The Culture of Culture: Denim Through and Through
Once again I've been lucky enough to have a short feature in the third instalment of the HUMAN Magazine. If you've been following along with my previous Instagram content, I've shared links to Issue 1: The Power of Advocacy & Issue 2: What purpose is purpose (sustainability)
Issue 3 is all about The Culture of Culture. It sounds a little bit strange when you put it like that, but you may ask yourself, what is the culture of culture and what does it mean.
Well, as always, I like to keep things simple and interpret them in my own way.
Seeming as The Brute Supply is all about the harder wearing things in life, with a focus on menswear, style and the one thing we have come to know as blue gold, aka Denim, I thought it would only be right to take it back a few years and discuss how denim became such a strong figure in the world of...well, I guess the world of the world.
I recently embarked on an indigo fuelled adventure with Mohsin Sajid (Founder & Creative Director of Endrime) and the Denim History Masterclass. It was a full 3 days of denim talk, an incredibly insightful history lesson (inspiration for this Human Mag entry) and I managed to craft my own pair of 13.5oz Japanese Selvedge Denim Jeans.
Let’s hone in on the one thing we can all relate to, the blue jean. From greasers of the 1950s, hippies of the 1970s, punks of the 1980s, and the countless groups of bikers from over the years, there are countless subculture styles that have worn jeans whilst resisting authority and defining cool.
So how did we get to where we are today…
In 1873 Jewish Bavarian imigrant Levi Strauss (&co) invented blue jeans, a hard-wearing riveted trouser for male labourers, miners and horse wranglers. We should probably thank the great Gold Rush for bringing the beloved fabric into the world of work, or even the woman who commissioned Levi and Davis to make a pair of custom pants for her oversized husband. Talking of Davis, Jacob Davis that is, he always seems second to Levi. Although, we can’t ever forget the man who jumped started the whole riveted pant sensation. He really is the undercover hero of the story, if it wasn’t for him partnering Levi and patenting the riveted trouser, then I don’t think Levi’s would be what it is today.
The reason for jeans success has much to do with their cultural meaning and robust construction. A strong cotton twill made to last, reinforced with rivets and or bartacks, indigo ring-dyed and crafted with functionality first in mind.
When you think of cool there are a staple few gents that spring to mind, McQueen, Brando, Dean, Newman, Eastwood, Cobain. Now this is culture in a nutshell, these dudes influenced a large proportion of men today. Blue jeans was and still is a symbolic representation of the first bunch of gents that wore it bloody well.
There’s also the brand side to denim culture, this kickstarted who specific sub-cultures would identify with when purchasing different brands (Levis, Wrangler, and Lee). The big three moulded their brands around workwear in the USA. This was way before blue jeans were seen as a sign of rebellion. The king of cool and other familiar faces were the ones that really did the selling.
(It’s almost as if subconscious influencer marketing hit peak performance many years ago. When it comes to brands such as Levis, it’s safe to say their foundations have set them up for who they are today)
We can’t forget the one women who wore blue best, Monroe changed hearts and minds when she wore a pair of Levi’s in Clash by Night (1952) and later in The Misfits (1961). Levi’s blue jeans became a symbol of power and strength for women in that day and age. In 1934 Levi’s constructed their first denim jeans for women, The Lady Levi's - they didn't arrive until an astonishing 61 years after the men’s.
Let’s cut to the chase here, denim is a symbol for many reasons and has played a part in human history since the beginning of its production. Miners to McQueen is how I like to put it, yet there’s a whole lot of history and heritage to delve into. There are some awesome books that cover pretty much everything from the start to finish, namely Denim Hunters: Blue Blooded.
One of my favourite brands to date, BDD (Benzak Denim Developers) have a slogan that resonates with me through to the core
‘the modern-day cowboy”
So why the modern day cowboy. Back in the day, Cowboys were seen as real life heroes (I’m talking Old Westerns here) when you think Cowboy, you think rebellious, cool, gives no Fu*ks and lives by their own rules. BDD carry this ethos through their brand values and features of their products.
That’s how denim, or should I say jeans kinda makes me feel. Not necessarily like a cowboy, but it definitely adds a layer of comfort in the way I look and feel.
It’s amazing to think that denim dates back even further than the blue jean. It just goes to show, culture is a main driver in sometimes the most simple of things, especially when we’re talking about the long lasting brands. It’s almost as if denim has incepted itself into everyones lives, starting off as a simple working man’s garment, and continuously being promoted through the ranks of the social-sphere into what it is today.
To be honest, we could sit here all day and go through the ins-n-outs of of who wore it best back in the day. Jumping ahead to the last 30/40 years we’ve seen a lot change in the denim world. We’ve gone from the days of only raw selvedge denim, to commercialised weaker forms of denim.
I’m not going to delve too deep into what I personally believe denim is, and what it isn’t, but what I can tell you is that the majority of “denim”wearers today are not buying the long lasting kind of jeans, jackets, shirts and accessories. The fast fashion industry might be winning as we speak, but in the long run, things will have to rapidly change.
“Denim is a lifestyle…well, high quality denim is a lifestyle”
As we’re talking culture of culture, It’s only right we quickly explore the Japanese side of the denim world. You can read endless amounts of articles about Japans relationship with denim, and you’ll probably end up with the same conclusion. When it comes to weaving the beloved fabric, constructing a jean, jacket or pretty much anything from denim, the Japanese absolutely nail it.
The history of Japan and denim isn’t as nearly as long as America, yet they are known for premium construction and artisanal craftsmanship. After the Second World War denim made its way to Japan after the American occupation. Although denim in the form of the blue jean was a phenomenon in the States, the Japanese had a different plans for when they got hold of the fabric.
From a style perspective, the Japanese youth welcomed the American culture in with open arms. Jeans become a symbol of rebellion, exotic culture and next-gen cool, once again due to the influence of the American stars mentioned earlier on in this article. (James Dean, Steve McQueen, Brando etc) Japanese retailers began importing new pairs of Levi's and Lee jeans, this almost backfired as it was seen as black market culture, and wearing denim was associated with being an ‘Outlaw’. This all happened during the the time of “pre-washed soft denim” taking primary position in the hearts and minds of denim wearers.
There is so much history with a million ins-n-outs of how denim came about in Japan. It’s mind-blowing even when scratching the surface, yet a bit of a pity that I can’t delve intro more detail around the subject matter. (It should almost become a zine in itself)
Kojima in Okayama, Japan, famous for textile weaving and dyeing traditions. Kurabo Mills, one of the world’s longest operating mills (116 yrs) produced one of Japans first ever pair of jeans. The fabric was produced on Toyoda Shuttle Looms (pictured), and constructed from American-made denim (April 1965) under the Canton Brand by Maruo Clothing. In 67, BIG JOHN jeans were finally produced, these were made from Cone Mills Denim. (Yup thats right, if you know the history of Levi’s then you’ll know that is the same denim used to produce original Levi’s).
In 1972, after about 8 attempts, Kurabo finally managed to produce Japan’s first ever selvage denim aptly titled the KD-8, for Kurabo Denim 8. To this very day, the Japanese have completely out-done the Americans when it comes to the production of denim. Some of my favourite brands that I am yet to own are made from Japanese selvedge denim. I managed to get a few shots of some top-notch quality denim from my buddy Mathieu who works for Full Count, in Japan. Full Count are one of the most respected and best denim brands in the world. They are part of the famous Osaka-5. (This maybe kickstarting the fuel for a future blog post)
I could ramble on for hours about denim, and I’m 100% not even near one of the most educated in the field, but I sure am on my way to soaking up more information as my indigo journey goes on. For me the most important aspect of researching, wearing, discovering, styling and creating content around denim/menswear is that I just bloody enjoy it. Finding that one thing that fascinates you and allows you to integrate life, work and hobby in one, really does bring joy to each step of ones personal journey.
To wrap it all up I’d like to leave you with one last thought, or maybe even a fact. Can you ever remember the last time you didn’t see a denim product throughout a day during your life…
That’s all for this entry of The HUMAN Magazine. I’d like to say a massive thanks to the team at Kemosabe for spear-heading The HUMAN Magazine operation, and giving me the opportunity to scribble some words down in the publication each quarter.
Cheers for now