Jeans from Japan – A History of the World’s Best Denim

Jeans were originally designed as workwear for laborers on the farms and mines of America’s Western states in the late 19th Century; they proved extremely durable and became the garment of choice for the working class. After World War II jeans became a symbol of youth rebellion: American culture and vintage clothing quickly became a fascination, especially among Japanese youth.

Denim from Japan has a reputation among enthusiasts for being the best in the world and for good reason: it is known for its premium construction and the skilled, artisanal craft required to make it.

The main reason why Japanese denim has become so renowned is for perfecting these two defining qualities: being woven on old looms to produce selvage fabric and using just natural dye.

Jeans in Japan were mainly produced at Kurabo Mills, one of the world’s longest operating mills, with the use of Toyoda machines. The company was founded in 1926 as “Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd.” by Sakichi Toyoda (on the left picture) and soon became very successful in the textile field for its numerous innovations and improvements that lead to an increase in productivity.

Selvage fabric is the natural end of a roll of fabric which – when made into a pair of jeans – prevents unraveling of the material. Producing selvage denim is more expensive since it can only be woven at a width of 31″ and is woven on old looms requiring more skill and adaptness.

Natural dye is another reason why Japanese denim is significantly better than others. It contains many impurities and it is way more expensive than most synthetic dyes used nowadays. This way each pair of jeans has a distinctive composition that only becomes more special over time. The first wash creates the characteristic fades and creases unique to each wearer.

Some examples of Japanese brands producing luxury denim are:

  • Big JohnPioneers of Japanese Denim, they started their business over 70 years ago as a small sewing factory in Kojima, known today as the denim capital of Japan. With Japanese design, Japanese fabric and Japanese production as core elements they “continue to pursue uncompromised quality and distinguished style in each piece of clothing.”
  • Evisu Genes – founded by Hidehiko Yamane, who was one of the first on the premium denim scene. Originally done as an homage to Levi’s classic 501, the brand took off and gained him a cult following among those in the streetwear scene. Evisu quickly earned the reputation for being the best in denim and was the first brand able to sell each pair for over $100.
  • Momotaro Jeans considered the pinnacle of denim artistry: priced at roughly $2000, each pair is made entirely by hand and dyed using indigo from the indigofera tinctoria plant. The denim takes up to 8 hours for every 3 feet of material; it can take up to a year to produce just one pair. The fastening button is made of silver and silk lines the back of each pair. Once finished, jeans are washed in Seto Sea water.
Years of tradition, training, craft, and skills are involved in the process of creation.

Elie Saab and the Lebanese Republic

Elie Saab is a Lebanese fashion designer and, as many others do, he loves taking inspiration from his fatherland.
For his Spring 2007 couture show he based his collection on “the colors of dawn over Beirut” and his compatriots’ ability “to make beautiful things in the face of adversity.”

Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, is the smallest recognized country on the entire mainland Asian continent. Because of its location between the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland, it is characterized by a diverse population – composed of different ethnicities and religions.

Being taken as an inspiration for the Spring 2007 collection is not a chance: indeed the country had recently come out from the Lebanon War, a 34-day military conflict (started in July 2006) between Hezbollah Paramilitary Forces and the Israel Defense Forces. The fight ended in September: presenting the relative fashion show in January was a way for Mr Saab to refuse any setback.

 

The show was mainly composed by evening dresses having different lenghts and shapes, but all very feminine and sensual. Big volumes, soft shapes and embellishments characterized this collection.
The most relevant colours were white, black, lilac, turquoise, gold and silver but all in very light shades. The materials used were semi-transparent and fluffy alongside shiny and embroidered ones. Crystals, bows and rouches are used to finish the look.

As declared on Vogue runway, the designer was still learning: indeed this was one of his first collections, however it was very appreciated by the public.

Nowadays the brand is well known worlwide and its garments are frequently worn by celebrities.
His main workshop is in Lebanon, with additional workshops in Italy (Milan and Paris). The first atelier, which was founded in the early 1980s, specialized in Bridal Couture that is still very successful.