration notable for his exquisite taste in Ivy style clothing. The Geppetto in question is Japanese illustrator Kazuo Hozumi, who created the character in jest.
As Ametora author W. David Marx explains, Hozumi first sketched Ivy Boy as a parody of a Japanese woodblock print, in which the expected roster of samurais was instead replaced with stereotypes of American Ivy leaguers, including a male cheerleader, a football player and a racoon coat-wearing spectator. Each simple figure shared the same face—rosy cheeks, jug ears, and a broad, innocent smile.
Kensuke Ishizu—who as the founder of the clothing company VAN Jacket did more to popularize the Ivy look in Japan than any other figure—turned the illustration into a promotional poster for his brand. Ivy Boy was soon a fixture of the VAN Jacket-adjacent magazine Men’s Club, where he appeared in different outfits to educate the Japanese reader on how to dress “Ivy.”
The character remained niche, but had its breakout moment in 1980 with Japan’s Ivy style revival and publication of Illustrated Ivy, a booklet that depicted the character in various preppy garb beside educational text (sample passage: “Consideration should be put into the texture of the materials and the contrast of colours you’re wearing. If your jacket is patterned, your trousers shouldn’t be. The same is true on reverse”).
“By the 1980s, the Ivy Boy became a universal symbol of “Ivy” in Japan, with nearly hieroglyphic resonance among the 1960s generation,” Marx says of the cartoon’s pop culture canonization.
While big in Japan, the character remained obscure in the West. He may have first been brought to American attention with a 2016 post by Marx on the website ivy-style.com. In 2022, Herb Lester published Illustrated Ivy in English, giving Anglophone fans the chance to absorb Hozumi’s accompanying instructions for the first time.
“Most commercial illustration before this point was figurative, and Hozumi’s comical, cheerful style made Ivy, which until then had been a very serious fashion style, into something more fun and approachable,” Marx says of the character’s lasting legacy. “Through Ivy Boy alone, Hozumi has inspired an entire generation of illustrators from Akira Sorimachi to Mr. Slowboy.”
Mr. Slowboy—real name Fei Wang—may be Hozumi’s highest-profile successor in the niche world of menswear illustration. A 2021 book collecting his dapper yet often-humorous illustrations—Slowboy: Portraits of the Modern Gentlemen—even featured a forward by the still-living Hozumi, now in his 10th decade.
Korean illustrator Aaron Chang also counts himself among those who owe Hozumi and his most famous creation a creative debt. “I think there is a genealogy in the field of men’s fashion illustration that I am active in,” he says. “The first is Kazuo Hozumi and the second is Akira Sorimachi. The third is Mr. Slowboy. I want to be the fourth. I respect [Hozumi] as the first man of this field.”
Chang, who through his Instagram page @aron_ch and work with brands including Baracuta and Percival, has often sketched “Ivy Boys” in clean, simple lines with classic mid-century clothing, sees a direct correlation between the enduring popularity of Ivy style and Ivy Boy.
“Ivy fashion is basically about youth. It’s classic fashion but it is different from traditional adult classic fashion, because it’s the fashion of Ivy League university students,” he says. “I think that Ivy lovers prefer youth and Ametora [Japanese] Ivy’s cute details. Every man has a boy in his heart, and I think Kazuo Hozumi’s illustrations allow us to see the boy.”
We all get older, but Ivy Boy stays the same age.