Friday, 25 March 2016

Levi's fakes: the Amerrican deam

Thanks to Aria for sending me an entertaining email this morning, asking if these "Levi's selvedge made in the USA" were genuine.

A lot of such emails are of cheap Levi's that aren't counterfeited quite so often; sometimes, they're ugly Canadian Levi's that are quite as horrendous as fakes. But I especially like this pair, as they contain some of my favourite pointers.

The fabric isn't too awful. ID tag is vaguely convincing, albeit nothing like anything you'd see on old example, or LVC.

The view from the back shows nicely-shaped pockets, which have a vaguely convincing look - even though many details aren't correct, like the two-horse patch. Of course, we have the trademark 'extra selvage' on the belt loop that denote fakes. But that isn't the best bit.

My favourite fake tell-tales are always the grammatical ones. And this is a new one. Here we go: a tribute to Levi's, the All-Amerricon Icon!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Taking Care of Business: TCB jeans

I'm lucky enough, and of course old enough, to have worn dozens of beautiful selvage jeans. I've worn in original Levi's from the 50s and 60s, and from the early '90s on, many brands including Evisu, Lee, Levi's Capital E, LVC, Samurai, Full Count, Mr Freedom, Sugarcane, SDA, Roy Slaper and many more.

For many people, jeans that come close to the classic pairs of the 1950s are the ultimate holy grail. Yet this is a search that can have no final destination; the original jeans varied hugely, depending on the cotton used in a particular year, and there were countless other variables, even before we think about how a pair of jeans is worn and washed. All we can expect, in modern jeans, is an interpretation of that aesthetic; and in terms of '50s homage jeans, very different interpretations can still be very convincing.

Over recent years, the fashion for super-fast-crocking, high-contrast denim, as popularised by companies like Samurai and Ironheart, has arguably subsided in favour of more subtle, slow-wearing interpretations that evoke more closely the feel of 1950s jeans. One small maker in the forefront of this move is undoubtedly TCB.

I first heard about the brand early in 2013; I believe the company, founded by Hajime Inoue, was founded in 2012. I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in a contest to wear-in a pair of 1950s models, at the beginning of 2014. Here are some photos of my pair, and how they've worn in, plus an interview with the main man himself.

This '50s pair undoubtedly rank as some of my favourite Japanese jeans; they take a long time to wear in, just like the originals, have many gradations to their fading, have some slubbing, but not too much, and via subtle features like the puckering and crinkling which is revealed as they age, just had a certain 'rightness' to them. Rock fans will know that TCB was a motto for Elvis Presley and his musicians: taking care of business. Inoue-san has done exactly that.

The' 50s pair embodies much of the TCB aesthetic – all their designs are workwear-oriented, and my favourite items include their Navy shawl-collar jacket, and the new cotton duck vest. You can check out more at TCB's blog, which more than most companies, focuses on how the jeans evolve with wear. Note these are jeans designed to be worn the old way - lots of wear, lots of washing.

My particular pair is on its home straight; the Superfuture contest concludes at the end of the month. Four out of five pockets on mine have worn through, although the knees are holding together, just. They feel like old friends, and I will miss wearing them every day. 

This interview was conducted aid of Google translate; it adds a certain enigmatic, dreamy quality, but I think the sense is still there. I will add the dates later.  I started wearing the jeans in September 2014.

A brief Q&A with Hajime Inoue

 When did you first become interested in vintage jeans? 
It was affected by a lot of people, so I can't decide on one person.
I was affected by the old clothes man's shop assistant who passed in school days and the superiors who met after I moved to Kojima, and American old movies, a Japanese drama in '90s. I think it's quite blessed with an encounter after jeans are produced.

What did you do before starting TCB? 
When I was in [my] teens, I was working as a salesperson at a tailor's shop.
I was handing wonderful of the person who makes jeans (craftsman) down to a customer. I was to do daily service repeatedly, and charm to a craftsman and admiration were full. In 2000, I have begun to move to Kojima of Okayama-ken at twenty years old and work for a sewing factory.

What's your favourite 501 style? 1940s? 1950s? 1960s? 
From the late 40's to '50s jeans. 
Because there is still an atmosphere of work clothes. Dyed fabric is darker. A thick sewing thread.

Your jeans seem to wear in like originals  – traintracks on the outer seam, and the way the yoke seam crinkles when it's washed. Was that hard to achieve? 
The first characteristic of TCB jeans is puckering. Please compare the [result] after having done the first wash because I set a sewing machine for cotton yarn.

Which aspects of your jeans are you proudest of? 
I think that it is the most important to work at the distance that is the nearest to a craftsman.

Tell me about your workshop. Do you have many old machines? 
Our products are we're good at vintage style sewing(sewing machine, Union Special.....etc). A total of about 40 units.

How do you choose the fabrics? Are they unique to TCB? 
Well, that Zimbabwean cotton was used had not been decided at first. Cotton close to '50s Levi's was chosen by what I have in mind. And if the producer was checked after that, it was revealed to be a Zimbabwe [cotton]. That's the first trigger. I think the feel of a material peculiar to Zimbabwe charms a wearer.

Do you live in Kurashiki? It's a beautiful town, you're very lucky!
I'm not born in Kurashiki. I wanted to make and [the opportunity] to make jeans came in Kurashiki.

Thanks to Inoue-San for sparing some time to talk to me - and for making such beautiful workwear!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Veldtschoen in Tokyo

This is an interesting and - for me - optimistic news story from the BBC, reporting that sales of Northampton-made shoes are rising in the Far East.

We've all seen the various Tricker collabs that are popular in Japan, but it's great to see Cheaney Veldtschoen on sale in Isetan (alongside Tokyo Hands, one of my favourite shops in the world.)

Sorry, I can't embed the link, but simply click here for the video.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Beautiful Grain: Cheaney's new Veldtschoen

Sometimes I worry I'm the only person mildly obsessed with Veldtschoen boots, but after a trip to Jermyn Street today, I didn't feel quite so lonely.

I've visited Joseph Cheaney's factory before, and while I thought their shoes were very nicely made for the price, I found their looks slightly bland and salary-man, with overdone antiquing; their Pennine Veldtschoen boots also looked slightly too pretty, with what was (to me) a slightly too red and fake-looking country grain. Yet when I visited the company's brand new store on Jermyn Street, I was faced with a Veldstchoen revelation: with a couple of design tweaks, new leathers, and the lovely new design of boot, The Fiennes, these are some of the nicest Veldstchoen boots around. Cheaney's main rival for Veldstchoen is probably Alfred Sargent, which are now getting hard to find. Even if that weren't the case, with these new tweaks I find the current Cheaney range are just as attractive. I'd say they're also more nicely constructed than Tricker's, who seem to be resting on their laurels. When I dropped into Tricker's today, they seemed casual and uninterested in their own product; the Cheaney staff at the new showroom were younger, and distinctly more knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

The Fiennes is a typical veldtschoen, with that distinctive moustache design on the side; I didn't check, but I think the commando soles are Itshide, at any rate they're British-made. The boots are padded at the top, like some of the Crocket and Jones veldt designs, and the new country grain, which comes from a new supplier in Italy, looks terrific. The overall shape is lovely; slightly sleeker than some, without a false teocap, but rugged and purposeful - sorry for the poor photos, as I only had my phone with me, the leather and the actual shape looks even more attractive in person than on these photos.

The Cairngorm, Cheaney's long-established Veldtschoen shoe, looks even better in the new leather; the bumpier finish looks a little more rugged and suits the shape much better. The same applies to the Pennine, the company's standard Veldt boot, which I've featured here before. 

Price on the Fiennes is £345 - very reasonable for the quality, as these boots will last you a lifetime; I'll update with other prices soon. I've also accumulated quite a few more Veldstchoen photos since my last post on the subject, so I promise I'll do a photodump in the next few days.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Magic number: Mikiharu Tsujita and the Full Count 1108


I've always considered Full Count jeans, in particular their 1108 model, some of the finest vintage-stlyle jeans to come out of Japan. Perhaps there have been periods when they've been overshadowed by some other makers, who promise heavier slub, or super-heavyweight fabric, or denim that starts to show wear within the first few weeks; yet Full Count seem to have mastered two very difficult arts, of finding fabric that ages beautifully, to give the look of the denim from the 40s and 50s, and to design unique, distinctive and flattering cuts.

 I happened upon one of Full Count's classic designs when I was looking for a classic 60s cut; I wanted something carrot-shaped, with a distinctive taper, that I could wear short, well proud of of shoes. A friend turned me on to the 1108; a brilliant interpretation of that classic shape.   The 1108 has that distinctive '60s carrot shape, but it's combined with other brilliantly subtle touches; expecially the back pockets, which I'd describe as a '40s splayed shape, with a unique, very subtle concave curve at the top. It's combined with other quite amazingly subtle touches; the stitch length on the pockets and fly is extremely short, almost like turn of the century jeans, while on the arcuate it's longer, like '60s Levi's. Some stitching, I believe, is poly cotton, for more strength, yet some is regular cotton, which wears more quickly. The fabric, too, is beautiful; only very subtle, fine irregularities which take time to come through. It captures the feel of late 40s or early 50s levi's denim perfectly, in its subtle graininess.

 For all these reasons, I happened to take my own 1108, bought from Full Count's store in Harjuku, out for a walk when I wandered around Columbia Road and Brick Lane on Sunday. When I dropped in on Son of a Stag, they clocked my well-worn arse and informed me that the designer of the jeans, Mikiharu Tsujita was in town.

 Miki-san is one of the key visionaries of the Osaka 5, the group of Japanese companies who revived the art of vintage denim. Staying around to ask him some questions meant that I'd be late for the Transformers movie that evening. It was a sacrifice I was prepared to make. There are a million questions I'd have liked to ask Mikiharu, but he had a busy schedule; for that reason, I thought I'd keep the questions specific to the 1108 in particular. In their own way, these lovely jeans embody the whole story of the Osaka Five.

 I'd like to ask you about your 1108, which I believe is a classic design. What was the inspiratiion? Did you come from a 60s starting point, or a '40s one? 
 The cut is '60s. The details is 1940s, but the shape is 1960s.

 Tell me about the shape of the pockets - it's curved at the top, very subtly, where did the inspiration for that come from? 
 My collection of vintage jeans, I noticed sometimes the shape is a bit like that, from people putting their hands in the pockets many, many times. It's not cut that way, it's the wear. It's just a small difference, not too much.

 The fabric is very subtle, too; fine slubs, not too irregular. Which mill produced it? 
 This mill is, in Okayama, is named Shinya, a very old company, which was making denim in the 1960s. They were making fabric for Levi's in the 1960s. I found them, with my friend [Yoshiyui] Tayashi from Denime, in the early 1990s, we found them and we asked them to make denim, with the old way.

 Obviously in Okayama there are a lot of the old 1920s G series Toyoda looms, then there are post war selvage looms by Toyoda and Sakamoto. How old were Shinya's looms?
 It depends. One [type of loom] is for heavy fabric only. The other can make only up to 10 ounce. The [main] point is whether the person can use the machine properly or not.

 So the skill of the operator is more important than which particular old loom? 

 A lot of the look of the denim comes from the yarns; was that hard to get right, both for these jeans and your other early models? 
I wanted to make original American 40s style fabric… and Zimbabwe cotton happened to have a similar structure to American cotton in the 1940s. American cotton then was more a long staple cotton boll. [More] recently, it's one year, two [crops] so the boll is smaller. These days when they make the yarn from the cotton is much easier, it's a different technique.

 Do you use Taisshobo for the yarns or is it all different spinning companies? 
Different ones.

 What year did you introduce the 1108? 
1995. I started making [jeans] in 1992, and the 1108, the 66 model, came in 1995.

 You had so many challenges to get those early jeans right. What's the next big challenge that you're working on? 
 Ha ha. My challenge is, other Japanese brands are making thick and strong fabric. I am still continuing this good-feeling and comfortable and nice fit jeans, it's a continuing challenge.

I'd initially misunderstood Miki-San's final answer, so I didn't quite realise that he is making a point about not producing super-heavyweight denim. We chatted while I took his photo, and he asked me what I thought about super-heavy designs. Time was short, so I compared super-heavy, super-slubby denim to Marshall amps that go up to 11. They don't actually wear any better. From his laughs, I got the impression you won't be seeing 23 ounce denim from Full Count any time soon.

Many thanks to Rudy, Max and Linda at sonofastag, which has been stocking Full Count for several years now, as part of their terrific selection of purist denim and workwear.  Thanks also to Kotaro Tanaka of Full Count for his help. 

Monday, 30 June 2014

You've been rumbled! How to spot counterfeit Levi's part 2...

My post on How To Spot Counterfeit Levi's turns out to be one of the most popular items on this site.
Having informed customers doesn't seem to stem the flow of the dodgy denim, though.

Today someone alerted me to this pair on eBay. They have just about every warning sign indicated in my previous post; extra selvage, a dodgy, shiny, coffee-coloured leather patch, and some of my favourite spelling mistakes: don't rumble-dry these jeans! More subtle is the basic constructional error on the yoke, which differs across different Levi's… I've seen this error on some LVC jeans, too.

Thanks to the seller, madness79, for the entertainment. I've used their photos for the purposes of education - especially regarding spelling.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Sukumo secrets: Nihon Menpu and Edo Ai

I thought I'd follow up the Nihon Menpu story with a more detailed look at one of the most fascinating aspect of their craft; their Edo Ai denim. the Sugar Cane jeans made with this fabric represent a mind-boggling mix of Japanese and American heritage. 

The Edo period, from 1600 to 1868, is well known in Japanese history; it represented a time of great growth and change, including the establishment of a significant fabrics industry, and the production of indigo - Ai. Nihon Menpu's Edo Ai fabric is dyed using the traditional technique, of natural indigo produced using the Japanese sukumo method. 

Sukumo is very different from the Indian method of extracting indigo. Producution is based primarily on Shikoku Island, just offshore from Okayama. Japanese natural indigo is extracted form the Polygonum tinctorium plant. Seeds are planted in late winter, transpolanted into fields in April, and harvested twicer in the summer. Sukumo is a composting process much like that used for making woad, but doesn't rely in milling the leaves; instead they are shredded, and separated from the stems, then spread into large beds, where they are composted; every few days the huge stack of leaves is sprayed with water and turned overto aid the fermentation or composting process. After around three months, the mass will have solidified and darkened. Traditionally it was pounded up and shaped into balls, named  ai-dama. The resulting dye stuff is more concentrated than that of woad, and would be used to dye many popular indigo items, especially sashiko, the quilted working jackets. 

For more information about natural indigo dyeing, I recommend Jenny Balfour Paul's wonderful book, Indigo.  

Nihon Menpu's Edo Ai indigo is used in a traditional hank dyeing bath, controlled by Koji Nomiya. He hangs the large hanks of fabric onto large hooks, which are lowered into the bath; the forks rotate, twisting the hanks in different directions, so that the indigo is spread evenly onto the yarn; of course, being a manuall controlled process, the indigo is more variegated than a modern rope-dyeing system. In some of the photos here, you can see the yarns look green as they emerge from the bath, then turn blue as the indigo oxidises. 

I'm not certain exactly what Sugar Cane jeans are currently made with Edo Ai indigo; I know my old pair, an approximately 1880s style jean rather like the old Nevada, were priced only slightly higher than their other jeans; a steal, considering the artistry and effort that goes into the dyeing and milling process. 

I've also added some period photos of Nihon Menpu that further emphasise the company's amazing heritage. These shots date from 1917-1920 or so. I believe the looms shown are made by Toyoda, although there's a chance they were manufactured by the British company, Platt Brothers. More on both companies soon…

Koji Nomiya hangs the hanks on the dipping machine.

 The end result:

And, for a heritage overload, here are photos of Nihon Menpu, circa 1918