The denim and work wear scene is an umbrella term for a wide and varied range of styles and garments, a niche within a niche, where brands tend to build around a certain style or concept to suit their chosen theme. The same can be said for consumers who have a consistent self image based around the items and styles which they favour. In this series of articles I want to look at the various sub divisions of the denim and work wear scene, examine the concepts in relation to how they effect design and functionality of the garments and discuss some of the exponent brands in each niche. I have purposely chosen motorcycle wear for the first in this series as it is the concept most familiar to me through my work with both Trophy Clothing and Iron Heart. On the surface of things both of these brands seem to share a similar theme, heavily influenced by the respective owners love of motorcycles, but a quick look below the surface will reveal key differences between both companies style.
Firstly it would be remiss of me not to say that I am not a biker, I have owned a motorcycle and it was an American style bike with the classic look of the Harley Davidson, but it flattered to deceive as it was made in Korea and had an engine more in common with a lawn mower than a ground shaking muscle bike from Milwaukee. I loved Harleys and the idea of being a biker so much that I had my HD tattoo done when I was 24, just after I bought the bike, but sadly just a year later my dream was crushed when my wife demanded that I sell the bike in favour of furniture for our newly purchased marital home, I guess she figured that a couch was more important than a bike..not sure I agree.
It was undoubtedly this biker style which first drew me to Iron Heart as a brand, and no coincidence that the owner, Shinichi Haraki, is a Harley riding biker who loves motorcycles just as much as he does denim. Haraki designs Iron Heart clothing with bikers in mind, this is evident in a number of design features across the whole range from jeans to shirts and jackets. The thing for which Iron Heart is most famed is its super tough, super durable heavyweight denim which serves as fantastic protection for bikers who are unfortunate enough to take a spill on the tarmac, other features which are decidedly biker oriented are the sleeve and body length of many Iron Heart shirts which are designed with a little extra length to be worn in the riding position and the bi-swing shoulder of the denim rider jacket for ease of movement when riding. It is not only in design where Haraki San considers the needs of his core customer base, there is tendency in many (not all) of the Iron Heart garments to use wind resistant materials, again for the comfort of the rider. Haraki is favours Harleys, his bikes are big, loud and made for distance riding in comfort, the epitome of American nomadic biker heritage.
Not all American bikes come from Milwaukee, Indian bikes come from Massachusetts and are an entirely different animal and one favoured by Trophy Clothing owner Masaki Egawa. Egawa San rides a vintage Indian Scout, and where the Harley is comfortable, dependable and tough, the Indian is precise, ornate almost and has an entirely different feel. Just as Haraki filters the passion for his bike into his designs, so does Egawa and where Iron Heart is tough and almost utilitarian, Trophy is specific, exact and meticulously detailed with an appeal which is perhaps much narrower in scope than the rugged and modern Iron Heart. In a sense they appear to be biker inspired clothing from different periods in time, and it is clear that Trophy draw much more on vintage influences than Iron Heart, who themselves have created a repeatable range of classics mixed with some experimental new denims and interpretations of classic pieces. Trophy look for details to differentiate, such as the floating pocket on shirts which was originally designed so that a mechanic could lean over an engine without losing the contents of his shirt pocket, to my knowledge nobody else does this.
The motorcycle element of the denim and work wear scene is the prime example of finding difference in similarity, and these are not the only two brands influenced by motorcycle culture. There is a part of the Samurai Jeans line up which is influenced by more modern Japanese motorcycles, whereas brands such as Sugarcane have produced parkas favoured by the mod scooter craze of the 1950’s. The variances in one particular style, some subtle and some not so, are part of what makes the quality denim and work wear scene so intriguing and this is just one particular facet with more still to come.