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.