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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Kapital | Century Denim No. 123-S

Kapital Century Denim 123s

Kapital Century Denim 123s

“We don’t have a theology. We don’t have an ideology. We dance.”  -Power of Myth

Well, the wait is over… the cat is out of the bag. The new Century Denim is here and boy oh boy it is something. Starting with the fabric, I am sure most of you are aware that this is 100% original fabric for Kapital. The process includes 4 different, non-related factories. One thread spinning factory, one indigo rope dyeing factory, one weaving factory (on one loom… yes one loom), and finally a finishing factory.

Each of the threads are spun differently to create a specific texture and tension for this very special denim. This is an industry first for triple indigo denim. For the diehard indigo fanatics, this is your denim…

Kapital Century Denim 123s (Post Soak)
Monkey Cisco Post Soak (Size 34)

The threads are rope-dyed using 3 different indigo dyes. Kapital’s No. 1 (American Indigo), No. 2 (Japanese Indigo), and No. 3 (Hon-ai or natural indigo), are woven together to create this new Century Denim, hence the 123s. The first thing that may come to mind is the kendo-gi. But this is so much different, so much more elegant. The denim twill weave, mixed with sashiko thread is indigo heaven. The dye method and weaving technique are different and much more complicated.

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For protective purposes, neither the dyeing factory or weaving factory would allow photographs. I will try to describe though words, the process.

The threads are rope-dyed in their three respective indigos. Rope dyeing allows the center of each thread to have a white core or in Japanese nakashiro. Over time and with regular wearing and washing the indigo little by little falls off and the white core is slowly revealed. In comparison to cheese, or hank-dyed items, rope-dyeing reveals much more thread texture and color gradation desirable for denim.

The fabric is woven on a specialized weaving machine, all of the Century Denim fabric is woven on this one single machine. The weave is more dense than previous versions of Century Denim, and the shrinkage is more consistent. The texture is also slightly rougher after washing, and the hand of the fabric is more comfortable. If the topic of weaving peaks some interest, and if you happen to be in Japan, have a visit to the Toyota Industrial Museum.

The crocking on these is unreal. Most contact in the raw state will leave blue stains on almost everything. Your legs will be temporarily dyed blue as will your socks, underwear, shoes, shirt, and jacket. That said, it creates its own very unique aesthetic. Two soaks will alleviate most of the crocking issues. I would recommend avoid tossing these in the washing machine for a while, to avoid marbling and uneven indigo loss.

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There is no wear sample available, so how they will fade and evolve over time is the fun part. The Century Denim 123s will be available for a limited time from February 2016 (Update: Monkey Cisco Century Denim 123S will be available in limited quantities in May) in the Monkey Cisco fit. Which is a new iteration of the Cisco fit. Being the year of the monkey this year… The changes are somewhat significant, the rise is deeper, and the seat is roomier. That means the thighs are more comfortable and there is a slight taper from the knee. The leg opening and taper are still just wide enough to wear Pecos boots (my personal favorite). The full line will be released in August with the 2016 AW collection. For the time being keep an eye on the instagram hashtag #centurydenim123s and this blog for further updates.

The Allure of Black

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black
adj. 1. lacking hue and brightness; absorbing light without reflecting any of the rays composing it.

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Black has an extensive history in textiles. Considering it is quite difficult to achieve the darkest black possible. Recently scientists invented Vantablack which is the blackest black every created by humans, it is made of carbon nanotubes. Interesting stuff… As far as regular dyeing goes…  In general, before the introduction of logwood into textile dyeing, there were only two common ways to achieve black. One: taking a brown component like persimmon tannin and getting it as dark as possible by exposing it to extended periods of direct sunlight. Once achieving the desired hue an additional dip in iron mordant solution creates a very nice natural black. Two: dyeing it a dark blue or green (green being the more common) and then adding an iron mordant. Both of these processes create the two black colors that Tezomeya has available.

My Sumi 7S Century Denim recently underwent this process. I worked on the idea of dyeing these black a few years ago, but the texture had to be just right first. The result is wondrous. The brown peeking out from behind the black, and the indigo threads shedding their black covering looks incredible. Since we are on the topic of “black” I might as well mention how interesting this Blackfeet creation myth is…

Gold Rivet Black Century Denim

The horizontal sashiko stitching brings out a very rough texture which adds some visual weight. Maybe I have been inspired a bit by the dark side of life

Knee sashiko repair detail Century Denim

Faded creases behind the knees didn’t take the dye very well, but left a nice subtle “Chashin” look.

Back of the knee fade Black Century Denim

The gradual transformation of these jeans can be followed in Metamorphosis and Metamorphosis II

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Kapital made an interesting black jean for summer 2015. This version is a black warp and white weft, and given a nice distressed wash; it comes in this ashy color.

Black Straight Yarn Denim

14 oz denim with nice contrasting stitching, finished with a rough-out patch. The new Okagilly fit is based around the old Sarrouel one. I really enjoy the irregularity of the fabric, with the dark color that is synonymous with the 80’s. Maybe this is a prelude of a new experimental style for me… punk functionalist… maybe… And one last idea of black, definitely read or watch Under the Skin

Full Front Black Denim Patch

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.

Purple berries

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

Kanekichi Knitting Factory

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Just an hour or so out of Osaka there is the city (prefecture of the same name) of Wakayama. Just outside the city I had the esteemed pleasure of visiting the Kanekichi knitting factory. Founded in 1920 they are one of the few remaining “tsuri-ami-ki” or loop-wheel knitting machine factories still around. They use old European and Japanese made loop-wheel, double knit and circle knitting machines. My eye was on the loop-wheel knitting machines, as these are the knitting machines that Tezomeya products are made on.

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The first thing upon entering the factory floor was the amount of cotton dust floating around. It is very fine and accumulates like snow on anything sitting still. The noise is completely different from a denim factory or weaving factory, the sound is almost like a gathering of innumerable crickets.

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The products are incredible, and the sheer amount of variety of fabrics that can be made on these knitting machines is astounding. The most popular being reverse knit (sweatshirts), and loop-wheel t-shirt knits.

There are several aspects to these machines that allow them to turn out superb fabric. The first are the “bearded” needles, and they allow the yarn to be knit under virtually no tension by not pulling on the thread. There are more than 1000 needles on each of these machines. Each and every needle is placed by hand, exactly spaced by the craftsman’s eyes. A completely analog process…

The second aspect is that only one or two threads are being knit at a time. This process is slow, but the end result is a much fluffier material. The third is that the fabric falls onto a carriage that rotates with the machine. The fabric falls naturally and is not pulled, rolled,  or put under tension.

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The machines spin around under the top knitting mechanism, and is quite mesmerizing to watch. Since these are not modern machines they require a more craftsman approach to operating, and need more arduous attention. There were several factory staff constantly checking each running machine. After walking around and seeing the other machines I came to realize what makes the fabric that comes off of these superior to circle “sinker” type knitting machines. That, there is nothing lost in the process. If you put pure organic cotton thread on these machines the quality of that cotton comes out in the knit fabric. The only way to achieve this level of quality is through loop-wheel knitting machines.

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Kapital | Osaka Store (Hankyu Men’s)

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Finally Osaka has a Kapital store. It is the 17th store for Kapital, and the 3rd store in the Kansai area. The layout is centered on the Denim Bar, and has many similarities to the Soho store in Kojima. The various types of patchwork wood around the bar and the carved wood adds warmth and texture to the atmosphere.  The seats around the denim bar are entirely made from bicycle parts. The store is on the 5th Floor of the Hankyu Men’s Department Store.

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The Santo Domingo Jacket series comprises of special items available only at the Osaka store for early purchase. Kapital Osaka Hankyu Men's 14The store encompasses many themes from many different eras. The bulk of the items are in men’s sizes and geared towards male customers but there are of course smaller sizes available for women as well. Kapital Osaka Hankyu Men's 13 Kapital Osaka Hankyu Men's 7

There are also some limited Osaka-only items from Kountry. A bag or two, and several clothing items as well.Kapital Osaka Hankyu Men's 5

The Santo Domingo coverall and 5 pocket pants are also available exclusively at this store. Make sure to check these out when stopping by. Kapital Osaka Hankyu Men's 1

Ooe Yofukuten | Mitsuru Collaboration Double-Wear Overalls

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OYFTN X MTSR DBLWR OVRAL 2Mitsuru Vintage store is a little place mostly unknown outside of Nagoya and Japanese vintage maniacs. They don’t have a website and they probably won’t sell you these if you don’t live in Japan. Sorry to disappoint…

Ooe-san masterminded the design of these overalls, and let me get it right to the point -they’re nothing short of amazing.

However it is important to point how the vast details, and construction methods presented here that culminate into an actual high quality garment. Products labeled as “high quality” often times are just made in small batches or contain expensive materials (labeled: selvedge, quality, hand-made, etc.). These overalls are for the most part single-needle stitched, with no overlock stitching or filigree. Modeled after pants from the early 1900’s, there are no belt loops, or rivets. The design is entirely original with details borrowed from some of the best work-wear construction methods. This type of quality takes time, especially in design, sewing, and material choice. The minimal, unobtrusive labeling seals the deal.

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These pants are really simple as the stitching blends perfectly with the fabric. The subtle construction adds function and doesn’t add bulk. The fabric is the perfect weight for summer, even in Japan. They are made from dead-stock linen and cotton blend canvas. It is light and comfortable, with just the right about of weight. The little cotton husk-flecks in the yarn give it a nice ecru tinge. Also this non-selvedge fabric is a good example of why selvedge doesn’t always mean “good-quality”.

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Starting with the complex pockets that are also a part of the double-knee construction. There are no side seams as the legs are made from one piece of material and flat felled on the inseam. The continuous fly is a great feature and also adds to the quality of the construction. All the pockets are double-stitched beautifully and the subtle black hardware (steel) doesn’t add any distraction. The reinforced quadruple stitched crotch is the final detail that really finishes it all up. These pants are well thought-out, hopefully we will see a denim version and maybe future variations of this pattern.

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John Lofgren & Co. X The Bandanna Almanac | Kakishibu Hanpu Trousers

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Kakishibu Hanpu Trousers 4 Over the last several months John and I have been working on developing a product. Since it was our first trial together we decided to keep it simple and do a pair of pants. I found this really fantastic hanpu or sail cloth mill in Okayama a few years ago. They use vintage Belgian looms and weave an incredible canvas on them. A nice sturdy canvas with just the right softness and weight for summer. I imagine this would have been the same weight that sailors would have used to make sail cloth pants during the age of sailing ships.

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This same mill also dyed the fabric with kakishibu. This persimmon tannin does not make the fabric hard or stiff because it applied with a mixture of water and tannin. The color has a washed look to it which adds much more character to the pants.

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The pants are finished off with simple metal buttons. The entire pants are sewn with 100% cotton thread. They come true to size and are available in 30,32,34, and 36 inch waists. The silhouette is wide with a slight taper to it, with a normal rise.

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John Lofgren’s products are made in Japan and to the highest quality standards. The color and fabric combination have a nice mix of Japanese and Western style to them.

Please purchase a pair here

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BTWXTBA | Hikeshibanten Beach Vest

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We have been hard at work thinking up new ideas. We have changed direction slightly, and Narita-san had a great idea of making beach vests out of various fabrics.

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This first one we have come up with is made from a hikeshibanten or “firefighter jacket”. These are worn by volunteer firefighters as a durable work over-jacket. They are usually reinforced with sashiko to give them durability. They are usually marked with some town naming or some sort of slogan. The one we used for the vest has a huge kanji on the back. With the kamon “family crest” this fabric has some interesting details.

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The construction is a pattern cut from a jacket that Narita-san turned into a prototype beach vest. The trim is made from strips of dead stock indigo cotton fabric sewn together. The trim along with the base fabric will age and fade as it is washed and worn. This beach vest has 4 pockets like the original, however the pockets are big enough for a phone or any daily carry items. The sashiko fabric is lightweight and tough.

Expect to see more versions of these. This one is available on my Etsy store.

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Kapital | Sailor Hakama Pants

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First off I have to thank Cory Piehowicz aka Bandit Photographer for the photos he took in Los Angeles during the Inspiration LA weekend. He has a unique style to his editing and I think he captured the essence of what I was after. Thank you

These Hakama Sailor Pants are simple, but complicated in the way they are constructed. First off, the legs are each made of one piece of fabric. That means there is no outside seam. Secondly, there are six pockets layered like origami around the hips. The pockets add incredible versatile function to these pants. Carrying heavy items in the large side pockets doesn’t pull on the waist, and everything stored in the hip pockets are easily accessible.

The 10oz. sumi (grey) and indigo hickory stripe denim means they’re soft and comfortable. The silhouette is similar to hakama: high waist and weighted around the hips. Triple chain-stitched inseams, and bar-tacks on stress points are the high-quality finishing details. These pants are a really good example of what Kapital does so well, top-notch design and build quality. A perfect blend of Japanese subtly (color and simple design) and Western work-wear functionality that makes, perfect sense.

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Tezomeya | Inspiration LA 2014 V Neck T’s

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Up on the Etsy store we have a few special items available. These Tezomeya t’s are entirely sewn and dyed in Kyoto, Japan. Each color has a story, and a deep history in Japan. These traditional colours paired with Masaaki’s incredible shibori (tie-dyed) designs are unusual and beautiful.

I picked 10 t’s, in 3 different sizes. There are several variations but for now these are the only ones available. All of the shibori t’s have an indigo over-dye.

Here is some color history… enjoy!

Fujinezu-iro is created by using insect galls and wood vinegar mordant. An insect gall is a growth on a plant created and controlled by an insect. In Edo period (1603AD-1868) Japan, it was not only used as a dyestuff but also as was fashionable in the day, for dyeing your teeth black. The wood vinegar mutes the color to this refined, “shibui” purple. This color was popular among commoners as a substitute to the other, more expensive purple dyes during Edo period.

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Kihada-iro is derived from the Amur Cork Tree in traditional dyes and its use in Japan dates back to the Nara period. But for cotton the cork tree doesn’t fast very well. The color is made by boiling dried pomegranate skin, paired with alum mordant. The color isn’t a bright cheerful yellow, or quite a cold mustard yellow. It is a yellow you would see falling from a tree or written in a poem.

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Toki-iro is the ancient red from the madder root. We boil the madder root and use an alum mordant to make a deep red for silk, and a pastel red for cotton. The word “toki” comes from the Japanese word for the crested ibis, which has this enchanting red color quill.

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Book | Katachi: Japanese Pattern and Design

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This book was published in 1963, and it is one of my favorite on Japanese design. Katachi means form: this book is a perfect collection of Japan in form. It shows a broad spectrum of traditional designs and patterns, which are as much a part of the landscape and language, as they are art. The incredibly charming photos by Takeji Iwamiya are as simple and deep as their subject. A lot of these photos remind me of my first trip to Japan and the photos I took those many years ago.

It is fascinating to flip through images and see shapes interact with materials, and  how the combination of those define Japan’s arts and crafts. This book is required reading if you are at all interested in seeing how the cultural and daily patterns of Japanese life surface in the crafts and everyday items.

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