Tanuki Inc. Japan – Retro Regular-Straight RR1 review

I first noticed Tanuki Inc. when I started using Instagram in July this year.

Denim brands come and go, and there’re only so many pairs of pants one man can wear after all, so – to be very honest – I usually don’t pay too much attention to new denim brands.

However, the more I clicked through Tanuki’s IG photos, the more intrigued I became. Their denim offerings and jeans construction actually looked pretty solid in those photos, so I was curious to see if I could track down a pair of Tanuki jeans. After all, it has been some time since a new Japanese brand with a heavy focus on fabrics has appeared on the scene.

No doubt there has recently been some controversy regarding the secrecy of their branding – you can search for the relevant threads on Superfuture & /r/rawdenim – which I think has been blown out of proportion due to PR efforts from third parties on both sides of the argument.

Nevertheless, I remained curious. Readers of my blog will know that my interests in denim are pretty wide in scope. Further, not having much factual information to digest only fueled my desire to get my hands on a pair and turn it inside out.

After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, right?

Long story shorter, my quest for a pair of Tanuki jeans in a Regular cut remained fruitless for a time due to their first Western retailer not stocking this cut and Tanuki’s Japanese retailers not having any web presence. Tanuki, however, was able to help me out themselves by sending a pair of their Retro Regular Straight (RR1) jeans to me directly. These jeans were sent at no cost to myself, the intent being a review from the perspective of a serious hobbyist.

Without further ado, here is the review:

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This pair I am examining today is Tanuki Inc.’s Retro Regular Straight (RR1) jeans.

Although widely released this year to the Western market, Tanuki has actually been quietly retailed in Japan for a time now.

This brand is somewhat unconventional in that members of the project are reportedly industry veterans spread over different brands, workshops and mills. Unfortunately, I do not know who most of these industry people are, but a large proportion of the team consist of denim weavers (blokes at the mill, basically) who manufacture the fabrics for many Japanese brands. I don’t want to focus too much on the branding or back-story today, so I will direct you to their lookbook to peruse their advertising at your leisure. See here.

Let’s move on to the actual jeans itself.

The Cut

A size 36 Regular cut, in raw unsanforised state, has the following measurements:

Waist   18.75

Inseam   37

F Rise   12.5

B Rise   15.25

Thigh   13.5

Knee   9.25

Hem   8.5

After a proper shrink-to-fit, there is initially a ~5% shrinkage:

Waist   18

Inseam   35

F Rise   12

B Rise   15

Thigh   13

Knee   9.5

Hem   8.5

I noticed the measurements from the knee down doesn’t really change, but there is enough shrinkage for the roping effect to appear at the hems.

Looking at the measurements above, I will ask you to keep in mind that although this pair is named the Regular cut, once shrunk-to-fit these jeans are what I would describe as straight with mild taper. It would be considered a slim straight cut in terms of the Japanese market.

Below is me (185 cm, 90 kg) wearing the RR1 unhemmed – the denim is new has been freshly shrunk (machine wash, low heat machine dry), and thus very crispy and unsettled, so please excuse the crinkling below the knees:

Let’s break it down a little.

The waist is true to size after shrink-to-fit. The yoke is moderately deep, and the waist band cut in such a way that the posterior is well covered when sitting down. The seat fits well, with good movement in the top-block.

There is enough room in the thighs even for a larger built person such as myself, but the thighs are not baggy and don’t flare out excessively. The jean tapers down the legs gently, giving a slightly slim, relatively straight silhouette. Hem is wide enough for cuffing, and the width works with well with both chunky American workboots and sleeker English country shoes. The inseam is generous, which allows for versatility in terms of how I can wear the hem and footwear matching.

For further referencing, here is a pair of NR1 in size 32, hemmed to 29″, worn by Martin of Godspeed. The NR1 uses the natural indigo denim, but has the same Regular cut – Martin’s pair has been worn raw for some weeks:

The Denim – Raw

What we have here is an unsanforised, low-tension 15 oz fabric, in Right Hand Twill, that has been woven on a narrow shuttle loom. The warp yarns were rope-dyed with two different indigo dyes. Tanuki states that all of their own fabrics, including this Retro denim, are loomstate. It has not been singed, skewed, sanforised or stabilised in any way.

Apparently this Retro denim was inspired by a reproduction fabric that Tanuki’s denim weavers had first created in the 1970s, during the early days of Japanese-made denim jeans – this earlier fabric was discontinued in the 1990s.

Interestingly, then, this Retro denim is a reproduction of a reproduction!

I was informed that there are 8 dips involved in rope-dyeing the Retro denim – 7 dips with one type of indigo, and the finishing dip with another indigo – the intent is to enhance the colouring and fading characteristics of the denim. More on this topic is covered later within this review.

The selvedge ID is pink. The cotton utilised is from Texas, and appear to be medium in staple length – with the weft yarn being larger (thicker) than the warp yarn in order to create vintage-style handfeel of this denim. The yarns have been spun tighter & more consistently compared to slubbier denims such as the recently reviewed SEXSG.

The weave of the Retro denim is rather special – it has an unusual combination of high density and low tension weaving. This is unlike most low tension woven denims which have corresponding low density weaving and leave the denim rather porous, potentially resulting in reduced fabric strength.

At first glance it appears to be a plainer fabric compared with Tanuki’s Natural denim offering, though many interesting details are discernible upon closer examination.

The first aspect that caught my attention was the moderate amount of loomchatter and knobbing. For the newbies: Loomchattering are irregularities in the warp and weft that occur during shuttle loom operation. Knobs are balls of warp that occasionally sit atop the surface of the denim, and they produce unique wear results down the track.

The density of the weave is notable too, as you can see in the numerous photos here – look at how closely the wrap is packed even pre-wash.

Also apparent is the mild slubbing in the warp, and this combines with the chattering to create a fairly detailed and complex warp side.

This denim is somewhat hairy, but not to the degree of something like the Xinjiang/Turpan cotton jeans that have recently featured on this blog.

The weft side is relatively more subdued, though the irregularities remain noticeable.

The Denim – Shrink-to-Fit

The denim really pops & tightens after being immersed in water.

All the previously described weave irregularities and denim characteristics are further emphasized as the fabric closes in and contracts.

The loomchatterings are enhanced in appearance, producing randomly distributed islands of densely packed warp.

The verticality and slubbing of the denim also become more apparent.

The indigo becomes so inky that, initially, it appears to have tones of grey. However, with just a little bit of wear, the effects of the double indigo dye are slowly revealed…the indigo is deep & grey on the surface, but hidden underneath is a green tinge that couldn’t be seen whilst the denim was raw.

Unexpectedly, this denim has a full and textured hand-feel that is quite pleasing. This tells me that many different interactions are occurring in the ‘body’ (or cross-section) of this denim, which will hopefully be revealed with time & wear.

Regardless of your philosophy on how to wear raw denim, I can assure you that you will not experience the full potential of this Retro fabric until it has touched water!

Finally, this denim loses a good deal of the initial roughness rather quickly, and is comfortable after the first couple of wears – it is not scratchy or abrasive. This Retro denim also creases easily; the honeycomb and whisker patterns will set in fairly quickly.

The photo above allows some comparison of the shades of indigo, against Sauce Zhan’s Xinjiang cotton denim (bag) and Stevenson Overall’s grand-indigo dyed Zimbabwe cotton denim (Bronco vest). The Retro denim’s tinges of grey & green is now easily discernible, contrasting with Stevenson’s purple tinge and Sauce’s lighter grey tinge.

The Details

Vegetable tanned deerskin patch at 2.5 oz (1 mm thickness).

After machine wash, machine dry and a light layer of Sedgwick bridle dressing.
After machine wash, machine dry, some wears and a light layer of Sedgwick bridle dressing.

The leather has an interesting finish that stiffened & grew out the grain; it reminds me somewhat of Eternal’s older patches. It washes well for a veg tanned leather.

The button fly features five metal buttons which are of good thickness, with antiqued copper finishing and plain back-stud.

Note the hardware is not customised. I have seen what I think are the same buttons on other Japanese garments, such as some of Hi-Large’s horsehide jackets.

Universal copper rivets, yellow finish, punch-thru type.

Universal hidden copper rivets, standard type.

Raised belt loops.

Ecru & blue gingham as front pocket fabric. Back pockets half-lined with same. This fabric is  high quality, but thinner than the traditional twill cloth.

The front pockets are deep enough & shaped in such a way so as to easily accommodate modern phones – my own HTC 10 for example, is held perfectly.

The back pockets will hold a bi-fold, mid-wallet or a phablet comfortably.

The Construct

Tanuki has opted for a construction which is fairly neat and ‘streamlined’.

To my surprise, I counted 8 thread colours in a variety of sizes.

Main threads: Lemon, Orange, Tea.

Secondary threads: Blue, Black, White, Tonal Indigo, Red.

Interestingly, the light blue thread runs down the inseam.

My main observation here, apart from the neatness of stitching, is that the main thread colours are carefully coordinated and blended into each other from the waist down in a fashion that is rather graceful. I especially like how the orange and tea threads, easily mistaken for the same colour at first glance, are used concurrently to balance the lemon threads.

The stitches are fairly straight, and no stitch too close to the edge.

The button holes are worth a look – the holes were created after the stitching had been placed, and the stitching is dense on both sides.

The fly is nicely locked on both sides.

The leather patch was neatly secured.

The belt loops are not tucked, but are accurately placed and bartacked.

The bartacking, rivet placement and button placement are all very precise.

The top button sits directly on the V-stitching.

All four hidden rivets are placed neatly & consistently.

All the internal “wiring” including the inseam were neatly finished and tucked. Nothing hangs loose.

Lastly, the chain-stitching at the hems were well placed and deftly executed.

The Extras

Tanuki jeans, for the time being, come with a duffle-style back-pack made with heavy canvas.

Thoughts & Opinions

The jeans themselves?

The RR1 is certainly well constructed, with a custom denim that is full of interest and potential.

From a purely technical perspective, these are fairly competent jeans. Tanuki on this account slides comfortably into the ranks of the more established Japanese brands. In fact, the construct on my pair is neater & sleeker compared with some of my jeans from other Japanese brands. I could find no structural flaws or technical faults. The sum of the construction and components is fairly polished.

I do also want to mention the enhanced functionality of the pockets compared with most other denim jeans – Tanuki’s pockets have been designed to easily accommodate modern smart-phones, which is something I think every brand should consider.

Apart from some finer details – such as the light blue inseam thread – this pair of jeans doesn’t deviate too much from the standard 5-pocket, Levi-esque blue jeans in terms of overall styling. It doesn’t possess the over-the-top Japanese detailing of Samurai Jeans nor the old west flair of Stevenson’s Overall, but it does the basics very well.

The loomstate Retro denim itself, as I explained in the body of this review, is deceptively complex and in my opinion may be rated as an enthusiast level denim. It is neither boring or exaggerated, the denim containing many subtle details and interactions that I continue to discover during the first two weeks of wearing these jeans. Also very interesting is the shade of indigo – the Retro denim has a grey cast indigo sitting atop a green cast indigo, an unusual but pleasing combination I haven’t experienced before. In many ways the Retro denim encapsulates various aspects of note in slow woven, low tension denim.

I am reminded of an earlier time when Paul Trynka & Cone Mills discussed loomstate denim during the Roy x Cone contest: Loomstate fabrics are unpredictable, and translating loomstate denim into a pair of jeans that fit well is, to say the least, difficult. Whilst I have no first hand experience with Tanuki’s three other European-style cuts, I can say that Tanuki did a fine job with this Regular Cut.

This is not to say the RR1 is perfect. The ways that I could see the jeans being improved would be to tuck the belt loops into the waistband for a sleeker finish that is more in line with the overall detailing and to utilize fully customized buttons & rivets. Further, I would also prefer a thicker pocket fabric. I do believe that further upgrades in these smaller details will allow Tanuki to stand out a little more in this saturated market.

Overall, the Tanuki Inc. RR1 surprised me with the technicality of the Retro fabric, and demonstrated through considered detailing and construction that Tanuki – despite aiming at a mostly Western audience – is no slouch when it comes to making jeans.

Are Tanuki’s jeans good value?

Tanuki’s different models are priced in the upper-middle tier of Made in Japan denims, somewhere between Japan Blue and Real Japan Blues.

Several aspects factor into this pricing:

  1. Made in Japan, from fabric to sewing
  2. Made available physically in brick n’ mortar stores in North America & Australia
  3. Custom made loomstate denim fabrics by & for Tanuki

Breaking it down further, Tanuki’s natural indigo models are certainly good value. Most other natural rope-dyed jeans sell for more, whereas true hank- or bottle-dyed jeans sell for much more.

Tanuki’s other fabrics may not have the same value appeal as the Natural at a superficial level, but as I had outlined in the body of the review, the Retro fabric is actually very technical – it needs to be seen & felt, contrasting between the raw state and after shrink-to-fit, in order to appreciate its beauty and complexity.

Very interesting too is the newly released collaboration with Oni – the denim used is a limited edition 20 oz fabric that combines Oni’s “secret denim” weave and Tanuki’s natural indigo rope-dye.

Remember that, as far as even Japanese brands go, not that many jeans are built around a fabric designed specifically for the project, and here lies what I think is Tanuki’s main attraction for the serious hobbyist.

Would Tanuki’s offerings appeal to everybody?

Reproduction purists need not apply; Tanuki is clearly a modern interpretation of Japanese denim which caters to current generation denim fans. It is not a reproduction by any means, even if the Retro denim itself is very much a vintage inspired fabric.

I believe Tanuki in its various fits may be an attractive choice for a few types of denim-heads:

  1. Fashion-forward types who want true Japanese denim whilst retaining a modern fit – if you like APC, for example.
  2. Newbies who have some knowledge of raw denim and wish to venture into Japanese denim – if you mainly have Naked & Famous, for example.
  3. People who have interest in brands such as Pure Blue Japan, Momotaro or Oni.

Verdict?

Very solid choice for beginners and intermediate denim-heads, with various modern fits and interesting denims from which to choose.

Worth examining for an advanced enthusiast, mainly due to the interesting fabrics – the natural indigo denim is fairly priced, and the Retro denim reviewed here is quietly accomplished.

For the Retro denim, definitely try to handle a pair that has been shrunk-to-fit – it’s a different twist to the low-tension style of denim we have become familiar with over the past years.

Check them out in person!

The Regular fit in various denims will be available at Godspeed soon, with the other cuts available at Blue Owl currently.

More immediately, the Oni x Tanuki collaboration will be available instore and online at Godspeed 1200 AEST tomorrow in extremely limited numbers.

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