Saturday, July 13, 2013

Denim musings

Recently the Papa travelled down to Adelaide, South Australia at the behest of Andy Watson, proprietor of the wonderful RHD store. Andy has put together perhaps the best array of contemporary premium denim labels under one roof, by far the best in Australia, The shelves are stocked with Samurai, Momontaro, Sugar Cane and Mr Freedom as well as the proverbial Nudies that help pay the rent. Andy and his side kick Akira Takahashi do an amazing job in switching denim aficionados onto the best brands available and also offer a wash service as well as a hem and repair service using their vintage Union Special machine guided by Akira's nimble and talented fingers.

RHD store Adelaide, the denim line up.

RHD x Papa Nui visit. From Atoll to Adelaide.

For the Papa this visit struck a chord. After a lifetime of wearing the Texas Tuxedo this past decade has been a denim wasteland. Bitterly disappointed with the offering of his first love Levi's and equally enraged that the Australian affiliate doesn't even stock the LVC product, the Papa in a sign of disgusted protest took to wearing pants instead!
Once the original heritage brand, Levis today represents an very inflated parody of itself. Outside of LVC the product is rubbish. The fabrics are thin and cheap on the thread count and the production quality is equally dubious. As for LVC which once represented such hope for the brands future the offering seems tired, uninspired and worse, greatly over priced. How much of a premium can a brand demand before the expectation becomes ludicrous? $950 for a copy Himel leather jacket? $495 for a chemically treated pair of buckle backs? Come on guys, a pair of Samurai's in Okayama 15oz indigo might be worth 400 clams but I find it hard to imagine that the Levis equivalent has as much ingrained soul or attentiveness to detail.
It would appear Levis is a victim of it's own heritage, unable to find a way to reinvent itself and offer a relevant offering in today's market whilst balancing a focus on constant growth and paying dividends to shareholders. Why not just be content in making the best jeans possible!
Other contemporaries are free of such historical parameters and paradigms. Free to explore, indulge and experiment, free to interpret history and make it over into their own image. Case in point, Japanese company Bootleggers Reunion/ Freewheelers and American company Rising Sun Jeans.
Bootleggers have progressively reached back in history, freely interpreting the 20's, the 10's and of late the decades proceeding the 20th century. The product offering has been exciting and unique and of a incredible quality in all respect from manufacture to detail, no skimping on cost no compromising on fabrics. This vision has rewarded them well, capturing the attention of an audience weary of XX rehashing.

Bootleggers rusted button detail and neckstrap.

Railmans pants

Loco shirt

Like wise, Rising Sun of Pasadena California under the guiding hand of owner Mike Hodis has created what the Papa feels is perhaps the most original take on denim that's occurred in the past 20 years.
Referencing remnants of denim jeans from a collection found in abandoned mines by Michael and Charla Harris, Rising Sun has reassembled a surviving pocket, a fragment of a leg, a remainder of a waistband a vestige of a cuff and made them whole again in their take on dungarees from the 1870's. These are not unlike old Levis but perhaps representing those brands that were buried by time and hidden from history in the dark dank surroundings of the mines they were discovered in, never ever seeing the daylight of the commercial success of their Red tab contemporaries. These styles are unique in every way and Mike Hodis manufacturers them with a poetic sympathy that shows respect for the rarity of their origins.

Seeing day light for the first time since 1870, Michael and Charla Harris collection.

Rising Sun remakes.

Mike Hodis the man behind Rising Sun.

Its Mike at Rising Sun and the guys at Bootleggers that are reinventing denim, its also Mr Freedom with his personalised vision and half a dozen other smaller brands trail blazing a new destiny for denim with integrity. But for certain its not Levis, nor Lee and definitely not Wrangler. It would appear that this heritage list of original manufacturers have made their peace with the masses, with conformity and homogeneity, with raking in profits before products. Its no wonder then that their vision is lacking despite their best efforts to trade on the legacy of their history. If they were truly serious about making a statement, if they truly wanted success and respect as is their due, then they should start by firing the endless parade of faceless design school graduates and bin their Illustrators and Photoshops their Cads and Corel draws, and instead put together a team of the Patrick Segui's of this world, the Arnaud Bauville's, the John Lofgren's, the Mike Hodis's or Larry McKaughan's, the very people that know denim, love denim and breathe denim. There's an army of indigo heroes out there collectively changing the way we think about the denim products we buy. For the Papa, they have created a reason to buy again, a reason to wear again and a real reason to get excited and enthused all over again. With my newly acquired Samurai S0500 and their silver selvage I am ready once more to don the denim and I thank all of those that have worn the mantle and raised the bar and revitalised an industry that once meant so much to me.