Thursday, January 31, 2008

American Shuttle Looms

This scan is taken from a 1904 Draper Company publication. The now-famous XX denim used on the original Levi's 501 production were woven on Draper looms at the Amoskeag Manufacturing Co. In fact, Levi Strauss & Co. historian, Lynn Downey, notes that the denim from their "first waist overalls came from the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in Manchester, New Hampshire, on the East Coast of the United States." ("A Short History of Denim," Downey).

In as early as 1904 the Amoskeag Manufacturing Co. owned 1261 Draper Northrop looms (this does not even include other models of Draper looms Amoskeag had; please note not all Draper looms were used for making denim but to the extent of my research evidence most or even all denim looms at Amoskeag were from Draper who practically had a monopoly in loom-building at the time in America).

Today you can see the Model E at Cone Denim in Greensboro, North Carolina. I have not received full clearance to publish detailed info and media but here's a teaser.

Lynn Downey and LS&CO's "A Short History of Denim" (PDF Alert)

Cone Denim Website

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

USA Denim Mill Shake Up

There's major news regarding an important domestic denim mill coming your way. Keep your eyes peeled.

All my sources remain anonymous. Email me at


Signed Pure Blue Japan XX-005

Had these jeans for maybe 2 years now. They were worn hard for over a year. Wearing these jeans brings back memories of a time when I was reminded that life can be tough. During this period they were washed initially by hand twice and then eventually by machine 3 times with gentle detergent (Wool Lite, if I remember correctly).

Some specs: 14.5 oz, high shrinkage, nice blue selvage. Super slubby. Japanese denim.

They were recently signed by Mr. Pure Blue, who gave me the flattering compliment that these are the most beautifully faded pair of XX-005 he has seen to date. Arigato Iwaya-san.

Special thanks to Yuji Fukushima.

Purchased at Blue in Green in NYC.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stripping Off the Frills

Naked & Famous is not Paris Hilton's new label. Look past the pop art naked woman graphic and you'll find something remarkable: quality Japanese denim at eyepopping price points (more on that later).

The Canadian brand made its USA debut at the Blue show recently and I had a chance to meet the owner and see the goods. Brandon Svarc is quirky in an earnest-and-friendly way. The type who wouldn't shy from admitting to being a denim geek. His enthusiasm can be infectious with the right crowd. He talks excitedly about the denim he uses.

The collection is tight and concise. The jeans are wearable showcases for gorgeous denim fabric. There are no funky washes, prints, embroideries, or trims (but for the leather patch).

We begin by checking out the "Super-Thick Indigo Selvedge." It is Japanese-made, weighs in at 21 oz, and has a fat twill line.

Next up is the "Natural Indigo Organic Selvedge" that Svarc seems particularly proud of. They are working with their mill to weave the denim with a green selvage ID.

Three other notable jeans for both mens and women include the black stretch, vintage blue, and the silk denim.

The "Big Slub Indigo Selvedge" is something to behold. It is so flamy/streaky as to be recognizably Japanese denim. It weighs in at 18 oz beautiful.

With their basic selvage jean retailing at only $120.00 (indigo or black; 13 oz) Naked & Famous is an important player to watch. Already in place is a growing segment of the mens market ready for raw denim thanks to 1) the excessive use of the word Raw (ie G-Star) and 2) the constant reminder for consumers not to wash their jeans (ie everyone; read your care labels). Although the typical customer may not be attracted to the idea of breaking into a pair of jeans for months without washing them we also know that there is an existing customer base for this type of denim.

Throw in the fact that Naked & Famous is $20 less expensive than the retail price of APC and we have a compellng reason to believe that something important is happening. The price barrier to raw, selvage, Japanese denim is being broken. Granted these jeans are made in Canada and contain no frills (hidden rivets, back buckles, suspender buttons) but they are solidly built and the fabrics alone are beautiful enough to command even higher prices.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The FULLCOUNT Grand Slam

First of all FULLCOUNT is a fashion brand complete with fashion shows and photoshoots. Now let me say they make some fine jeans that would make any denim purist wake up sweating indigo. Part of it comes from the fact that founder-owner Mikiharu Tsujita (humbly self-introduced as Miki) is well versed in denim.

We sat down for tea last week in New York where I showed him the book, "History of Japan Jeans." While flipping through it he points out various veterans he's worked with (some he calls masters) over the years. He begins to tell stories. The one I found especially interesting is about the company he forged with sweat and tears.

FULLCOUNT s one of the Osaka 5, a group of five pioneer brands (Studio D'Artisan, Denime, Evisu, Warehouse, and FULLCOUNT) founded in Osaka for the pursuit of the best denim as seen through their respective lenses.

Tsujita recounts his younger days in the 80’s working in the famous vintage shop Lapine and traveling in the US with co-worker Hidehiko Yamane (of Evisu fame) to hunt for vintage denim garments. At the time vintage Levi's and the likes were already exchanging hands (American to Japanese) at hefty sums and it was difficult finding enough right pieces at the right prices to stock popular "used stores" like Lapine across Japan.

As a result in '89 Tsujita and Yamane launched the brand Rodeo backed by Lapine's owner. It offered raw denim with details that nodded homage to the vintage jeans they loved. Rodeo was famously different from existing brands like Studio D'Artisan and Denime, who pushed similar products but were supported by strong financial backing. It was known as a homebrewed label that distributed in vintage stores for likeminded individuals.

But in 1991 the ambitious duo splintered off and formed Evis (later renamed Evisu). I could not help but ask him to talk about the rumors of Evisu having purchased a vintage American-made shuttle loom (having heard this myth repeated as legend twice the prior day was strong motivation). It is reassuring to hear that the rumors are indeed not true. Evisu began making jeans using denim made on Japanese-built Toyoda looms.

Due to differences in brand direction (Evisu is now known for its colorful handpainted logo's that cover the backpockets; its mascot is the god of money) Tsujita sets off on his own purist's path. He stares off to the side with a distant look as he recalls what went through his mind at the time. Without substantial funding he knew that his next move would either make or break him. It was this feeling of being up at bat with 3 balls and 2 strikes that led him to name his lifework FULLCOUNT.

Since making that swing FULLCOUNT has become a popular Japanese brand offering both knits and wovens for men and women. Jeans from the line have features like natural indigo, Zimbabwean cotton, hidden rivets, back buckles, 100% cotton threads (for vintage purists) and of course selvage. But it is the essence of the vintage jeans that he wore as a youth that he tries to capture. In describing the FULLCOUNT denim he mentions soft and comfortable as being the most important points. As he models the jeans he's broken-in over 5 years he tells me this is the point when the jeans are the most comfortable. He emphasizes the belief that fashion trends change but comfort does not. Their brand concept states "FULLCOUNT is not influenced by fast-moving fashion trend."

Caption: Miki in his 5-year FULLCOUNT jeans standing next to his collection.

Yet he insists FULLCOUNT is a fashion brand. His customers, while appreciating the vintage details, use his products to primarily fulfill fashion needs. This contradiction leaves me a bit perplexed. But after only half a minute I decided I don’t need to fully understand it. Balances and struggles between ideas contribute to denim’s character. You can analyze it all day long (and we do sometimes) but in the end all you need to do is wear it to get it.

Caption: The jeans ripped on his recent travels; New York is a tough city.

We talk about his arc designs post and pre Levi's cease-and-desist letter (sized like a book but doesn't read like one).

Special thanks to Kotaro Tanaka
Special thanks to Lat40N

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tom McKenna Named President of Cone Denim

Reports are coming in that Tom McKenna has been chosen to be President of Cone Denim. McKenna, who succeeds John L. Bakane, has been with Cone since 1981 when he began as a sales representative in their New York office. In 2004 he served as President of Sales and Marketing.