Tuesday, October 21, 2008

UCO to Shut Down USA Mill

Raymond UCO has announced it will discontinue operations of its North Carolina denim mill. Close to 200 people will lose jobs by Christmas.

The joint venture between Raymond of India and UCO of Belgium has been quietly looking for a suitor for some time without success. In the current cash-crunched economy any remaining potential buyer is likely be foreign and looking for a steal during a fire sale.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Heller's Cafe by Warehouse Officially Here

The Heller's Cafe x Warehouse collaboration garments are now available. If you remember from a previous blog post this highly anticipated project brings together one of the most knowledgable vintage dealers, Heller's Cafe, with one of the best most authenticity-loyal garment makers, Warehouse Company.

The gorgeous pieces are currently available from Warehouse's website.

BB pants "Rip-proof" (28,350 Yen)

"SALT CITY" Jacket (35,700 Yen)

Never "Rip-proof" coverall (34,650 Yen)

Brown Duck pants (28,350 Yen)

Warehouse Company Website

Saturday, October 11, 2008

XX: The World's Oldest Known Pair of Levi's 501 Jeans

The Levi's archive garments are something to behold. The oldest known pair of 501's are dubbed "XX" and exude an aura that is difficult to describe. Dated to be from 1879 its denim is full of loom chatter, vertical striations of both shade and yarn character. Careful observation of areas where the indigo did not chip off (behind the buckle and inside the back pocket) reveals how rich and red the cast of the original shade must have been.

Besides the XX several other 501's were on display (1920's, 1937, 1950's). A careful enthusiast can study the differences in details among 501's from different periods. After all the event is to showcase the new Premium 501. The pair I tried on was a dark washed, whisker crunched, redline selvage jean with an updated, slim, low rise, fit. A raw version will apparently be available. Word is Barneys on Madison Avenue in New York already has them. Unlike the vintage 501's of yesteryear these modern jeans do not have workwear details like hidden back pocket rivets and back buckles. But the LVC line (Levi's Vintage Clothing) can give you that fix if it's your cup of tea. It is probably Levi's most researched, well-informed line in terms of understanding its own heritage and history.

Looking at archive pieces with Lynn Downey, Levi's in-house historian, is a unique experience one should not pass on. In fact it should be on every denimhead's list of things to do before you die.

So rare is the XX that it is stored in a safe and is guarded by a sentry when taken on the road. Here is Lynn showing off the oldest surviving pair of 501's as Evan from Meyerson Security stands guard. I was tempted to warn him about the suspicious-looking Blue Man Group peering over their shoulders.

Studying a fill yarn defect with Lynn. Is it defect or character?

Confirming it is not a mispick by looking at the underside. I was honored to have been offered the white gloves to handle this precious relic.

Levi Strauss & Co. Website

Friday, October 10, 2008

LaLa Land Dispatch:
Japanese Denim Showcase – Part II

DenimTech Laundry - Vernon, CA – Part II in my coverage of the Japanese Denim Showcase that took place September 30th - October 2nd at DenimTech. For Part I, featuring Kaihara denim, scroll down or click here.

After meeting with Kaihara, perusing their fantastic collection, and taking up way too much of Nakano-San’s time, I was ushered over to visit with the team from Nihon Menpu. This is probably my favorite textile mill on the face of the planet and I consider it a true honor to witness their creations. They are true artisans. It’s a small operation in Okayama prefecture that began in 1917 and is keeping the indigenous, handcrafted techniques and aesthetics of Japanese textiles alive. Much of their fabrics are custom designed and made for my favorite Japanese brands like Kapital, 45Rpm, and Hollywood Ranch Market. For all the Sugar Cane fans out there, 95% of the Sugar Cane fabrics are made on Nihon Menpu looms. When I visited Japan with Suzuki-San I had the pleasure of visiting this mill and seeing all their old selvage looms and machinery. Truly a privelege!

Super narrow selvage wallet (also works great as an Iphone caddy!)

Nihon Menpu had several racks overflowing with fabric headers and a table showcasing some of the latest and greatest items. Having been to the mill and visited them at the last Japanese Fabric showcase, I had seen much of their selection before. However, with such a bounty of gorgeous fabrics, each one more intensely beautiful than the next, I always feel like a kid in a candy store looking through their line. They are masters of beautiful selvage fabrics, especially when it comes to heavier weights, loose and irregular weaves, neppy surfaces, and natural dye stuffs. They also offer wide goods that are just as rich and full of character as their selvages. From the below brochure, you can see the products they are known for and continue to market:

With fabrics like these… the quality speaks for itself.

Raw Japanese goodness (not sashimi)

Gorgeous selvages, note the subtle neps

More beautiful neppiness

Green cast indigos.. looks similar to the special Kapital denim

A bit of washed down denim with subtle variance in warp yarn shades...

My pictures surely don’t do these textiles justice. If you have a chance to see them and especially if you can afford to use their fabrics in your line… definitely seek them out. A few more random snaps of more unique items....

Colored denims, Hick'ry stripe, novelties...

I think I spied this at Okura, in Daikanyama, on an indigo robe a while back...

After drooling over sample after sample of indigo artistry and lamenting that I can’t use any of their fabrics…. I bid a fond farewell and sayonara until next time.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Lynn Downey in New York

East coasters will at long last get a chance to see some important Levi's archive pieces in person. This Saturday, October 11th, Lynn Downey herself will be present to show rare garments like the oldest 501 jeans in the world, pictured above. This pair of "XX" is dated to be from circa 1879. You will have the opportunity to ask all the burning questions and get the official word from Levi's in-house historian who has dedicated a large part of her life to understanding and documenting the company's history.

The event will be held from 2-6PM at Barney's CO-OP in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and is meant to unveil the new Premium 501. You can expect to geek out on denim history, check out some archive pieces, and score some free t-shirts.

Barneys CO-OP Chelsea
236 West 18th Street
New York, NY 10011

See you there!

Photograph courtesy of Levi Strauss & Co.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

LaLa Land Dispatch:
Japanese Denim Showcase – Sept 30 – Oct 2

DenimTech Laundry - Vernon, CA – For a few days last week, beneath an unassuming wrapper of industrial concrete, Japanese trading group Mitsui was invited to showcase some of the most fantastic textile goods ever to grace this indigo aficionado’s eyes. A parade of denim’s best and brightest passed through the Denim Tech offices to sample this divine product.

On the miraculously hot afternoon of September 30th, I made my way over to DenimTech. Beneath a scorching smoggy greenhouse gas dome just south of Downtown Los Angeles, Denim Tech Laundry lies smack dab in the middle of the glorious city of Vernon. Close neighbors to such illustrious tenants such as “Forever XXI” and Farmer John Pork products. DenimTech is a joint venture by Mr. Shinzo Suzuki (formerly of uber-laundry Caitac) and Matsuoka, a leading Japanese apparel manufacturer that fabricates much of Uniqlo’s quality goods.

For some time Suzuki-San has presented these showcases in the interest of connecting American designers and companies with purveyors of amazing Japanese textiles. I recall one event several years back when he organized a large event of many mills and trading companies including Nisshinbo, Kuroki, and Kaihara (if memory serves). While the scope of the presentation has become smaller and more intimate, the quality and selection is no less impressive. This time around he has have chosen to focus on two of my favorite fabric mills on earth, Kaihara and Nihon Menpu.

After the lovely DenimTech receptionist mercilessly butchers my name, I take a seat and prepare myself… lazily admiring the wear patterns on my Nihon Menpu selvage denim jeans.

First up I was ushered in to visit with Nakano-San from Kaihara. Kaihara is an amazingly modern, top of the line mill with roots firmly embedded in the history of Japan’s Textile industry. Originally established to create traditional indigo textiles, especially Kasuri cloth, in the early 20th century, they began making denim in Japan sometime after WWII, when the demand for surplus and vintage American jeans became so great that enterprising Japanese businessmen realized the need for indigenous denim cloth and brands. Today they are the largest denim mill in Japan and supply many of its domestic manufacturers, like Edwin, with much of their fantastic goods. With proper research and fact checking, I may write up something a bit more extensive down the line…

Kaihara is well known for its quality, consistency, and exceptionally rich indigo shades. If you stare at enough fabric samples of denim like I do (hundreds and hundreds every season), you begin to really appreciate the subtlety of how good or bad the execution of indigo dyeing can be. Kaihara is one of those mills that has something of a magical formula and some serious gurus on their dye range that consistently turn out gorgeous indigo creations.

In the Kaihara room, two double decker rolling racks chock full of fabric headers greeted my eyes. Along the wall they had two immense patchwork fabric blankets draped from the ceiling and collecting in blue folds on the floor. The fabric blankets, one raw and one sanded and enzymed, showcased the great variety of weights, shades, constructions, and character in their denim selections.

In addition to the perpetually wonderful selection of classic rich indigo wide denims and selvages, Kaihara had some interesting new things worth mentioning. They had some really nice lighter shades of indigo achieved through fewer dips on the dye range rather than extended washing. These were developed specifically with the USA market in mind and I think could be great for the 70’s retro vibe we’ve been seeing in brands like Dittos and Current Elliot. These lighter sky blues make a nice alternative to deep dark indigos that have been so prevalent these past few years. But, of course you don’t get the intense chip off and high/low you will see on your raw 14oz pure indigo super dark goods. Nakano-San feels this lighter denim trend will be big in Japan for coming seasons.

Another really interesting product I saw was a cotton/rayocell blend denim in a very light (circa 8oz) 2x1 construction. This rayocell is a similar fiber to rayon and tencel, being made from cellulose fibers processed down into a yarn that is soft and has a great sheen to it. Further they referenced its low impact ecological process that uses a recycling system to utilize the same water over and over again during processing.

In perusing the racks I also found some really interesting hidden gems.

Colored Weft denim (Red and Green Pictured). They also had Yellow.

As with much of the industry in the past couple years, Kaihara was showing many organic fabrics and more eco-friendly products. However, they were saying that the demand for organic products has been steadily decreasing and they wonder if the trend may be on its way out. This desire for organic, eco-friendly, sustainable, and similar marketing monikers to attached to denim, seems to be relegated to America and Europe. Japanese and other Asian customers apparently aren’t willing to pay the extra money for this type of product. With the economy in freefall, I wonder how much longer Americans will buy into this trend as well?

Lastly, no surprise, business is down. The depressed dollar to yen exchange rate is also making importing Japanese goods all the more costly.

To be continued...

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Enter Kairo

It is with unprecedented enthusiasm that I introduce Kairo. He is the correspondent that Denim News has chosen after months of shortlisting candidates. We share a passion for denim, studying its intricacies, and broadening our collective understanding of it. With him as a contributor of articles and curator of news items we can expect to see many exciting and enlightening stories.

Welcome Kairo!