Saturday, 25 August 2012

Tokyo Denim Tour part 1: Nakameguro, Daikanyama and Ebisu

Shopping is by no means the main attraction of Tokyo - but, let's face it, it's a worthwhile pastime. The department stores - Isetan and, especially, Tokyu Hands, the magnificent multistorey hardware store - are some of the world's finest. But I especially liked the smaller, boutique stores, many of which are unique, with carefully-sourced product and often many proprietary lines you rarely see elsewhere.

The area around Naka Meguro is richest in these stores; again, like elsewhere, they're by no means the finest attraction of the area. We loved this compact location, made friends there, hung out by the canal, guzzled iced coffees from the streetside vending machines. But the shops were great, so here's my all-too-brief selection.

I'll append a map later, and update this post with other people's suggestions for shops. So please email me or leave a comment if you have any additions, corrections, or gratuitous insults.


If you're walking south, this is the first of a run of fabulous small shops. Brits will feel a patriotic surge at the display of Trickers'; there's a compact selection of vintage, many tasteful accessories and some original designs; chinos, tops etc.

Acts website

Army Gym

A block or two down from ACTS; Cabourn's label is, to my mind, one of the most exciting newer British label - in a Tokyo context it looks even more impressive.

Telepathy Route
In many ways, just a typical Tokyo vintage store, with a sprinkling of Levi's 507 and other items. But I liked the more down-market items best; simple deadstock French T-shirts for example. 

Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters
Mostly women's clothing. As one sees so often in Japan, the standard of execution for what I presume is a pretty small label, is simply staggering. Their website is well worth a look. 

By now, we've walked down near to Naka Meguro tube station. This area is full of intriguing stores, like Gaku Vintage Tools, on the other side of the canal from the clothing shops. It was, frustratingly, closed the day we noticed it. 

Up from RHRB, I believe turning up towards Daikanyama, was another intriguing little shop, Reflex, with an American Hunting and Fishing theme. Not my particular bag, but as usual the sourcing, and quality of items on display, was impressive. 


Follow the train line round from Naka Meguro and you soon reach Daikanyama, home to what is now one of Japan's most established denim brands, Evisu. The story of Evisu is fascinating; often credited as  the first Osaka 5 label, Evisu were of course at the forefront of the resurgence of selvage denim. They were also the main company described as purchasing redundant American looms; I'd personally written them off for such marketing porkies, and have grown depressed by the poor quality European Evisu items - and some of the business practices of Evisu Hong Kong. But a wander around the Daikanyama stores helped revive my decades-old enthusiasm for the label - especially the first floor, with its wealth of golfing items. 

There is a loom in the entrance to the downstairs showroom; the staff didn't know, but I suspect it's a Toyoda Type G, the pioneering loom shown in action here. 

I love the portrait of Evisu's founder, Hidehiko Yamane, which has the feeling of a religious icon in this setting. 

Barley Harvest Season
Barley Harvest Season are over the road from the Evisu showroom. I've heard great things of them, but sadly didn't have a chance to check out the store, which is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. 
My disappointment at missing BHS was eased by my visit to another of Tokyo's finest small stores...


UES is just north of the junction dominated by Evisu, set back from the street in a huddle of mostly lowrise apartment buildings and small shops - like Naka Meguro, this is a corner well worth spending time in. UES alone justifies the trip - for a small company, the execution of their denim is stunning. Sadly, I didn't have enough Japanese to find which mill they use, but the denim, and the standard of finishing on their pants is very impressive. 

Of course, Tokyo has plenty of choice in Levi's-inspired pants. But... no one else has kids' wear as impressive as this. 

The kids' jackets retail at around 15,000 Yen, available from Size 0 to Size 3. That's a fair amount of money, indeed, but fully justified by the workmanship. 

This is Tomohito Inomata at work in the store; like many Japanese denim outlet, there's a Union Special in the shop so customers can get a custom inseam with the obligatory chainstitch.

The UES blog is here. 

Just around the corner from UES, there's Hollywood Ranch Market. As the name suggests it was a little generic, at least on cursory examination, but it's worth a quick look.

Continue North up the main street, Komazawa Dori, toward Ebisu and there are plenty more nice stores. Wild Life Taylor boasts Alden, Mr Freedom, LVC, some choice RRL items, lovely canvas bags and another very tasteful interior.

Komazawa Dori also has this impressive shop selling vintage Harleys...

This street takes us up to two of Tokyo's most significant denim stores, Warehouse and Kapital. 

I didn't visit Kapital in this location (although it's marked on the map, below), as I planned to do so in another location in Kojima - where, unfortunately, I was told not to take photos and was getting very short of time. But I was very impressed by the full range.  Designer Kazuhiro Hirata draws on a huge range of denim mills, and there's some very impressive laundry work, all of which I believe is done at the Kapital factory in Kojima. 

I had a fixed plan of what denim I planned to buy in Tokyo; but it was very hard to resist temptation and buy a pair of 1001XX. Sadly, Warehouse don't seem to support the Duck Digger range any longer, but that's made up for by the superd Heller's CafĂ© range - all based on the collection of Larry MacKaughan, a denim collector and dealer who's also, I found when researching Denim, one of the most helpful people in the industry.

Downstairs has the standard Warehouse range. 

Upstairs we have the Warehouse Archive, with more of the one-off Heller Cafe items. I have far too many cinchback jeans... but am sorely tempted by these. 

This is very attractive denim, with an authentic vintage look, fine yarns and short stitch lengths rather than the exaggerated vintage style we see on many repros. The pants retail at Y24,000, good value for that attention to detail. I loved the One Pocket Pleated Jacket, too, at a slightly heftier Y33,000. 

I would have loved to have visited Toys McCoys and Freewheelers in Tokyo, two places I've heard a lto about, but sadly didn't make it this time. I will follow up with far briefer stories on Shinjuku and Harajuku, plus Ueno market. Watch this space...

And now, it's possible you might see a Google Map giving you direction to all these denim destinations. 

View Naka Meguro, Daikanyama & Ebisu denim in a larger map

Friday, 17 August 2012

Tricker's, tractors and wizards in Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh, for those who don't know it, is a picture-perfect British seaside town, celebrated for its links with composer Benjamin Britten who lived there with his lover, Peter Pears - both of them swanned around town in identical, sailor pants and knitted bobble hats.

The town also boasts a terrific shoe shop, Mack's, run by Mr Joseph Calladine, assisted by his able young son. They have one of the finest ranges of shoes I've seen in the UK - a good selection of Tricker's and, more unusually, Alfred Sargents, including the Kelso boot, and the rather beautiful Sargent Coldstream shoe. It appears that Sargent have resumed limited production of the shoes as standard, according to Mr Calladine, who also told me that Sargent moved into Veldtschoen in a big way, once they'd bought up much of the tooling following the closure of Lotus.

Mack's prices are very competitive; mostly around £220 for the Sargents, which is less than many online retailers. I particularly liked this pair of Tricker's Veldtschoen, a special order for a client that didn't quite fit, in size 7 1/2. If that's your size, move quickly, these are a bargain at £190.

Mack's is certainly on my list of Britain's best shoe shops, along with another little family-run store I hope to return to in the next few months. If you're over from Japan and are looking for a good pair of shoes, a trip to Aldeburgh will probably pay for itself, and you'll also get to see a unique slice of Britain. It will acquaint you with the word 'luvvie'. As I photographed the tractor below, I am informed an elderly gentleman flinched, as if he were regularly pursued by paparazzi, thinking he was in the frame. It was Sir Michael Gambon. Sorry for disturbing your afternoon, Professor Dumbledore...

Thursday, 9 August 2012

It's Better To Travel

After the devastation suffered by Japan last spring, I promised to visit the place, and inject some money into their economy. I've succeeded, I reckon. In the next few weeks, I plan to upload several stories on denim in Japan. I've learned a huge amount about the birth of the Osaka 5 - the group of jeans companies that put Japan on the map for premium denim - and also about the birth, and evolution, of the cotton spinning and weaving industry, which has left us with such a high-quality legacy of denim production. I'll also provide my own brief guide to denim shopping in Tokyo.

Here are just a few photos to hopefully whet your appetite.

Kurashiki - established as the centre of Japanese cotton spinning in 1888.

 Cotton from Zimbabwe, USA, and other location, in the Nihon Menpu warehouse. 

 Edo Ai-dyed yarns, after one to eight dips, at Nihon Menpu, Okayama Prefecture. 

Cotton ginning machine made by Platt Brothers of Oldham, installed at Kurabo - Kurashiki Spinning Mill - around 1915. 

Intriguingly, it was Platt Brothers who later produced the Toyoda Type G automatic loom under licence in the UK. 
The old Kurabo cotton warehouse, Kurashiki. 

Interior of RHRB - named after JD Salinger's novella,  Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters.

Toyoda loom - from the 1920s? - in the Evisu showroom at Daikanyama. It's incomplete, but I believe this is one of the celebrated G-series looms that put the Toyoda - now Toyota - company on the map. 

Hinoya Plus Mart, Ueno

45rpm store, Shibuya