Samurai Armour

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There is something a bit special about Samurai jeans, for me personally it is where I first jumped into quality Japanese denim with a pair of 710XX and continued into the first Heavyweight Denim Championship with some 21oz S5000VX. Samurai always seem to go the extra mile with detailing that makes receiving a new pair of their jeans something of an event for a denim nerd, so when I received an unexpected little bonus in my wages a few weeks ago I decided that it might be time to revisit my first love for something a little special.

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I have spent much of the last few years wearing Iron Heart jeans almost exclusively, and my affection for that brand is extremely well documented, but Iron Heart and Samurai have (at least in the mind of many denim fans) been diametrically opposed in terms of what they offer and what they represent, they are the yin and yang of denim and many are fiercely loyal to one or the other, it shouldn’t be this way. So great are the differences between the brands that there is easily room for both in every denim heads wardrobe, it is true that both brands operate mainly at the heavier end of the denim curve but that is where similarities end. One is famed for its ridiculously over engineered and durable construction and materials, whilst the other is fondly loved for the detail and variety of its denim, though it is only fair to point out that Iron Heart have now closed this gap somewhat with some fascinating denim alchemy of their own.

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Back on track and it seemed high time to me that I go back to Samurai and rekindle the feeling which first brought me into this scene, by ordering a new pair of Samurai jeans, but not just any pair. A phrase I use often is “if you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly” (taken from 80’s race movie “The Cannonball Run”), so my reunification with Samurai could not come through a pair of their more regular jeans, it had to be something extra ordinary. At first I bought the S710OG, organic cotton jeans, but the sizing didn’t work as I expected and I moved them on, so I decided to look for my “white whale” in terms of Samurai jeans, which had eluded me when first released in 2013 but of which I now found the last remaining pair sitting in the stock room of Japanese retailer 2nd, the 15th Anniversary 25oz S5000VX, and quite a pair of jeans they are.

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The S5000 cut is one with which I am intimately familiar and one which I think works very well for me, it is a midrise, slightly slimmed straight cut with a slight and gradual taper (13” thigh, 10” knee, 9” hem), I had worn the 21oz almost exclusively for 2 years but the 25oz looked like a whole different challenge, and so it proved to be. I will go deeper into this in a future article comparing the 25oz denim of Samurai and Iron Heart, suffice to say that this is the first denim I have worn which actually hurt me due to its rough texture, luckily that feeling passed in little over a week, and apart from this minor pain and discomfort everything else is rather good.

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Beginning at the top and working our way to the bottom of the jeans let’s take a look at the details of the jeans. The top block of these jeans is where much of the action is, from the specially carved extremely thick anniversary leather patch, different to the normal printed deerskin patch of standard Samurai jeans, to the gold lettered back pocket tag, to the 15th anniversary pocket lining tag and ending with the almost ridiculous gold buttons, this jean feels like something totally special and has the features to look the part too.

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Moving onto the denim it is necessary that I point out that its raw weight is 25oz, it’s soaked weight (and therefore its worn weight) is actually somewhere around 27oz, making this a pair of seriously heavy jeans. The denim certainly has heft and weight to it, but it somehow doesn’t feel as meaty as the Iron Heart 25oz, which is definitely softer and more immediately comfortable, but it is surprisingly very breathable even after a soak which makes it quite a versatile denim when it has softened up. The colour begins as a very dark shade of indigo which is common to most Samurai jeans, this is achieved by forcing the maximum amount of dye into each fibre, without penetrating the core so the material will still fade quite easily and, theoretically, with high contrast. Mine are beginning to show flashes of electric blue is high friction areas after only 10 days, which is certainly encouraging. Other details of note include the silver woven selvedge, the pure white bleached cotton weft and the two colour constructional stitching meaning the inseam is sewn with an orange/ copper thread, whilst the hem is finished with a muted gold colour.

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I make no bones about the fact that these jeans were a vanity purchase, bought specifically because their details and special nature appealed to me in a cut which I find flattering and comfortable. As many who know me will attest I am a confirmed “cuffer” of jeans, but some pronounced is the puckering effect on these that I have felt inspired to do something a different, so for these jeans I will wear them uncuffed to their full 35” inseam in order to see if I can stack a denim this heavy, just a little inspiration which can be derived from buying jeans which make to feel “special”.

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Denim Contests – All About The Fades

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I struggled to know where to put this piece, it is related to the upcoming Denim World Championships but I feel that the comment deserves to be more broad. Also, I don’t want anyone to think that I am trying to unduly influence any way that the contest will be judged, this is solely about my personal opinion, I am not a judge in any contest.

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A point which has often been lost in the HWDC contests, and one in which I truly believe, is that the art of winning a denim contest should not come down to who can destroy their jeans first. Over the last couple of contests there has been a clamour of early excitement for jeans which have been shredded by their wearers everyday lives, which is great, honest and definitely within the spirit of the contest and the purpose of the garment but honestly it’s just not my taste.

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Personally I prefer something a little more subtle, the various hues of blue, the definition of roping rather than pure white denim with gaping holes and large oil stains. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m against any type of faded aesthetic on the whole, I’m not, I would just like to see a little love for jeans with a little more understated wear. The variation of lifestyles of competitors shows in the wear of our jeans, and if an office worker, a retail worker or someone who doesn’t enjoy a raft of outdoors or handy craft hobbies is ever going to stand a chance in a denim contest then there needs to be a little more appreciation for the delicate and the low key, rather than just the blatant and excessive.

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I have personally always enjoyed the discreet details of my own jeans through wear, my favourite stage of wear being a few months in when the electric blue starts coming through the top weave en masse. I love to see roping develop on a hem, a partially faded belt loop, the way that the denim fades more above my right pocket through me getting to my keys and loose change every day, these are the important things to me which are sadly (in my opinion) overlooked by many. To use a movie analogy, some people love the Transformers movies as they are big, loud and take little thought to appreciate or digest, I would prefer to watch The Big Lebowski because each time I watch it I spot a small detail that I have never noticed before.

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I have a quiet fear that sometimes people lose heart in a denim contest when they see the epic high contrast combs achieved by some in a relatively short space of time, perhaps feeling that they won’t be able to achieve anything close to that so what is the point in continuing. I would like to see that corrected in some way, it crossed my mind that for the DWC we should have forgotten about the weight classes and instead allowed people to separate themselves by lifestyle or activity level, or some other way for the more relaxed wearer to have their day in the sun. Maybe that’s going to be something for future, for now I’ll keep championing the cause of subtlety over shock and awe.

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Sauce Zhan Custom Review by b_F

Discerning denim aficionado beautiful_Freak lays hands on Sauce Zhan denim, made in China, and gives it some serious scrutiny to see how it measures up against the best in the business.

I really had a hard time to decide how to write this review. Sauce Zhan offers besides regular models also an option for custom jeans. And I took this option of a custom pair of jeans. Specifying the denim he should use, the details and even gave him “instructions” regarding the cut.

I wanted Evisu-like details that would be two-tone stitching, offset belt loops and a crotch rivet (yeah I like that quirky detail). I referred to his model 313XX for which the Evisu #2000 No.1 already acted as a model. For the denim, I also wanted the denim he used for his 313XX as the fading samples where exactly my cup of tea. That fabric was gone so he used a different one and told me so. No biggie since he said the denim would be comparable.

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For the fit, I gave him measurements of Ooe Yofukuten’s 02 cut (’66 inspired). Yes, I really lack in own creativity…

When I finally received the package (due to problems in transferring the money to China, thankfully solved by Gavin) I opened it, took the jeans out of it, held those jeans in my hand and…had something distinctly different in my hands. First thing I noticed, no crotch rivet. Two-tone stitching? Yes, but not everywhere I would have expected it. And the fit? Well, noticeably slimmer just by the look of it. And a much lower rise. But the denim felt nice!

So, to sum it up, I got a pair of jeans with not entirely matching details, a different fit than ordered but nice denim.

A review from the standpoint of “Denim Customization” (as he stamps it on his pocket bags) would leave Sauce Zhan with a rating that would leave much to be desired. Maybe 3/10 or 4/10.

But this wouldn’t do Sauce Zhan or his craftsmanship justice! That is why I will review the pants I received as objective as I can.

Fit:

One of the most important things in a pair of jeans is the fit. If the fit isn’t right you will never be happy wearing the jeans no matter how nice the denim and details are.

Although the cut is quite different to what I specified, I really like the fit! This pair features mid to mid/low rise, generous top block with a prominent taper that results in quite a modern silhouette. Advantage of the lower rise: the jeans sit below my belly on my hips. Still high enough so I don’t show a plumber’s crack. The thigh&top block allow for a comfortable fit and movement without restrictions and thanks to the taper you get a slim fit.

In the end I would say I like this modern fit better than I might have liked the fit I asked for…

Fabric:

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This is where Sauce Zhan definitely wins. He used a 14,5 oz denim made of XinJiang cotton and woven in the south of China. It is an unsanforized denim according to Sauce Zhan and also my friend Gavin says it is a loomstate fabric. I’d like disagree on the loomstate. The fabric has a very flat feel to it, you hardly notice any bumps when you stroke over the fabric although you can see the irregularities in the denim. So maybe the denim got pressed after weaving?

It is a hairy and fluffy denim so it surely hasn’t been singed and since it shrank with a soak the denim should be unsanforized or only partially sanforized. All in all, the feel of the fabric reminds me of Skull Jeans partially sanforized 6×6 denim.

After the soak the fibres/hairs got more prominent and the denim got a rougher feel to it. But still soft to touch.

Details:

Now we are at it. Sauce Zhan doesn’t save on details. He knows what wearers of raw denim like to see and I am sure he got educated by studying the Japanese brands. So I would say let’s start from the top.

Nice buttons with the engraving “International World Jeans” which I already saw used on jeans from smaller Japanese brands. V-stitch next to the top button.

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The copper rivets are engraved with his own lettering. They are from the pointy type you know from your pre-‘60s jeans.

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The hidden rivets are, from Universal.

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Raised belt loops. And raised to a point where it is borderline gimmicky. It looks and feels like he really put a rope in those belt loops like e.g. Ande Whall did some time ago. And since you can feel that something moves inside the belt loops I see my theory confirmed. From my understanding the Japanese brands create this raised effect by just folding the denim while sewing. But the stitching on the belt loops is not entirely even.

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Hidden coin-pocket selvedge without peek-a-boo.

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Two-tone stitching on the front pocket entries and on the fly. But not on the belt loops, yoke stitching or back pockets. So not Evsiu-like.

Chainstitch at the hem which reveals a rather reserved roping after the initial soak. But I am sure it will get better with future washes.

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The jeans come with a beefy leather patch. Honestly, I dislike to thick leather patches and especially on this 14,5oz denim I find it too much. I can understand and accept such thich patches on 20+oz jeans.

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Now we come to the other major aspect of jeans, especially when talk about “Made in China” jeans (because they have that savour): the construction!

First off, I haven’t noticed loose threads or the like. The construction looks and feels solid on first sight. There are however smaller flaws.

The button hole stitching is rather thin/loose. But as long as it holds up there is no need to argue.

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The bartacks at the belt loops are not perfectly executed and a bit skewed. But I think the rope inside the belt loops causes this.

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Like I wrote earlier, the stitching on the belt loops is also not even as you can see above. There is more denim on the right side of the stitching compared to the denim on the left side.

The inseam is constructed in a way I haven’t seen before (or just haven’t noticed). The very obvious double chainstitch. Also a bit skewed.

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So yes, there are some minor flaws but so what? Those jeans are hand-made. The most important thing is that they will hold up against wear and tear and only time will tell. An uneven stitching doesn’t matter as long as the durability is there and the integrity of the jeans isn’t questioned.

So finally, how would I rate Sauce Zhan jeans?

Honestly, the customization part is tricky since there is still the language barrier and I think the outcome of my pair was due to this.

But the fit, denim and construction of the denim is where it needs to be. Because you mustn’t forget the price. I really think they are worth their price and when you buy one of his standard models or a model designed by someone to be produced in great quantities (wink Gavin 😉 ), you will get a product that don’t have to hide against the usual “entry” brands.

Unfortunately, I will wear a different pair of jeans for the next years in the DWC (Denim World Championships) but I am sure Gavin will surely show you that those Sauce Zhan jeans can take some abuse.

Editors note: Unfortunately I won’t be wearing Sauce Zhan for the contest either, as my pair will be mailed around to retailers as a sample.

DHQ Comment – Back To Basics

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There can be no doubt that the denim and work wear scene is growing rapidly, perhaps too rapidly for my comfort but that is another story, with new brands and customers, new denims and innovative design tweaks around every corner it is easy to become dazzled by everything which seems new and shiny. As customers we can now buy raw selvedge denim to fit our budget, which will tick many of the boxes we look for in a quality pair of jeans, from manufacturers based both outside and inside the traditional markets, we can buy from Kickstarter brands, we can buy from more retailers than ever before and choose a denim to suit our very particular style, comfort and climate requirements. We can buy vintage 55 cuts, we can buy super slim tapered cuts, we can even buy glow in the dark denim. This is all very exciting at first, but speaking personally it is just beginning to wear me down a little, the sensory overload of everything new and exciting is conversely making me crave something familiar and dependable, so what does that really mean?

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I am most definitely a creature of habit, and my habits tend to work in cycles, there are times when I want to experience new jeans and shirts from brands and manufacturers I have never tried before with crazy designs and unique stories. Then there are times when I want to wear a pair of five pocket blue jeans with cuffs, a white tee shirt and a chambray work shirt with a well-made pair of boots and just feel happy with myself. This is where I am at the moment.

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This is both a good and a bad thing for me personally, on the one hand it does limit what I can write and talk about here on DHQ as there is only so much I can say about the same shirt, jeans and boots, on the other hand it is perfect timing for this cycle with the DWC looming so close (8 weeks and counting). I am genuinely looking forward to committing myself to the same small number of clothes for a fixed period and thus removing the majority of the thought and effort from my everyday appearance. The thing about limiting my clothing choices for the next 24 months is that whilst many would find it expressively limiting, I find it completely liberating. There is so much to be said for getting out of bed and pulling the same jeans on every day, the same shirt and just adding a jacket and some footwear, especially for someone who spends as much time thinking about, writing about and talking about denim as I do.

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On the 1st of May I will put on my DWC contest jeans and know that they will be my default setting for the next 24 months, shortly after I’ll add a shirt or jacket to the mix, then finally some footwear. I can honestly say that I am looking forward to the comfort that kind of uniformity brings, maybe I should have joined the military?

Defining Popular Subculture

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The phrase “popular subculture” is a contradiction, an oxymoron, how can something become popular enough to enter the mainstream consciousness of society in general and yet still maintain the definitive nuances of a sub culture, such as esoteric terms which only those “in the know” will understand ? There is no denying that denim, particularly raw, selvedge and repro model denim, is currently riding the crest of a wave in popularity which has seen a veritable plethora of new brands and emerging markets. Even more indicative of how accepted these things are in general is the fact that denim, featuring both genuine and false selvedge seams, can now be found on the shelves of almost every high street retailer, and are almost a certainty for any denim made by a more mainstream fashion brand who wishes to show its quality.

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Denim as an interest works in levels, the person buying from the high street may not even notice their selvedge (false or not), just as the guy wearing his Armani jeans may not notice his hidden rivets or carry many thoughts about the cinch back detail, but for the few who do it might lead them to the next level of involvement, and this is where denim blurs the lines between popular fashion and subculture. The divide between mainstream and subculture is reached at the point where the individual begins to care more about what matters to them about a pair of jeans in real terms of detailing, manufacture and ethics of production and supply, rather than approaching a pair of jeans solely from the view of which is the most aesthetically pleasing. Of course we all want our jeans to look great on us, but when that becomes one of a number of considerations rather than the primary focus then you begin to explore what it means to love denim on a geek (or otaku as they say in Japan) level.
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As with any scene or sub culture there are those who embrace every facet and eagerly digest every shred of information available in an effort to become a “scene guru”, those who focus their interest on particular aspects, those whose interest doesn’t run too deeply beyond collecting things associated and finally those who like the idea of the scene but don’t really make any attempt to understand it or acquire any knowledge. Those of us who have an interest in things like certain music, movies, motorcycles will recognise the types and perhaps even acknowledge which stereotype best fits us (I know I have), and probably know your own level of interest and involvement, every subculture has its hierarchy of “nerdiness”, where those with knowledge or positions of power are venerated by the rest.

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On a personal note, my interest has actually diminished from where it was a couple of years ago, which isn’t to say that I no longer have love for denim but is to say that I won’t sacrifice nights out and social time with friends in order to be able to afford a new pair of jeans….I have been there, sitting in my house in my $400 jeans without the money to go out in them, it’s a sad state of affairs. My interest at the moment is to own and wear a small collection of my favourite denims, which fit well and will see me through a good few years of rotated wear, I like certain brands, I like certain details and I think that I have reached a point where I know what works for me and keeps my interest, which is super important when you’re paying so much for jeans.

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There will come a point where denim and work wear is no longer flavour of the month, when high street retailers discard fake selvedge and over embellished military style clothing, when the spotlight of trends moves onto something new and denim is returned back to those who love it, always have and always will. When the popularity is over, it will simply return to being a sub culture, until the next time.

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Fine Lines

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Over the past few weeks I have read with interest quite a few debates on the internet between people discussing “which is the best…..”? The item in question has been everything from a games console, to a laptop, to a smart phone and obviously our favoured subjects of denim and work wear. What strikes me and intrigues me about the sheer amount of these debates, and the passion with which they are argued is that we all have an inherent desire to have the best “thing” available to us. The problem being that, as with all arguments, there comes a point where it becomes irrelevant, where the margins being compared are so infinitesimal as to not matter in the slightest, and that is the most popular kind of argument which the internet produces.

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With particular regards to denim and work wear it is my contention that there is a level reached where something as tangible as quality becomes so intangible that one is indistinguishable from the other except when judged by personal taste or studied to a level of detail so minute as to make no difference. You may feel that the slubby, hairy denim of your Oni’s is preferable to the uniform texture of the Iron Heart 21oz, or you may feel that the over engineered construction on your Iron Heart’s is far more durable that the all-cotton stitch used by Samurai, you may believe that Samurai’s cuts offer more variety and better fits that those offered by Flat Head and so on, in reality this is just opinion and bears no reflection on which is better, they are all simply different.

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Likewise when it comes to boots, a lifelong wearer of White’s might scoff at a pair of Viberg as grossly overpriced , whilst the Viberg wearer will point to the neater edging and finishing. A Wesco wearer will say that their boots offer the best of both worlds with a solid construction and superior leather, whereas a fan of more English style boots would probably say that brands like Trickers and Sargent are the true mark of boot making excellence . The reality being that all are absolutely top level footwear manufacturers who offer pretty much the finest boots you could ever purchase, the slight variations are again down to preference, style and budget.

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Unlike technology, clothing cannot be separated by mere specifications, processor speeds or media compatibility, although the truth in modern society is that technology can be just as much of a personal statement as what we wear. The levels of distinction between brands at the highest level actually serve to remove quality from the argument as a general topic, some may disagree due to a personal negative experience, and moves the subject to the simple question of “what is my preference?”