Like most Japanese concepts Wabi Sabi is deceptively simple, yet complex in a way which ensures that the full understanding is left almost ambiguous. By simply Googling the term you will find many definitive descriptions of the concept, each with subtle variations and discrepancies which are hotly contested by those who care enough to debate it. I have read actual essays on the finer points of wabi sabi and had it explained to me by respected Japanese designers and brand owners and I am still not sure that I fully grasp it, but I’ll try to explain it simply and put it in a denim context.
As I understand it wabi sabi is finding beauty in imperfection and impermanence, both of which are closely linked with both Buddhism and the Japanese national animistic religion Shinto, whereby the worship of Kami, or the spirit of “things” is the core principle. The appreciation of imperfection, or what we in the west would perhaps refer to as character is central to appreciating denim, as it evolves through wear it could be said to share the spirit of the owner and become truly unique piece of clothing. Every loss of indigo, every loose stitch, pulled thread, blown crotch or ripped pocket bag is wabi sabi in action, some examples are more blatant, some more subtle, some are widely accepted and actively pursued by denim enthusiasts world wide to achieve the desired aesthetic, some are avoided like the plague and some are appreciated only by those with an eye for details.
What set my mind to this subject something I observed whilst having a beer in my garden last weekend, and it was as simple as the inseam of my Trophy Clothing Dirt Denim Narrow. You see Trophy do something quite clever here, the inseam is double stitched with one row of traditional gold/ orange poly cotton stitching and one row of indigo dyed natural cotton stitching which fades and ages at the same rate as the denim, hence maintaining invisibility. We like to refer to this as ghost stitching, and I find the subtle effect quite amazing.
Possibly the most divisive example of denim wabi sabi is the phone fade. I have read absolute tirades of abuse from people decrying the phone fade, whilst proudly stating that they carry their phone in a leather pouch attached to their belt or put it in their back pocket and remove it every time that they sit down, both of which seem like a lot of artificial effort to avoid natural wear in my opinion. The point of the evolution of jeans is that they take on unique characteristics by being worn daily exactly as you want to wear them, I carry my phone in my front left pocket, always have and always will, and I love the phone fade because it is part of my unique wear pattern.
The leather patch is an oasis of skin in a sea of thread and yarn, it stands out because it evolves so differently from everything else around it and perhaps even more than denim the way in which it is treated will effect its condition. The leather patches on my Trophy jeans are all made from deer skin, one is untreated, one is treated with Huberds Boot Grease and the other is dyed black by the manufacturer. I take great pleasure from looking at the difference which treating leather makes to its aging process both on my boots and on patches.
Slubs and runs in denim, or loom chatter if you prefer gives new denim unique texture, but it is after wear and washes that the true value of these cotton peaks becomes apparent. They serve to add depth of colour and variance to the denim, they wear and break down adding a hairy texture to the surface of the denim which simply cannot be replicated using modern looms.
It is amazing what can be noticed when you really take the time to study your worn denim, if you have a passion for denim then you are doubtless to see quite a few examples of wabi sabi which may make you view your jeans in an entirely different light. I only own four pars of jeans and still find myself spending a disproportionate amount of time gazing at every seam, stitch, crease and rivet to find the hidden beauty in the continuing development of this simple garment.