Friday, August 28, 2009

Billiken Man Jeans

The Billiken Man jeans is a beautifully constructed garment. Everything from the beltloops to the button fly facing to the waistband are on point and super playful. The people behind the brand are obsessed with sewing details and offer the mind boggling "triangle" or "three point" chainstitches overlock stitches found on the leg seams, pocketing, and throughout the jeans. As they put it the goal was the "recreation of interlock sewing machines to produce the union special stitches which was considered impossible before." Did they hack their sewing machines?

In line with many Japanese business and craftsman practices they took two American icons, the Billiken Man and jeans, and applied such unique twists and enhancements that the end result is something that reflects pure Japanese artistry. And obsession.

If you have not heard of the Billiken Man you are probably not alone. A quick Google search shows that it was once a popular American pop culture icon that even had popular songs singing its praise. The original Billiken was designed by artist Florence Pretz as a symbol that evoked good luck. Pretz allegedly saw the figure in a dream who told her that good luck can be had by rubbing his feet. It is further believed that Billiken is the namesake of President William Howard Taft. The "ken" part of Billiken is likely a bastardization of the word Can in "Billy Can" as in there are those Billys who can and those Billys who can't. Billiken then is obviously meant to inspire the "can do" attitude that helps a nation get through difficult times.

The Billiken license was eventually picked up by Horsman Dolls, Inc., the American toy company that marketed the Teddy Bear named after President Theodore Roosevelt. Today the Japanese have incorporated the Billiken man into their cast of deities. If you visit the Tsutenkaku tower in Osaka you will find a statue of the Billiken enshrined there.

The makers of these jeans have invoked the good spirit of Billiken to create a jean full of playful details. The orange thread used throughout the jeans are reminiscent of Billiken's hair color and the wavy back pocket stitching reflects the overall features of the smiling, seated character. The company proclaims the jeans "will assure you of the lively and optimistic lifestyles in this challenging moment in our history."

The stitching that appears to be a bartack is actually a zigzag stitch.

If you are ever in need of a shot of luck just rub the Billiken Man's feet wherever you are.

The button holes are beautifully executed with a hand-tied-tail look and a stitch that changes pitch towards the curve.

Billiken Man Website

Monday, August 17, 2009

Continuous Fly

A rather obscure construction detail that is not commonly used is the continuous fly. There are relatively few new jeans that uses this. Certain models of Warehouse Duck Digger and Rising Sun & Co. come to mind (the former uses a selvage continuous fly while the latter's Blacksmith jean does not).

Below is a clipped image from the United States patent granted to David Neustadter on October 30, 1877. It is widely known that the Neustadter Brothers in San Francisco manufactured the "Boss of the Road" overalls. His intention was to patent a fly construction method for overalls that was stronger without necessarily adding bulk.

Because the fly piece itself does not have seams (held by cotton threads) that can rip it is considered to be stronger. On most modern jeans your "first line of defense" is usually the stitches that rise from the crotch seam, which are generally strong enough to obviate the need for a continuous fly construction. But as a denim nerd you may want at least one pair of jeans with continuous fly for bragging rights. If you are interested enough you may want that pair to be a vintage Boss of the Road.

Below print is from the the July 21, 1899 issue of the Victoria Government Gazette, which printed various legal notifications and publicly declared trade mark and patent applications in Victoria (Australia). As you can see Boss of the Road's marketing images proudly indicate "with patented continuous fly."

Victoria Government Gazette

Friday, August 07, 2009

Momotaro Hand Loom

Below is a YouTube video of the hand loom in the Momotaro store in Japan. It would be amazing to see in person and study how all the mechanisms work. The store weaver moves the harnesses (by foot?), beats in the fill yarn, pulls a string system to shoot the shuttle back and forth, and pumps a lever to roll up the greige cloth. Is this a model of the 1890 Sakichi Toyoda patented wooden hand looms?

In the states you can buy Momotaro jeans at Blue in Green in NYC.

Special thanks to Roy Slaper of Oakland, CA for linking me to this video.

Momotaro Jeans Website

Blue in Green Website

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Samuel Styles Blue Blood

Our good friend Samuel de Goede checks in from Amsterdamn where he just styled the B.B. for Blue Blood runway show for Amsterdam International Fashion Week. He plays down the responsibility he had of getting all the looks right and says, "Did things like exchanging the buttons on the jackets for bone ones, adding leather elbow patches. That kind of subtle stuff, but fun!" Good job Samuel!

Blue Blood Website

Sunday, August 02, 2009


When Jacob W. Davis patented the use of rivets on pants to secure seams from ripping in 1873 he may have opened the flood gates to a barrage of patent filings that aspire to offer similar improvements to workwear. The most curious of these patents awarded was filed by Cheang Quan Wo in late 1874 in San Francisco. It is important to note Levi Strauss's business was and is headquartered in San Francisco.

The drawing accompanying the application shows a man with the front part of his head shaven and the back part tied into a long ponytail to indicate he was a Han Chinese. He would have kept his hair this way so as to be able to return home to China where people of Han ancestry were required by law to wear their hair in a queue.

He is shown wearing suspender waist overalls with pocket openings reinforced with additional material and stitching. The New York Public Library (Mid-Manhattan Library), which catalogs a physical print of the drawing (marked Apr. 24, 1875) suggests the wooden tub behind the subject as a wash tub although I wonder if we can rule out the possibility of it being a rice bucket.

Also of interest in the specific reference to previously proposed methods of seams reinforcements on pants in the section of the application where applicants usually address similar intellectual properties. Wo writes, perhaps through the attorney who filed the patent application, "I am aware that seams have been re-enforced by sewing over them separate and independent pieces to prevent ripping, but this is not my invention. By my device the re-enforcing lap, instead of being a separate and independent piece of goods sewed to the garment, is a part and parcel of the body of the garment, and cut in one piece with it, thus not only avoiding the necessity of a separate re-enforcing piece, but also avoiding one seam, which would be necessary to secure a gusset as usually cut."

In the coming days I will explore various patents related to improvements in workwear and perhaps even attempt to answer if Jacob Davis sparked an intellectual property protection trend in workwear well before jeans became fashion.