Ian of Hubb Leather is back on the blog, and a very welcome return it is too!
You might remember the Partner belt featured here around 12 months ago – well made, styled and sized a little bit differently from the usual Americana work belt. Over the past year, however, I’ve really gotten to the thinner 1.2″ width, and have come to accept that a work belt for denim jeans doesn’t necessarily need to be 1.75″ in width.
Ian’s made a very unique, completely customised piece this time – themed for this blog, involving the handwork of three different people. Without too much delay then, let’s take a look at this blacksmith buckle belt!
The strap is cut from a very flexible and fluid tempered vegetable tanned hide, from a tannery in Italy.
The leather measures 4 mm (or 10 oz) thick.
The most striking aspect of this leather, apart from the cool dye job, is its softness and pliability despite a significant thickness.
This leather is much more comfortable and bendable compared with the English and American strap leathers you often see on this blog.
Speaking of the dye job, Ian has been experimenting with non-traditional leather staining, and the stain used for this brilliant blue color on the belt is made by Crimson Guitars (a team of luthiers based in Dorset, England).
The blue is bright, but deep.
The grain of the leather is somewhat masked by the staining process, and the handfeel perhaps has been given a ‘coated’ quality initially, though upon close inspection the pore structure of the grain remains discernible.
Both the grain and feel are likely to continue to change over time, of course, the leather being vegetable tanned.
Styling, Hardware, Details & Construct
The blacksmith buckle belt can be best described as a work-style inspired belt, done in a vintage type 1.25″ width form.
The cut of the strap and the shaping of the tip is very even.
The hand-forged buckle was custom made for Hubb Leather by Philip Kerbs, a blacksmith based in Finland who operates the Lu Folk Crafts smithy.
Not only is the iron forged and shaped expertly, but Philip has applied an interesting coating method using flaxseed oil to give the buckle its dark appearance – a little bit like how you might season a wok?
The buckle itself was designed by Ian, and a very neat buckle it is too. The shape is rectangular, with a rounded front edge and an incomplete back edge.
The buckle is light but sturdy, the iron very solid and yet warm to the hand due to the surface treatment.
Operation is buttery smooth, and the frame of the buckle does not scratch the leather strap at all.
The brass screw – similar to the Marshalsay buckle on the Partner belt previously reviewed – has undergone Ian’s forced oxidation process.
The effect this time achieves a smoother appearance and feel.
Almost like ‘camo’.
The buckle fold is neatly made, with edges trimmed to sharpen the look.
The custom art work is of a shrimp!
This was hand drawn by Ian’s neighbor Mark, an artist.
I’m no art critic, but this is a nice crustacean, and personalizing the belt in this manner is one step beyond the usual realm of custom made work-belts.
Ian and Mark have both signed their signature on the backside of the belt!
Tear drop shaped holes feature, and the holes have been smoothed out.
The edges have been sharply cut, with a raw finish.
The raw cut edge look is pretty rad, and contrasts nicely with the smooth, blue grain.
My first thought on examining and wearing this belt was: “Hey, this is pretty fun!”
A little bit left field even, but there’s no doubt that Ian makes very fine belts through his Hubb Leather workshop – styling preferences aside, it must be acknowledged that Ian’s work belts are some of the most detailed and labor intensive in workwear spheres. The blacksmith buckle belt is a good example of this investment in crafting.
This being the second time I’ve examined Ian’s work, and having followed his Instagram for almost two years, I’ve noticed that the Hubb Leather house-style is whimsical and playful. Ian’s belts are perhaps not what you might imagine when thinking about work belts in general, and yet inspiration has been drawn from vintage belting designs and workwear culture of the 20th century.
I get the sense that Ian doesn’t want to just be a “me too” maker, and a standard belt with veg tanned leather and Chicago screws doesn’t interest him too much. Indeed, Ian’s work is perhaps best thought of as pieces of wearable art, to be customised to fit your particular take on our denim or workwear hobbies.
Ian had crafted this belt with the Indigoshrimp blog in mind, in part to do something interesting and also as a showcase of techniques and concepts he’s developing. Therefore, this version of the blacksmith buckle belt isn’t a standard product, but an example of the customisation and detailing work available through Hubb Leather.
Indeed, this belt is so jam packed with custom detailing, it ranks with Skull belt #3 from Clintonville Leather as the most personalized belts in my collection:
Blacksmith made buckle? Check!
The hardware utilized here contrast nicely. The blackened iron buckle, smith made, is solid but not hefty – operates very smoothly and does not scratch the leather at all. The brass screw has gone through Ian’s forced oxidation process – further refined since the Partner belt – and looks really cool! Combined, the two are a visual treat.
Custom dye job? Check!
The custom hand-dyeing, using a luthier dye, finishes in one of my favourite colours – I call it Athenian Blue, and this blue really pops! The blue of the oceans. The colour is very similar to aniline indigo dye in appearance, though its chemical nature is not known to me. This dye stains the grain of the leather, leaving the edges and backside of the strap to contrast nicely with the grain.
Custom artwork? Check!
The shrimp art by Ian’s neighbor Mark is pretty groovy. He even drew the anatomical features correctly – the two pairs of claws on a shrimp! (Prawns have three pairs.) It’s as if our shrimp is floating leisurely at sea – the indigoshrimp reference is taken quite literally here.
Detailed handcraft? Check!
Ian’s pays attention to not only the finer details – fitting of the buckle, clean cut on the edges, accurately placed holes – but also the balance of the belt as a whole. The execution of all aspects is without faults. This blacksmith buckle belt, in particular, showcases a different look and set of methods compared with the Partner belt – stitched vs screwed, and burnished vs. raw-cut.
In terms of the leather, it is really quite different from the usual veg tan strap. This Italian veg tan has a much softer hand compared with American, Japanese and English leathers you usually see on this blog. The suppleness is extraordinary, and the leather has very little rigidity, the structure of the strap kept by the leather’s thickness. For a true work belt, in order to carry multiple pouches and holders, I’d prefer something a little stiffer… but as far as casual wear with denim goes, this leather proves more comfortable than most vegetable tanned leathers with similar thickness.
The basic design of Hubb Leather’s blacksmith buckle belt would work well with any colour of leather, including natural/russet vegetable tanned leather. Indeed, I do believe Ian has done a couple of belts in natural rough-out, which has a very different aesthetic compared to this one. Perhaps this design might do well as a 1.75″ width belt too?
The dyed version of the blacksmith buckle belt is £85 GBP (custom art work not included), and represents great value for a fully customised belt. Considering Hubb Leather’s belt range, in the $100 to $150 USD price bracket, it’d be hard to find more detailed work than what Ian is crafting.
All in all, an easy recommendation for a custom belt! For the hobbyist who is looking for an alternative take on work-style leathers or a belt with a little extra flavor, it’s hard to look past Ian’s blacksmith buckle belt.
It’s been a while since my last denim review – work’s been hectic and all – so sorry about that. What better way of getting back into indigo than another review of geek-grade fabric from the denim fiends at Tanuki Inc, though?
Since my previous review of their Red Cast denim, Tanuki has released the Zetto and Kaze fabrics, both being incredibly unique and unusual denims. You would have seen some photos of the Zetto denim on this blog a few months ago. We’re going to skip over these two for now, and check out their latest headliner – Earth High Tapered (EHT).
It’s not just the Earth denim which is new this time, the High Tapered cut featured here is also brand new, as are some aspects with regards to detailing on this newest Tanuki release.
So, without further delay, let’s check out this new fabric and cut!
The zeitgeist of enthusiast denim jeans in recent years has definitely shifted away from its reproduction roots during the 1990’s, with fabrics and silhouettes being modernized and – in many ways – improved. The High Tapered cut featured on these EHT jeans takes after the most popular style of Japanese denim fitting in the past couple of years, being a higher waist version of the trendy lifter’s cut.
If you’re not familiar with a high tapered cut, then know that the basic idea is to retain the comfort of the top block of traditional straight leg jeans whilst slimming down the pant legs from the knee downwards in order to reduce the subjective bagginess of jeans to the modern eye. With tapering, not only do jeans look tidier and more streamlined, the thinner legs also create a more prominent V-shape effect for the entire torso.
In the Day 1 test fit photos above and below, the denim had been soaked in hot water and shrunk up some. For reference, in these photos, I am 185 cm and 92 kg, wearing a size 36.
You might notice that, compared with mid-century ‘golden age’ jeans, the legs are quite a bit slimmer and the rise is only moderate. Still, the rise on this High Tapered cut is much taller than Tanuki’s own Tapered cut, and thus should be more comfortable (or, reassuring) during wear for people who are transitioning from straight leg fits.
From the side view, you might also notice that the taper starts above the knee on this cut, creating the illusion of longer legs.
Other brands such as Oni Denim and Japan Blue also offer similar cuts in their line-up, though Tanuki’s version is very much designed for thicker builds. Comparing directly to Japan Blue’s high tapered fit, Tanuki’s version has much more room in the seat and thighs – my comment here is that Japan Blue, much like other Japanese makers, are mostly creating tapered fits catered for the East Asian torso, which is smaller built (flatter butt, lower pelvis, thinner thighs) than people from outside of Asia.
Considering the above, this High Tapered cut from Tanuki should prove to be an upgrade for Western denim heads in terms of comfort and maneuverability, as far as tapered jeans are concerned.
You will see that in the Day 1 photos, the fabric remains stiff after the initial soak and the fit is somewhat block-y. By Day 3 of wear, the denim has had a chance to relax and break-in to a small degree, resulting in slightly better drape and a more fitted silhouette.
Of course, the final fitting of these raw denim jeans will take time and wear to materialize – to achieve the peak shrink-to-fit effect, you’d need to wear these jeans for a couple of months and also wash it a couple of times.
Tapered fits do tend to give a ‘carrot’ shape to the jeans when worn, this effect most prominently displayed in the photo above. This tapered look is not for everyone, of course, and tends to be exaggerated if you have a proportionally larger upper body or are wearing multiple layers.
The Earth Denim is Tanuki’s latest showcase of its denim engineering capabilities – a considered combination of four different cottons and four different dyes, resulting in a loosely woven, regularly irregular fabric weighing in at 18 oz!
Starting with the feel and the texture, the Earth denim is a different beast compared with other slubby Japanese fabrics. The warp and weft slub yarns are produced using four different American cottons, combining the roughness of shorter staple Texan and Californian varietals with the strength of Pima cottons.
The weave, as per Tanuki’s house style, is at once loose in tension but dense in formation, in order to achieve balance between texture and strength in the fabric.
After fine tuning the mixture of these four American cottons, the Earth denim was born a paradox – a rugged and somewhat rough denim which remains comfortable and resilient at 18 oz in weight.
You can see in the photos here that the slubbing is variegated and emphasized, but not exaggerated. This is a far cry from less sophisticated slub denims, where the slub appearance is very much artificial and sometimes even over-the-top.
The way the slubs are distributed reminds me of little mountains and ridges. Quite appropriate given the Earth theme, I think.
Of interest, this Earth denim is also moderately hairy to start. The fuzziness is best appreciated at lower angles, and overall the hairiness is not overwhelming.
You’ll have noticed too, that the shade of blue on this denim changes up remarkably depending on lighting. Under warm light, the denim reveals shades of steel and grey within the blue, and yet at other times the blue seems almost pure, even electric… perhaps with a tinge of red too???
This interesting effect is caused by the use of four different dyes. The warp threads are rope dyed with a pure indigo, a green cast indigo and a sulfur dye. The weft, whilst looking natural, has actually been cheese dyed to a very light shade of beige.
The intention here is to super-charge the fading potential of this Earth denim, and to allow various shades of blue, green and brown to colour the denim as it ages with wear.
The beige colouring of the weft has been utilized in a manner similar to the Red Cast denim, but overall the effect here is more subtle.
The layers in colours interplay with the unevenness in the depth of this denim caused by slubbing, and should result in some intense and perhaps unpredictable fades over time.
Taking into account the tonal & textural variegation and the slightly fuzzy surface, I would say this Earth denim has a very organic appearance.
The selvedge has been left plain.
You can see too, the regular intervals over which tufts of fiber protrude from the selvedge – a sign of narrow shuttle loomed denim.
From the weft side, it’s interesting to note that the twill lines are easy to follow despite the regular and fairly intense slubbing.
The beige colour of the weft is fairly light on direct examination – the effect of this weft coloration is best observed by looking at the colour tone of the warp side of the denim as a whole.
As with all unsanforised denim, Earth denim really tightens up after water contact.
The slubbing becomes tighter, denser and somewhat more natural after the initial soak.
The result of all this technicality which Tanuki has invested in the Earth fabric is a warm, organic, slightly crunchy denim which creases well, settles in nicely and wears comfortably despite its unsanforised nature and heavy weight.
From the get go, the indigo tone and warp texture of this denim is already impressive. See, in the photo below, where the denim looks rather alive and even a little edgy and ‘dirty’ under cold sunlight, on just Day 4!
Overall, this is one of the most detailed and geeky denim in existence, with the combinations of cottons and artificial dyes creating a fairly complicated fabric. Unless you’re playing around with custom natural dyes and hand-looms, denim doesn’t get much more considered than this Earth denim.
If you’ve already read my reviews of Tanuki’s Retro and Red Cast denims, you’d be familiar with Tanuki’s detailing on their jeans. What you may have also noticed is that Tanuki has been incrementally upgrading the finer details of their jeans over the last two years.
Let’s take a look at the most recent configuration featured here on the EHT.
The vegetable tanned deerskin patch remains, stamped with the character for “two”.
Generally speaking, deerskin not only has character, but washes fairly well compared with many other vegetable tanned leathers. The patches on my other, old Tanuki jeans are looking very nice with months of wear, and it looks like the same leather is used here too.
Right behind the leather patch, a woven label has been sewn into the waistband. It gives some information about unsanforised, shuttle loomed denim and how it shrinks with washing.
Around the waistband sits the coin pocket. The accent stitch colour is blue this time.
The stitch work looking impeccable here, and notice too the different thread sizes being used.
Looking a little closer, aged copper burr rivets are used to secure points of stress.
The rivets are customised too.
These rivets are from Universal Japan of course, and are really nice quality.
The hidden rivets are Universal too, but are not further processed, retaining a shiny surface.
Brand new, fully customised buttons are the most noticeable upgrade in detailing on the EHT compared with older models.
This High Tapered cut features a 5-button fly.
The fly construct is angled, which is a very nice touch.
The Tanuki buttons are super cool!
This was a much awaited update – as of the EHT, Tanuki now has full hardware customisation.
Even the back studs of the buttons have been customised – again, the character “two” makes an appearance.
You can also see here the neatly executed flat-lock finish of the fly.
No odd bits of cotton fluff sticking out at all!
The sewing on this pair is very well done.
I counted five different colours of threading, in at least 4 different sizes.
Even though Tanuki’s jeans aim at a neat, modern, almost streamlined aesthetic, the vintage inspired detailing remains considered and sharply executed.
Take the chainstitch along the bottom edge of the waistband for example, in the photo above.
I did not find any wonky or broken stitching anywhere on these jeans.
All the important points of denim sewing is covered – variety of threads using a variety of purpose built machines, giving good density and preferred spacings in the stitches.
The lemon and orange colours of threads have been blended very well too.
The button holes are no exception – densely and neatly sewn, then cut along the middle.
All in all, the waistband and fly have been expertly made.
Moving further down, the seat and the crotch are nicely finished too.
Even though Tanuki and its retailers don’t really speak much of the sewing on their jeans, the construct is actually really good quality, even compared with other Japanese makers.
Keep in mind the fabric is a raw 18 oz, so its not the easiest fabric to sew.
The second major upgrade for this EHT release is the pocket bag.
The old gingham cloth has been replaced by a heavier herringbone fabric.
Even though I’ve not experienced an issue with Tanuki’s older gingham pockets, some people have noted that the gingham cloth wore out quickly with heavy use.
This new herringbone cloth is much sturdier, and should stand up well to reasonable use.
Ruggedness aside, the herringbone itself has a great hand-feel and can be considered to be shirting quality.
Another vintage inspired detail can be found in the raised belt loops.
The ridge in the center of the loop is prominent but not overly exaggerated, and will make for some fading fun over time.
Again, the devil is in the details.
See how nicely the belt loops have been bar-tacked!
The sewing hugs around the loop, rather than extending to either side, giving a much neater appearance.
Moving around to the backside, the back pockets are in the style of Levi’s.
A slight slant has been applied so that the pockets sit evenly along the horizontal line when the jeans are worn.
These pockets have been neatly made and attached.
The back pockets feature half-lining with herringbone cloth.
The pockets are further secured with a row of bar stitching above each hidden rivet, the blue accent threads making another contrasting appearance.
Tanuki’s signature “two” embroidery feature again. The bar-stitching on the EHT has been widened compared with their older jeans.
Moving further towards the hem, we can see that the selvedge on the outseam starts very high up, at the point where the front pockets are attached – great cutting and paneling work, for sure.
The inseam is flat-locked, with the accent thread a bright blue!
I was initially expecting a green or tan colour for the inseam thread to match the Earth theme, but I guess blue makes sense too.
Again, the construct is fastidious. No loose threads or wayward tufts of cotton at all.
Of course, the hemming is completed via chain-stitching.
Thoughts and Opinions
It’s been a fascinating couple of years for me in rediscovering this denim hobby of ours, and part of that process has been the observation of upcoming brands and denim trends.
Fads come and go, and most new ideas in this jeans hobby fade away quickly, as do denim start-ups, especially in this era of crowd funding and social media.
Yet, watching Tanuki hatch and evolve since their first product releases of the Retro and Natural denims has been very exciting. It’s not everyday – or even every year – that a new Japanese denim maker comes onto the scene, after all.
After handling and wearing a few of their jeans over the last two years, I can say confidently that Tanuki is a tier or two above most makers even within the enthusiast circles of this hobby, despite what some denim commentators and shopkeepers may say. I am confident because I have examined and worn their fabrics personally, and have been able to compare them with a few dozen other Japanese jeans from more established Japanese denim brands.
Tanuki builds the foundations of its jeans around completely custom-developed fabrics – that much should tell you about the intensity of their focus – and each of their denims thus far are comparable in quality and detailing to special edition releases from big players like Studio D’Artisan. Take this Earth denim as an example: Four different cottons? Four different dyes? This is high-functioning denim autism at its very best.
Whilst the Retro fabric I reviewed once upon a time was stealthily nerdy, Tanuki’s more recent creations tend to be flashier and give the jeans more visual impact. Yet, in terms of tone and balance, the Earth denim is visually striking without being outrageous – more conservative in terms of texture than the Zetto denim and more traditional in terms of colour compared to the Kaze denim.
Furthermore, the Earth denim is one of the few I’ve come across which I would consider to have an organic appearance. Seeing and feeling this denim evoke memories of water and dried grass, dirt and stone.
I do feel the Earth denim stands up well to examination and would prove to be a fascinating experience as the wears turn from weeks into months. Tanuki’s other new fabrics, such as the Kaze denim, might be a more interesting choice at first glance, but this Earth denim will be more versatile and flavorful compared to more ‘single note’ denims. This Earth denim will be a very fun fading project too – I could imagine new tones and shades of indigo surfacing every couple of months, as the different dyes oxidize and wear off.
All aspects considered, the Earth denim is more than just a connoisseur’s fabric – it’s hobbyist level denim. Denim snobbery aside, the intricacies of this denim can hardly be appreciated by beginners in the denim hobby, let alone the uninitiated. Therefore, I would not be surprised if this denim flies under the radar in the denim community, given the recent glut of new denim releases and the relatively scarce information being provided by stockists.
The new High Tapered cut is a great addition to Tanuki’s selection of fits. One criticism of the brand has been the limited selection of cuts suitable for solidly built people, so this HT cut will provide a much needed alternative, especially outside of Japan.
It should prove to be more approachable for people who are accustomed to vintage style or stove pipe fits, too, due to the longer rise compared with the older Tapered cut. Also, for athletes and weight lifters who desire a slimmer silhouette, the increased room in the seat and thighs on this HT cut will be more comfortable than slim leg jeans that you see in shopping malls.
For me, this High Tapered cut works fairly well in terms of comfort and mobility. I tested this EHT whilst hiking around New Zealand recently, and encountered no issues at all. I do prefer the medium-high rise as well, when pairing jeans with vintage style or reproduction shirts and jackets.
The denim and cut aside, with the latest upgrading of the hardware and pocket cloth, Tanuki’s level of detailing and customisation – as far as Japanese denims are concerned – has surpassed many of its peers and approaching end game levels of embellishment epitomized by Samurai Jeans.
The quality of sewing is surprisingly high, for a brand which is striving to modernize Japanese jeans. The construct is on par with nicer pieces from the likes of Warehouse and SDA (quality fluctuates with brands which release many items every season), and certainly trumps more budget price jeans from Japan Blue and others. It seems Tanuki has spared no expenses in working with a top tier sewing factory.
Of course, Tanuki continues to differentiate itself from the other Japanese makers by focusing on modern fits and a much more streamlined aesthetic. So, whilst the Japanese spirit of fastidious workmanship and artisan fabrics is readily felt, Tanuki’s presentation of jeans is very different from makers such as those of the Osaka 5 – I do believe that Tanuki’s house style is comparatively much more on trend, and over the next few years I won’t be surprised if, within Western denim circles, Tanuki’s name will be much better known among the new generation of hobbyists compared with senpai-brands like The Real McCoy’s or Denime, which are now slowly fading away due to various factors.
All in all?
I can highly recommend Tanuki’s EHT – this is modern Japanese denim in top form.
With so many fabrics released in the last 12 months (Red Cast, Zetto, Kaze, Earth, etc), there’s bound to be one which tickles your fancy. The Earth denim will be a very interesting fade project, more so than single-note denims. Denim aside, the jeans are impeccably made and packed full of extra detailing, so there should be no questions regarding quality of construct or materials used. The EHT is a worthwhile addition to your denim wardrobe.
Check them out at your local retailer – the EHT is available at all Tanuki retailers worldwide. Aussies may like to pop into Godspeed Store for a fitting. Or, if Tanuki is not available in your country, the folks at Denimio can also help!
Long time blog friend Scott Willis started crafting leathers around the beginning of the Americana revival, and created his Utah-based workshop Don’t Mourn, Organize! back in 2008. This was about the same time that this blog was started – when my personal interest in leather goods really intensified – and I was lucky enough to come across Scott’s work on the Superfuture forum whilst searching for leather inspiration.
Back in those days, not many folks in the workwear and denim scenes had much of an idea about leathers, and there certainly weren’t nearly as many leather craftsmen as compared to today. Most of us were introduced to high quality leather craft by association, if you like, absorbing the styles and trends of leather craft through the catalogue of Japanese denim makers and well known operations such as Red Moon.
Much like the early days of craft denim, no one really knew what was going on. Sure, the heavy work belts and massive rider’s wallets looked really cool on Rakuten, but they were extremely pricey and shrouded in secrecy. We’re not even talking about tannages and tanneries, really… most folks didn’t even know what vegetable tanning meant! It was a gradual learning process for the early adopters of the Americana and work-style revival.
As a medical student with limited resources at the time, I really wanted, yet could not afford, a natural vegetable tanned Kawatako belt. So I reached out to Scott for my first ever leather craft commission, and he made for me a sturdy, 13 oz work belt out of Wickett & Craig’s vegetable tanned saddle leather. That was the first of many work belts from Don’t Mourn, Organize!, and if you go back far enough on this blog you’ll see posts on all of them.
Scott and I shared a similar quirk – an interest in different leather textures and tannages. Over the years, he’s been very generous in sharing with me a variety of rare & wonderful hides: experimental bridle horsehide from Clayton, 1950’s Horween shell cordovan, brain tanned horsehide, etc.
Today, I’m happy to showcase Scott’s work again. This time, in a curious leather too! Let’s take a look at Scott’s zippered case in Clayton’s shell cordovan.
This zippered case measures 8 cm by 13 cm, and can be considered a large sized case.
Featuring one zipped compartment and one large slot, this case can be used as either a minimalist wallet or a hefty coin pouch secondary to a main wallet.
The zipped compartment, more than just a money pouch, is spacious enough for the storage and easy retrieval of cards too.
The slot can carry a couple of cards without distortion, or can be used as a quick access slot for one single card.
This is an utilitarian design that fits into jeans and jackets easily, and without excessive bulk.
This case is made entirely out of Clayton Leather Group’s whiskey shell cordovan.
Long time readers of this blog would have come across Clayton of Chesterfield’s leathers in various blog posts back in 2010/2011. An interesting development in the past decade is that Clayton has absorbed a few different curriers and bridle makers – the most famous being Sedgwick – and more than just a tannery, Clayton is now a leather juggernaut producing all sorts of interesting British leathers.
Clayton is a new challenger on the shell cordovan scene of course. Given the closure of the French cordovan maker Sueur in the 1980’s, Europeans (despite a penchant for horsemeat) has never made very good horsehides or shells until very recently. It’s great to see shell cordovan being made in England, and by most accounts the quality of Clayton’s shell cordovan has been steadily improving over the past few years.
Featured here is Clayton’s shell in whiskey colour, the lightest shade they offer, coming in at 1.6 mm (4 oz).
How does Clayton’s offering compare with the better known American and Japanese shells?
Compared with Horween:
Clayton’s shell is stiffer, more variegated, more scratch resistant, more water resistant
Horween’s shell is oilier, softer, shinier, deeper in colour, more consistent tone
Compared with Shinki Hikaku:
Clayton’s shell feels more organic to the touch, is more variegated, more water resistant
Shinki’s shell has a harder feel, more consistent colour and tone, and higher shine.
Clayton’s shell cordovan, unsurprisingly, almost seems like it’s been through the bridle making process. The texture and feel is not unlike English bridle leather.
Overall, I would say Clayton’s shell cordovan is more rugged and resistant compared to most other shells – a great match with work-style goods.
Of course, horsehide is known for inconsistencies in colour, tone and texture. The shell cordovan layer is no different. This is why shell cordovan tend to come in deep and dark colours, most tanneries applying several layers of dye to even out the grain and introduce depth.
The lighter colours are harder to produce, and neater hides are required for light colours. Considering the difficulties in producing light coloured shell, Horween’s and Shinki’s natural coloured shells could be considered remarkable crafts. The whiskey colour here from Clayton is not quite at the top standard – the appearance is rustic, for sure – and it may be another few years before Clayton could produce a good quality natural shell without too much variegation.
The depth and shine of this shell lags behind the Japanese and American shells too. I’m not able to shine this leather up much naturally, without creams and waxes.
What Clayton’s shell cordovan does well, however, is in water and scratch resistance. This English shell is stronger and more resilient. Something that annoys me about American, Argentinian and Italian shells is how easy it is to damage the surface through light scuffing or minor water exposure (bubble deformities appear!) – no such problem with this shell from Clayton.
English shell cordovan is certainly an interesting and unique take on shell. Clayton’s version is very different from traditional shell offerings, but I’m glad there are more alternatives around to the standard product from Horween.
The zippered case is hand cut and machine stitched.
Altogether, there is 5 mm of shell cordovan to sew, so I’m rather impressed by the machine work here – very neat, given the circumstances. Scott is assisted by some very heavy duty leather sewing machines of course – you can see some of these machines in the interview with Scott, posted as an article which you can access through this blog’s menu.
Of course, the back-side is not as neat as the front, given the machine stitching.
What is astounding though, is the thickness of the thread which has been used, despite the machine stitch. As I understand it, not many leather sewing machines can utilise such large calibre threads.
The tension here has been well applied – not so tight that the leather is puckering or cut through, but with enough pull so that the threads sit relatively deeply on the shell.
I’m a fan of how threads sit on Clayton’s shell. I think Clayton and Shinki shells have a better firmness for threading to sit nicely, compared with Horween.
The body of the case is sewn at 6 SPI.
On the backside, you can see the characteristic roller marks which machine stitching would leave behind.
Scott has utilised a different machine and a smaller calibre thread for attaching the RiRi zipper.
Overall the neatness of the sewing is pretty good, especially considering the very tough leather being used. Even panel crossing and tight corners are fairly well negotiated.
Scott has kindly upgraded this case with a RiRi zipper, with a neat little vegetable tanned leather pull tab.
Minor issues exist on the edge work around the zipper – the lack of burnishing and somewhat uneven cutting on the edges.
The zipper attachment is flawless, and the RiRi zip itself is, of course, buttery smooth.
I wish I could replace all the zips on my pants and jackets with RiRi.
The edge work around the case is nice.
The edges are gently beveled and wax burnished.
Given the variegation in colour tone of the shell cordovan, a sandwich effect exist on the edges despite the same leather being used on all the panels.
Overall, the edges are very smooth and even.
There is only minor inconsistency in paneling on one short edge.
The natural appearance of the edges really enhance the overall appearance of the case.
Overall, a neatly machine sewn case. This is heavy duty construct to match some very tough shell cordovan.
It’s somewhat difficult for me to be partial when it comes to reviewing Scott’s work, as his craft is very much linked with the beginnings of my own leather hobby. After all these years, I do still think that the best work belts for selvedge denim jeans come from the Don’t Mourn, Organize! workshop. In terms of variety, value, synergy and true work character, Scott’s straps are tip-top.
Whilst Don’t Mourn, Organize! is perhaps best known on the denim forums for heavy duty work belts, Scott’s wallets are also worth checking out. There’s an interesting East vs. West type of aesthetic, no doubt influenced by the multitudes of custom work which Scott has crafted for Japanese denim nerds over the years.
The zippered case shown here is true work style. Rugged looks, heavy duty construct, great value, and made with top-shelf materials.
The design is an interesting one. The case is a little larger than the usual coin pouch, but the extra surface area allows it to double as a full sized card carrier too. Versatility is key here, and this case can be used either as a minimalist primary carrier or a large sized secondary case.
Readers of this blog will know that I like Scott’s work very much, and more than any other workshop, I have collected the most pieces from Don’t Mourn, Organize!
Work style wallets can be difficult to make, especially at the enthusiast level. On one hand there is a demand for heavy duty materials, on the other there is an expectation for flawless execution…this presents as a dilemma. It’s very easy to stitch up a calf skin wallet, but to maintain the same finesse and aesthetics on full-thickness shell cordovan is very, very tricky.
Over the years, the wallets I’ve had made by Scott have always been heavy duty and rugged, but never perfect, not in the ways that newer craftsman such as Ray of Blackacre or Jason of Monk Made have come to define their work. The difference is in the time that can be invested in each piece given the price that is charged, so again pricing and the concept of value come into play.
To balance the above criticism regarding attention to minute details, I do think for the vast majority of leather enthusiasts, Scott’s wallets hit the sweet spot in terms of the balance between material quality, workmanship and cost. For people who are chasing perfection in smaller details, it would be necessary to go above the pricing tier of Scott’s work.
Speaking of cost, Scott charges very fair prices for his work, case in point this wallet is only $125! Keep in mind this wallet is made out of shell cordovan and RiRi hardware – the value proposition here is fairly different from the $200-plus leather goods you’ve seen on this blog for the past couple of months. Of course, for a small surcharge, it is possible to have your wallet hand-sewn instead of machine-stitched.
There is true Americana flavour in Scott’s craft too – coming out of Utah and given Scott’s own fascination with vintage American clothing, this is not surprising – so this zippered case, like much of Scott’s work, combines effortlessly with denim and workwear.
Further, the materials used on this case are certainly top notch. There’s no beating a RiRi as far as modern zippers go, and the Clayton shell cordovan is an interesting alternative to the more common Horween offerings. In particular, there is a trade-off between colour & shine with strength and resistance – I do look forward to seeing how Clayton will further improve their shell cordovan in the next years.
Don’t Mourn, Organize! is one of the few American workshops that have extensive access to British leathers, and I do feel that English shells and bridles work very nicely on Americana style leather goods. This Clayton shell, for example, is probably closer to a work style leather than Horween’s own!
(Keep in mind shell cordovan began its second life in America as a work boot leather.)
Overall, Don’t Mourn, Organize! offers some of the best value work-style carry goods. If you’re looking for handmade leathers with a budget below $200, Scott’s the man you’ll want to see.
Ask Scott about all the weird and wonderful leathers he might have in stock, and customize a zippered case for yourself too!
Ever since signing up on Instagram in 2016, being able to see leather craftsmen show off their processes and creations has provided small highlights for me during drab workdays.
Interestingly, I first came across Monk Made Goods on Instagram after a small but somewhat heated discussion about copying wallet designs – in retrospect this was not an useful discussion at all, but I was glad to be introduced to Jason’s work inadvertently.
Over the past two years, I’ve found it fascinating to follow Monk Made Goods as his work has evolved. It was fairly clear, judging even by the earliest photos on Jason’s feed, that his handcraft was careful and neat.
Certainly, given the Monk Made workshop is only 5 years old, this dexterity and neatness of Jason’s wallets was surprising. The aesthetics of his work is quite catching too – a very interesting blend of Americana and Zen that’s rather cool.
Today, I’m very excited to look over one of Jason’s Bishop 2 bifold wallets with you. This will be the only review up on the blog this month, but it’ll be a great one!
Let’s have at it.
The packaging here from Monk Made Goods is very refined indeed. You won’t even need to wrap the box up if you’re giving the wallet as a gift.
The gold foil logo on black paper is so pretty!
Overall, beautiful presentation. The life-time guarantee card is a nice touch too.
The Bishop 2 is a larger sized bifold design.
It measures 9.5 cm tall and 11.5 cm wide.
Lightly compressed and fully loaded, the wallet is around 1.5 cm at the thickest.
The layout, in general, can be considered to be a traditional style, full sized bifold.
There are 6 quick access card slots across two symmetrical sides, two hidden compartments and a full sized bill compartment.
The internal and external designs both incorporate an interesting mix of waves, circles and straight lines. Whilst the layout is not in the modern Japanese work-style of bifolds, nevertheless this Bishop 2 does feel somewhat Japanese…kinda like how a circle compares to an enso.
Being a full sized and well proportioned bifold, this wallet is very easy to use. The carrying capacity is more than enough for most people’s EDC requirements.
The Bishop 2 slides easily into the back pocket of denim jeans – solid but not chunky.
I have been hoping to feature Shinki Hikaku’s shell cordovan on this blog for some time. Fans of leather goods would be familiar with the increasing popularity of shell cordovan in the past decade, and certainly since 2010 there’s been much talk about the Japanese alternative to Horween’s gold standard shell cordovan.
Shinki Hikaku (New Happiness Leathers, roughly translated) is one of the most famous tanneries in the leather city of Himeji. Readers of the blog would already be familiar with Shonan Leathers, the famous Japanese pit tannery, which is located in the same city. Indeed, Himeji had been famous since medieval times for producing one of the most luxurious leathers in Japan, Himeji’s famed “white leather”. A modern claim to fame would be Shinki’s almost 40 year history is perfecting their own version of shell cordovan.
The process of making shell cordovan is roughly similar around the world, with the current oldest producer being Horween tannery, and the very new comers being the English and Italian tanneries taking their first steps in creating shell. Shinki imports hides from Europe, and pit tans the skins for approximately one month using vegetable tannins, before the half-finished shells undergo further drying, curing, currying and colouring processes. All in all, the process at Shinki takes around 10 months from wet hides to finished shell cordovan.
Horse leather is known for being inconsistent in both structure and appearance, so it is a rare piece of horsebutt which is able to produce natural coloured shell cordovan, which is showcased here on the outshell of the wallet. Of course, in comparison to the truly natural coloured vegetable tanned cattlehide on the inner, the natural shell is darker – more caramel coloured than pale pink – though this is unavoidable given the currying process which shell cordovan needs to undergo.
Shinki’s shell has long been compared with Horween’s better known product. Everyone has an opinion as to which is best, and the industries are full of rumors regarding how certain tanneries are not making genuine shell (i.e. not using the true shell layer on the horse’s rump), though ultimately it is a matter of preference.
This Japanese shell cordovan, whilst more rigid and somewhat more ‘plastic’ compared with others, is much more consistent in both colour, tone and temper. Moreover, most leather workers would say hand-stitching sits much more nicely on Shinki’s shell.
The differences here are mostly due to the stuffing and glazing processes, and it’s important to keep in mind that Shinki often customize these processes for their bigger clients (such as The Flat Head) and often also pass on half-finished shells to currying companies such as Ogawa. Therefore, expect to see shells with different colours, hand-feel and tonal depths. Overall, Shinki’s shell is more presentable and much less oily compared to their main rival at Horween. At 1.5 mm thick, the shell is fairly solid too!
The inner paneling of this Bishop 2 utilises Tochigi Leather Co.’s famous natural vegetable tanned leather, at 1 mm thickness. This is a leather with which I am very familiar, and surely you have seen this particular leather featured on this blog at least a couple of times.
This is surely a beautiful leather… whilst it’s not a world-beater like Baker’s oak bark or Shonan’s natural saddle, Tochigi’s vegetable tannage is extremely beautiful.
Tochigi’s natural leather has a lightly textured hand, moderate grain growth and a very pleasing natural colour. In terms of appearance, it follows the middle path between the heavy growth and wild ruggedness of Shonan’s saddle leather and the smooth, uniform surface of most Italian veg tans. I know from experience that this leather works great in a wallet and ages gracefully with moderate speed.
Did I mention it smells like warmed butter?
Jason is insistent on old school techniques and simple tools – no short cuts, only elbow grease.
The various panels are hand cut and carefully pieced together.
The saddle-stitching, sewn by hand, is made at 7 SPI with white Vinymo polyester thread from Japan.
The stitch work is extraordinarily regular and precise: every panel crossing is perfect, and there’s not a single wonky stitch.
In fact, the absolute precision with which the sewing and paneling were executed produced a level of symmetry that is rather astounding for something which has been made by only eyes and hands. The differences across the left and right sides are less than 1 mm!
The various curves on the inner are consistent and smooth. The curved top edges of the card panels demonstrate this consistency perfectly.
The Monk Made mark is neatly stamped on the left accent panel.
Every single visible edge has been carefully burnished with water and beeswax.
The edges here are natural and somewhat glossy – pleasing to see and feel.
The edges are not creased, but gently beveled it seems.
Certainly, the edge work here is one of the nicest I’ve come across.
Along with John Faler’s monster bifold, this Bishop 2 wallet from Jason at Monk Made Goods is one of the most precisely made wallets I’ve ever handled. To say this wallet is well made would be understating the extreme precision and patience which have been invested in this wallet’s creation.
Truly, one of the nicest pieces in my leather collection.
This level of carefulness in crafting really must come down to mindset and personality, I believe. Despite the massive uptake of leather crafting as a hobby in the past decade, it is still rare to see a wallet that has been so carefully made. Keep in mind too, Jason does not use templates or lasers – this wallet has been hand made, in the truest sense.
It’s not surprising to learn, then, that Jason invests up to 12 hours for the crafting of each wallet – there’s much mindfulness involved, and I do believe this injection of time and mental energy is reflected in the high quality of crafting you see here.
It used to be that leather craft of this caliber could only be proxy purchased from Japan, and it’s been really great to see in the past few years American craftsmen working hard to challenge the Japanese masters.
It’s that careful balance of ruggedness, utilitarian designs and sophisticated workmanship that really defines a work-style wallet, and I feel Jason has hit the mark with these regards to these aspects of wallet craft.
On that note, Jason’s wallets, I feel, have a very Japanese feel, and this Bishop 2 seems to be no exception, although his other models such as the Archbishop or the Ode wallets are closer approximations to Japanese rider’s or work-style makes. There is also a smaller bifold with a similar layout, the Bishop 1, in case you’re after a similar wallet with smaller dimensions.
For my own preferences, however, the Bishop 2 possesses the perfect size and carrying capacity.
In terms of styling then, I’d say the Bishop 2 works very well with denim and workwear – extra synergy points here for the all Japanese materials, given my wardrobe of mostly Japanese clothes.
The natural leathers used here, be it shell or cattlehide, will make a great patina project – this Shinki and Tochigi pairing is a great combination indeed. This is a wallet meant for leather and denim fans alike.
Jason’s method of restricting his crafting tools & techniques and his careful use curves in shaping the wallet stands out too, in terms of achieving a signature look, which I’ve had the pleasure of observing, over time, as it evolved on his Instagram feed. I think my initial criticisms, on first observing his work a couple of years ago, of not producing original designs are well and truly no longer applicable. I say this every time I review a bifold, but it is true that there’s great difficulty in creating a good looking, original bifold without compromising user-friendliness… having spent time with the Bishop 2, I think Jason has mostly achieved this difficult goal.
At $275 USD, this Shinki shell Bishop 2 is on the more expensive end of the scale as far as bifold wallets go, but factoring in the world class leathers and the almost half-day it takes to hand-craft this wallet, I’d say it represents great value. Minus the materials cost (mostly from the shell cordovan), let’s say, you’re paying around $20 per hour for the making of this wallet – I think Jason should be asking for a raise, if he weren’t self-employed!
Or, from another angle of consideration, if such a shell cordovan wallet were to be made in Japan by a private craftsman, you’d be looking at a minimum of 50, 000 yen. In North America, a similar product would be around $50 more expensive from other private makers.
All in all?
I can highly recommend the wallets from Monk Made Goods, especially if quality is your main consideration. Jason’s craft is more precise than most, with extremely smooth presentation overall, and you’ll likely find it difficult to pick out any flaws on his work. Fans of leathers and work-wear should definitely checkout the Monk Made Goods website – besides the Bishop bifold, his Ode mid-wallet would combined very well with raw denim too!
Readers of this blog might remember that a year ago I reviewed a very hefty and rugged harness work belt made by Bill of Clintonville Leather, Ohio, USA. That particular harness belt took Americana and work-wear styling for leathers to another level, with a rugged flavor that is truly American – wild and beefy in a way which Japanese reproductions can’t quite imitate.
Well, Bill is back with an one-off, “just for fun” belt that is truly unique. This Skull Belt #3 is more of a Western piece than work-wear, with high impact hand-stitching, tooling, carving and staining replacing the bejeweled configuration that you might see the usual Western belt.
Let’s take a look at the interesting features on this belt!
The leather utilized for this strap is the gold standard for tooling and carving work – Hermann Oak’s natural vegetable tanned sides, specially developed for intricate leather art.
Bill has used the heaviest side available, which I measure at 11 oz on average (4.4 mm) throughout the strap. The strap is rigid without being dry, and is comfortable to handle.
Hints of the leather’s original shade of natural tan can still be appreciated underneath the dye work.
This is a fine leather, allowing for detailed work and an even dye job. The grain is slippery and the pores somewhat glazed over, due to the water and dye processing as part of the creation of this belt, though I do think the grain will become much more prominent with time.
I usually don’t consider the hardware of belts as a separate category, but for this hand-forged piece I will have to make an exception. Absolute unit!
The rectangular pewter frame of the buckle is 11 mm thick, and has been hand-textured and oxidized to create the folding pattern you can see here. It has a smooth, rippling texture to the hand.
Pewter, of course, is an alloy of tin and other metals. It’s hefty, no doubt, but not so heavy that it drags the entire belt forward when worn.
The internal and external edges have been smoothed, and this the buckle doesn’t scratch the strap during operation.
The tongue, similar to the previously reviewed harness work belt, is hand-forged out of copper. The differences in oxidation with wear between these two metals will surely be interesting.
Like with most of Bill’s belts, Skull #3 features extra heavy-duty copper rivets.
These are the most rugged copper rivets I’ve seen on a belt.
Overall, the hardware here is impressive. The hand-forged buckle, by itself, can be considered as a stand-alone product.
Styling, Detailing & Construct
Skull #3 is jam packed with details and crafting techniques. It’s a very interesting showcase of most of the techniques that a leather craftsman can apply to a strap.
The buckle fold is neatly made, and the fitting of the hardware is tighter compared with my previous belt from Bill, which is a solid improvement.
The back of the fold features Clintonville Leather’s workshop mark, as well as custom stamping of my initials.
A nice personal touch, certainly.
Turning back to the front end of the belt, the American flag is firmly stamped between the rivets: Made in America!
Zooming right out, and putting the finer details aside for the moment, you will notice that the strap itself has been dyed in a sunset style pattern where the decorative hand-stitching have been made.
The black dye work along the edges blends into a dark brown and eventually lightens into a natural tan.
The gradient of colours here is smooth and very interesting.
The entire strap is stitched along the edges – this is purely decorative, as the strap is one piece – with yellow thread. The decorative gunfighter stitch (a.k.a. fishtail stitch) is done in white.
These are traditional saddlery colours by the way.
The hand-saddle sewing is made at 6 SPI.
An interesting twist here is that the thread colours on the backside of the strap are reversed!
Bill’s snuck in some stealthy dual tone stitching…
In the middle portion of the belt, the gunfighter stitch and dye work are replaced by some memento mori style leather sculpturing!
Bill made the point that apart from Matsumura-san’s Ego wallet, I haven’t showcased much leather sculpturing – fair enough – and hence this Skull Belt #3.
Well, here’s the skull from which #3 derives its name.
Proper memento mori art, in part, should convey the dread of decay and the urgency of time running out – we’re talking about mortality, of course.
So, the skull cannot be exaggerated, and is not supposed to look ‘cool’ or covered in flames. Death is not fun or awesome, after all.
I think Bill’s artistic decision here to blend Western style floral patterning with the skull is a great idea. Early Vanitas style work often depicted skulls with dying flowers or thorny plants, but why not some cowboy plant art too?
With the help of some circular stamping, Bill’s managed to draw the skull into focus, which gives the artwork here a whole lot more impact than traditional floral designs where the plant matter is continuous and repeating.
Without using multiple leather layers, I think Bill has managed to give the designs great depth.
Looking carefully, this 3D appearance is helped along by the careful beveling work and edge dyeing that follows the carving and tooling.
The depth is not simply an optical illusion either.
Looking at the belt side-on, and tracing the pattern using fingers, its obvious that Bill’s lifted the leather nicely.
I count four general types of stamping being used here, not only adding detail to the design but giving the outline of the skull and leaves more prominence, enhancing the 3-D effect.
Overall, the pattern is not too busy, and the details are all there.
I quite like how Bill’s executed the floral pattern – look at the tiny folds and the subtle stamping details along the dyed edges.
The strap continues onto another segment of gunfighter stitching and sunset dyeing, the dye work extending onto the rest of the strap, including the prong holes and the tip.
The holes here are oval in shape, and nicely burnished throughout.
A plain, pointed tip finishes the strap.
Having reviewed Bill’s work previously, I knew that the edges of this belt would be well done…and it is.
The edges are beveled, dyed, burnished and burnished again.
Bill has been upgrading his burnish coating lately, aiming for a natural edge that has the organic appearance of a beeswax job, but more durable in finish.
The segmented dye work on the strap has produced interesting results along the edges, with alternating blacks and tans.
Not only is the edge work smooth and slick, Bill’s been careful with the dyeing, so that the backside of the strap stays clean.
All in all, lots of techniques showcased on #3 here. This is a belt that’s filled to the brim with details.
Clintonville Leather’s belts are differentiated from regular work-shop Americana leathers by the incredible amount of time and elbow grease Bill invests into each strap, as well as a heavy focus on hand-forged hardware.
With Skull Belt #3, the amount of hand-work is further increased. This belt would take so many hours to cut, stitch, tool, stamp, crave, stain & burnish… not to mention the heavy pewter buckle and copper prong are completely hand-made by Bill too. This is hours and hours of concentration and intricate hand-work.
I do love it when leather craftsman play around with different ideas and techniques – even if, by utilitarian work-wear standards, this belt may appear visually somewhat busy, Bill’s love for leather crafting really shines through, and this belt is a whole lot of fun anyway!
As someone who appreciates memento mori art, I find this belt to be very coherent in how the leather crafting details tie together some central themes of life & death. The combination of human skull, Western floral patterning and a heavily textured pewter buckle is spot on, and I do find the sunset dye pattern to be a fitting backdrop for the other visual components. Skull and bones, life and death, setting of the sun – memento mori, but oh so Western too.
The size and thickness of the hand-made pewter buckle here is no joke, and it’s much larger than anything that Japanese brands such as Samurai or Iron Heart have used. Of course, you can’t really compare handmade hardware with mass-produced pieces from a foundry – Bill’s buckles are each unique and really quite artful.
Due to this belt possessing a Western aesthetic and several visually striking elements, it would not necessarily match up with all types of workwear/denim inspired outfits. This is definitely not a belt for the beginner, and I’d say you would require a wardrobe to match in order to wear this belt well – some bandannas, Western shirts, early century knits, etc. Perhaps this belt might work with street gear, but I’m no expert in this aspect of menswear.
I do think Bill’s stitched and carved belts, such as this one, can be seen as upgraded alternatives to the usual 30’s or 50’s style, jeweled Western belts. Certainly, compared to, say, Ace Western Belts, Bill’s work is more detailed and is entirely handmade. When it comes to Western belts, there’s a huge difference between an embossed design and real leather tooling.
Heavily flavored elements such as the hefty pewter buckle or the skull motif could likely be modified by Bill to suit your wardrobe. Perhaps elements of the Western belt could be transferred onto a plain work-belt, and thus work in easily with casual denim gear whilst adding a little bit of zest?
Memento mori detailing may not be for everyone, but this is bespoke work after all. I’m sure that, with gentle persuasion, Bill can carve for you whatever you have on your mind, whether it be acorns or aliens.
A belt which is similar to this Skull Belt #3 will cost around $350 USD to commission. Alternatively, a $250 option with stock buckles can be ordered too. This is certainly much pricier compared with simple work belts, but actually very nicely priced for detailed Western belts. Consider that work-shop produced Western belts from Japan or USA would set you back anywhere from $200 to $500 anyway. For the same price, I’d think it’s much better to go with an entirely handmade piece, created specifically for you by one craftsman.
I can recommend Bill’s Western belts highly to people who might be interested in Western wear or memento mori art, or are at least intermediate level leather enthusiasts. If you are just getting into quality leather goods, you’d be better served by one of Bill’s more basic work belts instead.
Definitely, #3 here proves to be one of the most interesting and unique belts in my collection. Many thanks to Bill for the opportunity to check out this eclectic piece of leather art.
Earlier this month was The Flat Head’s first visit to Melbourne, hosted by Corlection (their Australian stockist).
To my knowledge this is the first time that a significant Japanese denim/workwear maker has toured Melbourne, so this was a rather exciting development to our local denim and workwear scene.
Whilst attendance wasn’t as high as the previous TFH event in Sydney – the local denim culture seems to be lagging behind in terms of numbers compared to our interstate rivals – the evening was interesting and even educational.
The Flat Head’s founder, Masayoshi Kobayashi, is an OG as far as Japanese denim is concerned. Even though the brand itself was created in 1996, a fair bit later than many of TFH’s competitors, Kobayashi’s obsession about details and dedication in making the very best garments meant that TFH is at a whole other level compared with the others.
Taking a different approach from his peers, Kobayashi founded and grew his brand in Nagano rather than setting up shop in Tokyo-Yokohama, and continues to utilize many local resources. The aesthetics of the brand derive from a slightly later period compared to some other Japanese makers, with TFH mainly based upon a re-imagined 1950’s Americana aesthetic.
In the years since, the catalogue grew to include more than jeans, and other lines such as Real Japan Blues were created too.
Of course, as the brand grew, so did its reputation, and as such over the years Kobayashi was able to work with the very best in the industry and demand the very best from these skilled artisans. Ample resources meant that The Flat Head, more than just a simple clothing brand, was able to move down the path of developing custom materials and even custom machines and crafting techniques to make certain that their products are ever improving.
When you purchase a TFH product, then, it is highly likely that the materials and construct involved have been custom developed for, and sometimes by, Kobayashi and his company. We’ll look at some examples of that a little later.
The fellas at Corlection has worked with The Flat Head on two collaboration garments for this Australian visit. The first is the new collaboration jeans (the 3rd between the two companies so far), which uses the same denim as the first collab which I featured a couple of years ago here. Unfortunately for me the super slim fit would never work on my frame, so you won’t see this pair on the blog beyond this post.
The theme for this collaboration event is “The Flat Earth” – you can read about this particular story on Corlection’s website.
The second collaboration garment is a T-shirt done in white, black and navy.
The great thing about this set of T-shirts, apart from the custom art work, is that sizing went up to size 46!!!
A size 46 in TFH clothing translates to a Western size L, just right for me. A rare chance for slightly larger folks to own what can be said to be the best T-shirt in the world. That’s a big claim, and perhaps we’ll explore this in a separate post later this year.
Another awesome thing was Kobayashi signing all the products purchased on the day. The photo above was taken when he was signing my navy T-shirt!
Of course, he ended up signing heaps of stuff…
And posed for many photos.
Dude’s a natural at PR – he’s got set poses down pat too! Here’s him with excited but somewhat nervous fans.
Apart from the collaboration items, they showcased a few pieces of other garments, including products being developed for the seasons coming up.
Given baggage allowances for international flights, there wasn’t nearly as many pieces as you’d find at a local trunk show, but there was a nice range of leathers to be sure.
As far as leather goods go, TFH’s Stockburg workshop produces the very best in terms of workshop leather goods, and Kobayashi is chasing improvements in design and construct year after year too!
Of course, there’re price tags to match – expect to pay bespoke tier pricing for these awesome wallets, made with the very best Japanese shell cordovan and natural saddle leathers.
The new season of leather goods might look similar to some of the pieces from last year, but the sewing has been upgraded!
I might talk a little more about this if The Flat Head’s wallet is ever featured on this blog.
In the photo below, Lee (Corlection’s owner) shows of one of the long wallets. Corlection stocks one of the largest ranges of TFH leathers in the world, counting the shops in Japan too!
The footwear on display were stunning!
I handled some of the very best work shoes I’ve ever seen on the night. These are four digits in pricing, of course, but TFH footwear blows away the American competition for sure!
There wasn’t all that much socializing to be honest – I guess it’s always hard to blend an exhibition with a trunk show with a party – the highlight of the evening for me was Kobayashi’s presentation!
Not the most physically distinguished guy, but Kobayashi has charisma and knows how to dress. Not just charisma either, but his enthusiasm really comes through – even if I can understand only 1/3 of what he was saying, and I know he does this talk around Japan every week.
Kobayashi’s talk centered around the point of difference that The Flat Head offers in their clothing, focusing on T-shirts, jeans, Hawaiian shirts and leather wallets.
Kobayashi started by talking about how TFH makes the very best T-shirt, ever, anywhere. He pulled the collar of the T out to twice the usual diameter, demonstrating the strength of his triple-stitched collar. You can see a cool video of him doing this on my Instagram page (@indigoshrimp).
The thickest possible, #8 cotton threads make for a strong and resistant collar. According to Kobayashi, apart from point of contact wear & tear on the fabric, the main determinant of a T-shirts life is the durability of the collar. If used sensibly, TFH T-shirts can last decades.
Talking about jeans, of course there was only time to elaborate on a few dot points. Here, Kobayashi explored the history and quality of jeans using back-pocket construct and belt loop construct as prime examples.
Hearing him speak, I felt like his motto rang true: We are particular about our clothes!
Certainly, even compared to many of the Japanese jeans reviewed on this blog, The Flat Head is at a higher level as far as construct and detailing is concerned.
Further discussions were had regarding Sukajan jackets and Hawaiian shirts.
Several modifications and improvements have been made since I last bought their souvenir jacket in 2011. Also, I was surprised to learn that TFH developed it’s own rayon fabric – most modern rayon is made using polyester, but Kobayashi has invested in developing long fiber rayon using wood pulp which has the appearance and touch of silk! Crazy right?
In more exciting news for fans, The Flat Head is also going to be offering Made-to-Measure deerskin leather jackets and Alcantara coats!
Did you know that TFH was one of the pioneers in developing Japanese deerskin from a low end material used for rags into the garment grade leather it is today?
Also, working with a Japanese fabric specialist, TFH has re-purposed Alcantara as a garment fabric – it costs twice as much as leather per yard, and is only available in their high-end made-to-measure coats at this time.
These new MtM jackets incorporate bespoke detailing too.
Finally, at the end of the night, there were prizes to be won. I was unlucky and walked away with the consolation prize (a handkerchief), but one lucky bloke won TFH’s top-range long wallet. Custom Shinki shell cordovan and completely lined with Japanese pig skin (even the card slots are lined)!!!
All in all, a very interesting night. It was a great experience to meet & greet with Mr. Flat Head himself, and certainly it’s really cool to see garments of this caliber being showcased in Australia. Make no mistake, The Flat Head’s garments are some of the very best in the world!
A big thanks to Lee and the crew at Corlection for hosting the event. Hopefully, they’ll be able to bring over more makers from Japan in the future!
Check out this little guy from Rocky at Mill Handmade: This is his new design, the Hans wallet, which is small but mighty.
As you know, Rocky’s work is some of my favourite, with most of his designs closer to the bespoke style of gentlemen’s carry goods but also many pieces inspired by Japanese leather crafting and workwear. As someone who likes to follow trends and designs in wallets, Rocky’s work stands out for me as he is consistently coming up with some very stylish yet functional designs, with his base models constantly being upgraded too.
With the Hans wallet, Rocky takes minimalism to the next step, with clean aesthetics and also an ingenious construct. Let’s take a look at the details.
The Hans wallet is on the smaller side in terms of surface area, measuring just 8 cm tall and 10 cm wide when closed.
Very much palm sized, and easy to handle.
Its carrying capacity is mostly due to the volume that the extra thickness imparts and how this vertical space is utilized.
The wallet measures around 2 cm thick when fully loaded and uncompressed.
The flap covers half the height of the wallet. As I usually wear my wallets in the back pocket, Rocky has made this version of the Hans wallet without a snap closure on the flap.
The clever thing here is that this wallet is made of one single piece of out-shell leather, folded in on itself to form a flapped tube. By further folding this tube in half, Rocky has then created the storage compartments within.
The top compartment provides quick access card storage, whilst the bottom compartment can be used as a catch-all pouch for cards, cash, coins, etc.
The compartments are further lined by a grained leather. As a result of this vertical stacking of leather layers, this wallet is not insubstantial.
Due to the spaciousness of the two compartments, the Hans wallet has the same carrying capacity as a large bifold or mid-wallet which mostly rely on slots for storage.
It can hold around a dozen cards – maybe a couple less if you also want to use this wallet as a coin pouch.
Access to cards and other content is made easier by the grooves along the top edge. This is one of the more user friendly compartment based designs.
The main character on this wallet is Badalassi Carlo’s Pueblo leather.
I’ve previously covered this leather briefly on the blog, but the Han’s wallet is the best showcase of this peculiar leather yet.
Rocky has utilised the Pueblo at 1.25 mm (or 3 oz) for this wallet.
What is immediately striking about this vegetable tanned Italian leather is the variegated appearance. You might say, visually, the grain is rather marbled.
On touching the leather, it feels remarkably suede-like…hard to believe this is actually a top grain leather!
The Pueblo is not soft like most suede though. I would say it’s fairly rigid as far as a vegetable tanned leather is concerned.
If you look really closely, the pores on the grain are discernible.
I have used Pueblo before, so I know that as this leather ages, the colour deepens, the variegation reduces and the pores of the grain become more defined. The sheen increases rather quickly too.
The treatment that this leather undergoes is still a mystery to me. It’s a rather fun leather though, and it offers more potential for patina development then what you might think at first glance.
The colour can be rather vibrant, depending on lighting.
The lining is made with Italpel’s Box leather.
The milled leather is rather hardy, and the natural grain is pronounced and textural. This makes for a great lining leather for sure, but I also feel it could work just as well for an out-shell leather given its strength and texture.
If I had the $$$ I’d upholster my furniture in this leather!
Rocky has used Box leather at 0.75 mm (around 2 oz) here, lining the flap and the bases of both compartments.
As mentioned previously, this wallet is made using a ‘one-piece’ design, i.e. the entire out-shell is one continuous piece of leather. This origami style of construct is testament to the Japanese influence that underlie some of Rocky’s work.
Rocky’s cutting and folding work here is very neat indeed – it has to be, or else this design cannot have materialized into a workable end product.
All the layers, stacking one atop another, comes out look neat and smooth. There are no protrusions along any edges or pieces of leather that doesn’t fit.
The opposing ends of the leather are skived, glued and stitched in a way that the thickness remains consistent along any panel.
A top row of 8 stitches and one single bottom stitch secures the inner ‘spine’ of this wallet.
The bottom edge of the wallet is the folded edge of the entire out-shell.
Here, using some clever cutting work, Rocky has minimized bulk and eliminated any awkward protrusions.
As previously mentioned, the compartments are half-lined with Box leather. Here, careful cutting, gluing and sewing have seamlessly integrated the box lining within the origami of the whole.
Rocky has saddle stitched the entire wallet by hand, using contrast threads, at a density of 8 SPI!
Wheat coloured threads run along the edges of the flap, looking very regular and neat.
The inner is minimally sewn.
Only one inch of stitching is visible here.
The edge work of this wallet is nicely done indeed.
Rocky combines very defined edge creasing with smooth, painted edges to give the wallet extra slickness.
The polished edge work has been applied to all the visible edges.
All in all, from every angle, the Hans wallet is buttery smooth – hats off to the considered handcraft!
I’ve been consistently impressed by the work that has come out of the workshop at Mill Handmade – Rocky’s work is ever improving and expanding, and in the short span of two years I feel like his wallets have grown from hobby crafter quality to pieces that could be labelled as professionally made.
Everything from the constantly evolving designs and the ever improving sewing really highlight Rocky’s dedication. The sense I get here is that he is aiming for master quality work. Mill Handmade isn’t just another ‘me too’ hobby crafting brand.
The Hans wallet reviewed here is another step upwards in terms of sophistication of both design and handcraft compared with the earlier Elliot wallets. With this wallet, Rocky has created another clever and origin design. The neatness and delicacy of the work has been dialed up too.
This is not quite the usual rustic, work-style leathers that I collect, but veering towards the bespoke, gentlemen’s style of carry goods that would look equally good with a pair of jeans or tailored trousers. The Hans is probably a bit too large to be used as a shirt-pocket wallet, and a bit too bulky to be considered a simple card wallet.
The interesting aspect of Rocky’s minimalist presentation of leather goods is that, to achieve this effect, the design and construct of the wallet end up being rather complex, necessitating fastidious and detailed handwork. Despite taking inspiration from workwear, Rocky’s work is more gentlemen’s style than rough & rugged, so a refined overall aesthetic is important: The cutting and paneling needs to be precise, within less than millimeter tolerance for faults. The edge work and sewing need to be very polished – there can’t be any fluffiness or outlier stitches.
A basic version of the Hans wallet, as shown here, is priced at $130 AUD. More expensive leathers, such as shell cordovan and Japanese vegetable tanned leathers, can be had with a surcharge of $10 or $20. I think the pricing is rather good here, given the quality of work and the excellent leathers on offer.
The Hans wallet by Mill Handmade is highly recommended for those who want to carry a smaller wallet without sacrificing storage capacity or if you’re looking for a piece that is sleeker and more refined compared with the average bifold.
If you haven’t already, head over to Mill Handmade and have a look at this Hans wallet, as well as Rocky’s other excellent designs.