I think I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese , I really think so…..
So, Ellis here , giving Alex a break from journal keeping. Yes, we have been absent from the internets, but that is only because we have been very busy bees in real time/life. New collection. Bespoke denim jeans. New version of the guide book due out any day AND a new shop interior. Sometimes something has to give and in this case it was this journal. But we are gong to make it up to you in the next week. Stay tuned.
Anyway. I have just returned from a trip to Japan where I went to work with our new collaborator, Japanese Denim master craftsman, Betty Smith. I am so excited by this new collaboration that I find that my fingers on the keyboard cannot keep up with my thoughts, so I am going to break it down into sections of WHAT/WHERE/WHO/WHY – cause I am no writer to equal my Husband so I need to break it up into sections. Plus being a mainly visual person, I have LOTS of pictures!
This is just a side bar, but I landed at Osaka Airport and walked into a Cosplay convention. These lovely ladies gave me a very warm welcome. I felt underdressed. Severely underdressed.
I love this new Flash Gordon/Space hero meme for women that was all over the convention.
We are introducing Bespoke Japanese Denim Jeans here at Moustache ! Our partner in this endeavour is a wonderful 3rd generation family business called Betty Smith. Headed by the the current generation head, Mr. Oshima, this is a factory that was the first denim factory in Japan, founded in Kojima in 1962. Originally, the family made school uniforms. After the Tokyo Olympics, there was an upsurge of interest in Americana, particularly of the denim variety. At that time there was no domestic production of denim jeans in Japan, but in Tokyo there developed a real cult for Levi’s. Once the Japanese started denim production, the result was jeans through a filter of Japanese taste and design. The fit was adapted, the cloth was re-considered and woven in a myriad of ways and no detail was not considered and re-evaluated. Fifty years on, there are well over 100 Japanese jeans brands. So long story short… You come to Moustache, you have the choice of 2 fits, slim or regular cut. You try on the size closest to you, then when you are almost 90% happy, we adjust all the measurements to fit you. Waist, hips, front crotch, back crotch , thigh, knee , hem width, inseam and outseam. Now you choose your denim from the fab range of Japanese selvedge and non selvedge cloth. Betty Smith has the best fabrics. HUNDREDS! remakes of vintage cloths from the archive , black, blue, pale blue, lavender, price of wales, chalk stripe, to name a few… Now you choose the kind of pockets you want, the rivets, the buttons, button fly, zipper, top stitch colour, monogramme. I have not worn jeans for 15 years, but I had a pair made for me in Kojima. An indigo chalk stripe cloth with no rivets, orange stitching and minimal pockets. If you are lucky I will post photos of me wearing them in a future blog post !
The output of the Betty Smith Bespoke Jeans is very limited. They keep production very small and super focused. Every step f production is by hand and individual to the client. A pattern is cut just for you and every step of production is monitored to follow your specifications. Outside of Japan you can only get them in 2 places. Here at Moustache and at Timothy Everest a very cool bespoke tailor we admire in London. In Japan, they are available through a shop in shop of Betty Smith in Isetan and Mitsukoshi Department stores in Tokyo and through special Tailor stores through Japan. So as you can see , it is a very special and unique pair of jeans that you will receive through this process.
Everything at Betty Smith started with a vintage piece of denim. They have a wonderful & informative museum you can visit in the complex that is stuffed with old machines, vintage denim, memorabilia and everything else to satisfy all you denim hounds!
This is the original factory from 1962. Still in use and with the original fragrant wood floor. The most serene factory I have been in and open to the outside as well. It leads out onto the garden I photoed below
A defunct stone washing facility. the white stones in the foreground are the stones used for washing denim and the drums behinds where the jeans were washed. There is a new facility now across the street which has taken the place of this one. Mr Oshima is planning what to do with this very evocative building. I suggested a cafe , no need to do any renovations. just some chairs, tables and an espresso machine…
All over the factory are examples of Betty Smith advertising from over the previous decades such as the posters above. Betty Smith is the red haired freckled girl. The logo of Betty Smith. The name was chosen in 1962 as the Oshima family felt it sounded typically American.
This is the fun bit ! Betty Smith is located in Okayama prefecture which is located about an hour and a half on the Shinkansen bullet train line west of Osaka on the inland sea, It is an old fishing village (now a sizeable town) that is the center of denim manufacturing in Japan. Of which Betty Smith is the pioneer. This area is well worth visiting, not only for the denim history , but because the countryside is beautiful with pine forest mountains that overlook the sea, one wonderful meal after another ( seriously, can you have a bad meal in Japan? I think not), serious devotion to craft in just about everything, from noodles to furniture ( see below) and at the end of the day you get to wash it all off in a late night outdoor onsen under the moon and stars. It was full moon when I was there and to end up the day in hot water outside, over looking the sea is maybe making me wax poetic, so sorry if I am. You would too!
The view from my Hotel. Need I say more? The town below is Kojima. This was also the view from the roof top onsen. Now I really have said too much!
Mr Oshima runs up this mountain every day. At 6am !! What a way to start the day!
The baggage tag from my hotel. It looked like a cruise ship on top of the mountain overlooking Kojima. I couldn’t get a good photo of it from below. I think you need to be out at sea to do that. I kept trying, but this baggage tag really shows it to it’s best vantage. And can we talk about the great graphic design here?!?
I ate in this restaurant one night. It was a converted village house with a beamed gable ceiling which I haven’t captured here, but the colour scheme I think is pretty cool. I had a dish here that was mashed mountain yam with cheese and peppers that was sublime. Oh and the freshest sea urchin that was like salty silky custard. I had seconds and I never eat sea urchin in Hong Kong! Why is food so delicious in Japan? Rhetorical question. I have my theories, please feel free to share yours.
Moustache symbols surface everywhere I go! This was a local coffee shop!
This is the symbol/mascot of the Betty Smith factory. Isn’t she cute
At the entrance of the Betty Smith factory. Don’t mess with Texas, I mean Kojima!
The jeans Museum. You can spend quite a bit of time in here and order some bespoke jeans upstairs if you can’t make it to Moustache!
Love the Americana art everywhere.
This room at the factory is where the visitor can experiment making their own jean. They can stud, rivet age denim, hand paint… a great way to spend an afternoon.
This chair decorating the room above is from a range of hand made furniture. I swooned! I want the chairs, the tables, the sideboards!!!! Check it out here http://g-oldstate.com
The garden at the factory where you can catch a moment between work.
Anyway, this map shows you where everything is in the complex. What is amazing is that Betty Smith wants you to peek into every part of the factory and see all the steps of making their jeans . There are even bikes to ride around on. They are labeled “Museum Shuttle”
Oshima San – the head of Betty Smith and the third generation of this amazing denim producer. I can’t believe after all my days of working together, nights of amazing meals and shared Onsen, I do not have a photo of Mr. Oshima to upload! Well trust me, he is da bomb! He knows his denim and he knows how to live a good life. He starts every day by running up a mountain filled with pine trees above Kojima and believes in a good lunch and dinner. I have eaten the best curry udon noodles I have EVER eaten with him. Why don’t you go to Kojima and explore his Jeans museum and meet him yourself ?
A 1950’s advertising mannequin for Levi’s in the museum. He will have to be my stand in for Mr. Oshima. But they do share the same positive attitude.
There are 2 people that run the bespoke denim operations at Betty Smith . Kashiwa San & Eriko San.
Kashiwa San as well as being the person that makes all our bespoke jeans happen, is also a big science buff and is apparently the author of one of the most popular Japanese science blogs. I wish I could read Japanese and tell you more, but I can’t. But I can tell you that he fitted me for my first jeans in 15 years and he made it a painless and pleasurable experience. He knows his stuff and you are in very safe hands with Kashiwa San looking after your jeans order.
Eriko San . Not only does Eriko San work with Kashiwa San to deliver you the best jeans on earth, but she also has a Bossanova band with 6 members who are all from Kojima. She has a really amazing voice. When she is not working at Betty Smith, she is channeling Copacabana with this amazing voice ( yes, that is her singing). You can listen here below.
Midori San – her indigo dyeing studio is called “Green into Blue”. Next door is her shop selling her wares called “River Clothing”. Learn more about her here http://takashiro.info
MIDORI SAN – Midori San has a studio and shop around the corner from Betty Smith. Her business is all about Indigo . True Indigo. Mr Oshima took me there to help me understand about the true beauty of indigo Dyeing. It truly it s a magical experience. Midori means green in Japanese. And Midori San calls her business “Blue from Green” . I understood why after my induction into indigo dyeing. When you first dip the fabric into the indigo vats, the cloth is green. You massage the cloth in the liquid as if you are making pizza dough , letting it oxidize in the air and returning it to the liquid. Then when you rinse off, this pale beautiful green colour instantly turns the darkest indigo blue. So “Blue from Green”. Really poetic no? And by the way, the blue NEVER runs or bleeds…. How amazing is Midori San’s studio and shop? I want to move in tomorrow, but I think my indigo dyeing skills need some work before she will give me a job.
How beautiful is Midori’s studio. I could live here!
The indigo is housed in floor level ceramic vats. The liquid looks blue, but when you drop the fabric in it only goes a pale green until you rinse it out and then it goes instantly navy! Magic!
Yours truly being indulged into the arts of indigo.
Success !!! – well I was helped a great deal it must be said!
Why not ?!?! – who wouldn’t want a handmade, artisinal pair of jeans made for you, designed by you in the best materials available? Made by a team of people who work every day with a true passion and integrity for denim and craft. People talk a lot about what true luxury means today. If this isn’t the definition of that, I don’t know what is. I am so proud to offer this service at Moustache and to partner with Betty Smith. But enough rambling, come by Aberdeen street and see for your self!