The Denim Underground

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I have just come back from dyeing indigo in the mountains of Fujino for my 5th or sixth consecutive year. It always feels great going out there and immersing myself in nature for a few days. Osaka for all of its culture is starved of nature and the outdoors. It also gives me some time to think about things and of course have incredible discussion with Bryan-san. If you didn’t know this is the year of the monkey which happens to be my year in the Chinese zodiac. The conversations this year weren’t so much on what has happened but where we are heading.

For the past few months I have been contemplating all sorts of random ideas and the thought of denim and fashion is never out of mind. The Weather Underground was a political group that took extreme actions but had fairly simple ideals. These kinds of extreme actions and simple ideas are quite apart of society at this very minute. So, that is where I developed this idea called “The Denim Underground”. Maybe it is a sort of anti-fashion anti-heritage idea, but maybe it really isn’t anti anything. I kind of like fashion in the regard it operates as the artistic expression of clothing, and what can be achieved psychologically by meditation-styling. Pairing your mood with your clothes for me at least, helps for functioning on a daily basis. Eventually someday I will iron this out and create some sort of manifesto or something…

Anyways… Damage and wear, and paint and patches. This is my jam. I love… no, I adore workwear. The function is obvious and specific. Workwear is also like this fantastic base for simple clothing. Pockets in meaningful and useful places, reinforcement points, durable fabrics. It is like the everyday persons uniform. Narita-san reworked these Kapital multi pocket pants for me. White pants with white patches and paint, for me this is bliss. It is so simple but at the same time looks fantastic. They’re not exactly dirty but they’re not exactly clean either. White is such an odd color to deal with… it’s this modern/heritage “summer” color that really looks better totally fucked up and dirty.

So this kind of balance between fashion (damage, distressing, whatever-you-want-to-call-it) and simple everyday workwear is the aim of The Denim Underground. Wash and wear. Patch and darn -and re-dye…

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Re-dyeing is the ultimate fun part. Once you wear the hell out of your clothes, repair them, the opportunity of re-dyeing presents itself. You can dye with this curious red stuff called madder, this comes from the roots of an insignificant evergreen. Green, the green leaves of the indigo plant Persicaria tinctoriaAs the leaves of the indigo plant dry the release the most heavenly of fragrances and the gradually change from green to a very unusual dark blue. Recently I have started experimenting with over-dyeing some antique french linen night gowns and random garments. They come out looking fantastic after a few dips in indigo. The color is consistent and the texture is really lovely. Madder and indigo; the two most important dyes in terms of everyday clothing from ancient times to  now. Think of red and blue bandannas. In many ethnic and folk communities all-over the world you can find these two dyes and colors blended together in any number of techniques.

From my own research into the history of bandannas, the importance of madder dye is noted again and again. From India to Scotland, the color was the base for most of the textiles. Especially hard wearing ones such as rugs and wraps. It wasn’t until the invention of fastcolor (synthetic dyes) did people stop re-dyeing their clothing.

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So here is a pic of the second year of doing Oak Street Bookmakers indigo rough-out trench boots. I learned an impressive amount last year dyeing them. These are them after they have been dyed, and rinsed. They are still wet and look much darker than usual. This project has been incredibly interesting working on. The variations in the hides, brings out the individual uniqueness in each pair. Sometimes the pairs don’t even come out matched completely, which I think makes these boots very personal and very interesting. Definitely something I would include to be apart of the philosophy of The Denim Underground.

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But before I nod off, I want to explain this amazing piece of clothing. It comes from Albania, it is from the 1800’s its made from yaks wool and there are apparently only two of these in existence currently. This is one of them. The other is in a museum somewhere. It is a piece of folk clothing made in one small village somewhere in Albania. It really blows my mind that there is still stuff like this out there. Sitting in some cedar chest… You can see it is hand-spun and hand-woven which equates to an extraordinary amount of time. Not only in actually making it, but learning the skills to make it. It is simply pure function, every part has been designed around functionality and durability. Also the silhouette and structure is similar to Japanese fishermans work jackets with the shorter sleeves, mid-length and massive weight. Very interesting…

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Haramaki, Double Indigo Denim, and Slovenly Style

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The chilly weather has arrived… The outerwear has come out, and it is time to start layering again. This year I have primarily focused on dark indigo and deep reds. Combining the two to make a nice foundation for the next several months of personal styling. Kapital last year (and this year), made a very simple double indigo denim fabric (meaning warp and weft are indigo dyed). It all started with Ringo Man Pants, and this riders jacket (rigid). Starting off dark, the indigo quickly starts to get that shininess to it that is so irresistible. After a few washes the denim texture comes out.

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Tora-san from the series “Otoko wa tsurai yo” wears one of my favorite styles. The tummy-wrap or haramaki has a slovenly image in Japan, but more recently some fashion houses have picked up on this vibe. The mamori or talisman hanging around his neck is the finishing touch. To make it a more modern Wayousechu vibe; replace the check blazer for a riders jacket, and change the lid to a knit cap or open-crown cowboy hat. The tummy wraps are available just about anywhere in Japan, but I opted to get a 100% wool one, that has a dirty-old-man vibe.

I found this piece of saki-ori fabric earlier this year and it has been my working color pallet. It almost looks like the cloud layers of Jupiter… Most of everything I buy will be color-based and fit-based from one piece of fabric, photo or theme. I usually incorporate form and items from a variety of sources. These Egyptian split toe socks are the perfect red. It is no secret I love Japanese movies… but more than ever I have been re-re-watching Ozu Yasujiro movies, the colors and shots in Floating Weeds are some of my favorites. You can also get some idea where Wes Anderson got inspiration from…

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This Kapital Juban Shirt is the ultimate layering piece. With a mid-deep collar, light distressing and details it has been in frequent rotation. It is a great east-meets-west piece and not only comfortable, but also looks great with almost anything. As the name suggests the premise is that of a layer shirt, although an actual juban layer doesn’t have buttons.

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Here is my own personal haramaki styling. One a heavy indigo, with a contrasting golden brown haramaki. Tezomeya indigo henley-neck t, and Mittan silk/cotton jacket. The second one here is the that hybrid Japanese-American style with a riders jacket and Kapital Nouvelle pants, that have a thick rib-knit waist band that kinda has that tummy wrap vibe. With a sarrouel fit they are slouchy, comfy, and just the right amount of modern…

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Oak Street Bootmakers | Indigo Rough-out Trench Boot

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For about the last year or so George at Oak Street Bookmakers and I have been kicking around the idea of indigo-dyed leather. I had my concerns and decided to consult a few local indigo professionals and decided on doing them entirely in fermented indigo. This is the real deal… You can order them here.

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I did all the dyeing myself at my friend’s house in Fujino, just outside of Tokyo. We tried dyeing the sewn uppers first, and also individual pieces.

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Of course with leather, there isn’t much more you can do than dip them and rinse them and dip and rinse many times. Rinsing the leather was a key step in getting the color just right. You can read more on the process at Bryan’s blog.

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The texture on the rough-out really brings out a nice color. The color isn’t a greenish indigo but a more denim blue hue. One that looks particularly good with the natural sole. I am curious to see how they will evolve over time…

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Junk Trove

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Maybe it was an early exposure to Oscar the Grouch growing up… junk has an ever-increasing appeal.

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Junk: vintage items, that have either been remade or repaired using old or worn materials.

The Depression era Thunderbird necklaces from Santo Domingo really worked up a storm of ideas about saving and reusing materials to make new things. Take for instance this Depression era bolo tie, using wire to string a pair of turquoise nuggets on a piece of leather cord. The entirely hand made appearance is really neat. Also using an old thunderbird earring strung on old trade beads looks cute! This also connected some new dots to boro, denim repair, and Japanese aesthetics.

Interestingly enough it would be nice to dwell more on the idea of nature-worshiping societies (Native Americans and Shinto for example) generally regarding leftovers as material, not trash. Definitely something more to consider there…

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Anyways back on topic. Junk. For the sake of avoiding confusion Junk is not a negative word in this context. It is just the state in which the object exists. The state of Junk. The majority of junk is overlooked by pickers and vintage collectors, there is an abundance of it out there and it is really up to the individual to find their preferred junk.

Take for instance denim repair.

DSCF3879A combination here of machine stitched repairs and hand stitching creates a sort of folk/junk art that has a personality. It isn’t clean or precise, but there is a beauty to it.

DSCF3883I assume from looking and observing denim repair photos on the net and instagram that there is a preference for “clean” repairs. The word clean here suggests that the stitching is not seen and the repair is almost invisible. This is the opposite of Junk. Junk has to have character, it really has to be unique.

Friend and constant source of inspiration John Dennis, of Sam Roberts LA understands the Junk aesthetic well. He constantly incorporates miscellaneous items into his products. Old coins, trade beads, and 19th century calico fabric just to name a few. They’re beautiful, and especially easy to arrange into an individual style.

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Murasaki – The Sweetness of Purple

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Purple is a color imbued in mystery. In certain places and times the color was solely used by the aristocracy, for others it is a religious symbol. Most people would agree, that it has a strong image and a bold color. The color purple is by no means flashy, but deep and complex.

The dyeing process for purple varies just as much as its meaning. Tyrian purple was made from ground snail shells, which much have been an exhausting process, not to mention quite expensive. Japan and China used a method to obtain the color from certain types of insect galls. Gallnuts as they are called were found to contain a high amount of tannic acid which in turn creates iron gall ink, and in ancient Japan was used by women to dye their teeth black.

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This is the same dyeing method used at Tezomeya to acquire Fujinezu-iro and Ebizome-iro. The first is a more of a grayish purple so the color no as bright. Ebizome-iro (pictured below) is a color that combines the gallnut and madder root to make a familiar purple color. The color takes in name from the fruit of a grape plant called ebikazura.

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Kapital created a new purple denim this year called” No. 8“. It is a combination of the purple yam (beni-imo) and indigo. The resulting color is quite brown at first, this I assume is a result of producing a dye from yams. The wabash is discharge printed, and the lighter tones are pink! I quite like this color contrast. It is definitely much more unique than indigo denim with white stripes.
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Here for comparison the different shades of purple. Combining purples with medium browns and light grays is an easy way to incorporate the color into your wardrobe. Natural purples have interesting gray and blue hues, depending on the light, so depending on the purple it can also be paired with indigo, and darker colors.

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Kapital | Santo Domingo Jacket

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DSCF3546 Santo Domingo is one of the largest villages for the Pueblo people in New Mexico. They are known for their intricate shell jewelry. During the 1930’s to the 1950’s this village produced these interesting souvenir necklaces. During this era it appears that the artisans didn’t have money to purchase traditional materials to make jewelry. In order to make a living they collected and recycled materials to make these “Depression” necklaces. They are made from crushed up bits of turquoise, car battery casings, vinyl records, red plastic (toothbrushes, spoons), bone, and other materials. They look incredible and the resourcefulness of the crafts people and their skills definitely show through these pieces, considering the materials they were working with.

DSCF3533 Kapital’s design team was inspired by this clever idea, and as always created something truly impressive. The Santo Domingo jacket is the what they came up with. The jacket, and the coverall have a similar central theme. Starting with the chest area, which is inspired by the designs found on Navajo and other southwestern tribes. The “star” (it looks like a star to me) continues on the elbows, and similarly onto the shoulders. The blending of the standard denim jacket and the hunting jacket is apparent in the pocket design and button details. The chest pocket is large enough to accommodate a newspaper plus most every day carry items. Combining function and simplicity together. The complex nature of the pattern though, means this jacket is technically quite tough to sew. Also note the hand-set rivets. The jacket denim is sanforized so there is little shrinkage after washing. The coverall is a light oz. denim that comes one-wash. What I think is most impressive with this jacket is how Kapital can wield a simple denim fabric to make such an impressive design. Not only to make an interesting look, but also utilize the denim fabric’s strengths. Similar to how the Pueblo people utilized the materials they had at hand to make simple and beautiful jewelry. DSCF3548

Tezomeya | Beauty in Process

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I caught up with Masaaki recently about a few things before the end of the year. Some readers may or may not be aware that in Japan people tend to tie off loose ends before the end of the year. Especially since we are planning something big for early next year…Tezomeya December 2013 3

Please enjoy some of the simple beauty of the Tezomeya process, and some newly featured products.
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Tezomeya Summer | Natural Dyes in Nature

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These are a few of the Tezomeya products I will be showing this summer. I wanted to show how these shirts fit and can be styled with a variety of color and texture.

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Kihada and indigo shibori t-shirt, blends so well with greens and browns.

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Indigo basque shirt, and washi scarf. Meditating and contemplating the indigo spirit. Tezomeya 2013

This background is a wall of a kura that burned down some years ago. The walls were baked like bizen stoneware. Fujinezu color contrasts the orange-brown of the background.

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Here I am wearing the Oitake color basque shirt. I really like how the blue stripes play with this medium light green tone. Tezomeya Summer Part 2

Repair | The Hand-Darn

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In the last episode the backside patch was featured. This time Narita-san will be demonstrating a completely hand-stitched repair. The hand-darn is the strongest and most time consuming of the repairs I will be featuring.

Start off with good sturdy thread. In this case we used indigo-dyed hemp. The darn repair can be used in knit repairs, especially socks and sweaters. If your jeans get a premature blowout then this is the repair you will want to use, as it can be blended with unfaded fabric easier. I surrendered by self-dyed kakishibu canvas hat for this repair.
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A big thick needle will take care of the heavy thread and make weaving it through much easier. Just look at the difference between a standard sewing needle and this darning needle.

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As a note, darning can be done by hand, but so much of the beauty which is part of a hand-darn is lost in the machine. The hand-darn is a beautiful repair, and with enough practice and patience you can make your repairs really special.

First start with a knot on one end of your thread it pull it tight.

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The first stitch should be small right next to where the thread came out from the knot hole. The second stitch should come out about 2 or 3 mm from the actual hole (in the example there is no hole). Then bring the thread over the hole and push the needle through the front side about 2 or 3 mm from the hole. Then make another small stitch almost right next to the hole the thread came through. From here you will do the same thing to cover the hole with weft stitches.

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Take your time on these and try to get them to line up neatly.

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If the hole is not circular don’t worry you can shape the darn as it goes along.

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Once you get to the other end of the whole you will push the needle through to the back one more time. Now you will start to weave the warp threads in.

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Over under over under, again and again. Remember to push the needle through and back to the front after you finish each row.

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Really take your time here and tap the threads into place so it is all neat and tight.

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At the end make sure to squeeze the last weave in tight. This will ensure a solid and secure repair.

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Use an embroidery knot to finish the stitch on the reverse-side of the fabric.

Kapital | Summer 2013 – Diamonds in the Rough

Kapital Diamonds in the Rough

Kapital Diamonds in the Rough

Summer for Kapital is a hazy Aloha-spirited trip around Ohau. From verdant coastline and palm tree-lined streets to, a military airport and a temple garden. There is also a surprise all-star baseball game between “The Bleaches” and “The Rigids”. As for the looks and styles Kapital stays with its roots of denim, but isn’t shy with their fun playful prints.

Diamonds in the Rough has a core that can be found in manji banana aloha-prints, Union Special baseball jerseys, palm tree prints, and a camo western shirt. Yes!!! The colors are kept refined and simple, plenty of indigo items, and more kakishibu elements. For the Kountry fans, expect a variety of interesting repairs and patchwork, plus pocket alterations, and some of beni and indigo pairing.
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John Lofgren & Co. | Ashida Shirt & Albuquerque Jeans Progress

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John Lofgren recently produced this extraordinary shirt of shibui origins. The fabric is Bingo Kasuri woven in Fukuyama, Hiroshima; a product that has a long history. A time consuming process, even today it takes one month to produce an original fabric. Introducing: the Ashida Shirt

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The of grey-dusty area under the train lines in Nakatsu was the perfect place to feature this refined piece. A sumi base color, is accented with kakishibu stripes(shima), and flecks of indigo and natural white. Albuquerque jeans, slowly fading add a slight contrast. I really enjoy the Japanese folk craft aspect of the cloth paired with the simple workwear shirt design. Tagua palm tree buttons give some cream-coffee softness to the striping. This is one of the few times I have seen kasuri used so well on a shirt. The early morning light in February really brought out the subtle colors. You can read more on Fukuyama Bingo Kasuri here.

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Such a simple shirt but the quality really lies in the details. Run-off chain stitching, and felled seams, perfection.

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The fabric in some lighting, looks like it is moving while standing still.

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*Special thanks to J. West for the shutter work.

Kapital | Late Summer 晩夏 – Early Autumn 初秋 – 藍縞 “Indigo-Stripes”

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There are blue moons and there are blue moods. For me this is the perfect time of year for the color indigo. Usually this is when indigo is harvested. You can see the green leaves turn dark blue, while drying in the hot sun on tile roofs. The smell of drying indigo leaves is one of the most blissful aromas. My dear friend Bryan has been doing and experiencing this for 19 years. He has a beautiful and quite poetic way of expressing this time of the year in Japan. There is a distinct change of mood in people with the seasons. It might be though, I watched far too many Yasujiro Ozu films… – so what better time than this to celebrate the hue than by wearing some?

I especially like how Kapital blends western clothing with Japanese fabric aesthetics. Simple “hidden-cool” 隠れたオシャレ stripes, and refined linen and cotton blended fabrics add superb texture to simple garments. The Kenka shirt is surprisingly versatile, and the more I wear this large wide-open style shirt, the more I enjoy wearing them. The western shirt a quintessential mens item -not only limited to cowboy persuasion, but also a staple of the ocean-tied hippie surfer.