Samurai Jeans celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and what a productive two decades it’s been for this very Japanese denim brand.
As you might already know, Samurai Jeans was founded in 1998 by Toru Nogami during the height of the reproduction denim craze in Japan. Headquartered in Osaka, Samurai specializes in a different type of Japanese jeans compared to older, more reproduction oriented Japanese denim companies.
On a pair of Samurai Jeans, there is a deliberate focus on the fading of fabrics and the instillation of Japanese aesthetic and art in their garments – truly then, moving beyond and above Americana, shaping denim dungarees into something more than just work pants.
I remember my first pair of Samurai Jeans, the s710, which was my second pair of Japanese jeans, back when I was about 18 years old. It was truly a special experience. Never have I worn clothes that felt like armor, and the significant substance in the denim was quite different from the Edwin jeans I’d been wearing during my teenage years or the Sugar Cane dungarees I’d been trying out at the same time.
Naturally then, I was very curious when I heard that Okayama Denim was working with Samurai Jeans on a special collaboration, featuring a brand new cut designed by Okayama Denim! This is the “Legacy” jean, in the new Comfort Tapered cut, featuring their ‘standard’ 15 oz Texas cotton denim. The ODSJ001.
So, let’s take a look at the Legacy today, and through this pair of jeans we shall consider Samurai Jeans’ legacy within our denim hobby.
The Hobbyist Perspective
Samurai Jeans has always been rather different in its identity and approach compared with other well-known brands in this hobby. There is no yearning for otherness, very little Americana flavoring, and a narrowed scope on romanticizing vintage garments & post-war culture.
Samurai is proudly Japanese, with most of their special edition jeans centered around medieval Japanese themes – battles and duels of famous Samurai, legendary campaigns of the warrior clans, etc.
A bit of a paradox, I suppose, attempting to imbue a quintessentially American garment with the Japanese spirit… this aspect can be polarizing at times, and hence Samurai Jeans is a bit like Iron Heart – there are devoted fans among Western denim heads, but also people who shy away from their wares due to the very strong themes.
What cannot be denied, however, is the incredible attention to details in Samurai’s garments and the fanatical devotion the brand has shown in constantly developing new denims and new jeans, with many of their fabrics pushing the absolute boundaries of narrow loomed denim, with price tags to match too.
Over the years, many aspects of their garments have become standards of sorts within the hobby – the 710 cut, the famous black to grey denims, the Texas cotton denim, to name just a couple.
In some ways, however, Samurai Jeans is difficult to review; the brand releases so many special editions, so many custom fabrics and has so many sub-labels (which you won’t see at Western retailers) that it’s often impossible to make generalisations about Samurai based on one or two of their garments.
Yet, the Legacy jeans being reviewed today presents as a perfect vehicle to consider Samurai’s body of work and think about future directions – we shall consider this further.
Samurai’s jeans have always been cut for the East Asian body shape (shorter pelvis, flatter gluteal, thinner thigh), so many of their famous cuts are considered to be slim fitting for the average Western customer.
Indeed, even for my much trimmer 18 year old self (185 cm, 76 kg, wearing size 34), their 710 cut was rather fitted, and I do remember the top block and thighs being a bit squishy. Now that I’m 30 years old and quite a bit heavier, the 710 cut won’t work anymore, even if I size up – the same could be said of many of Samurai’s other popular fits – there just isn’t space up top to be comfortable for me. This issue of a cramped top block remains consistent through most of their cuts, other than the very relaxed fitting models which are much too wide in the legs by today’s standards. So, I’ve been hoping that they would release an updated cut for their Western fans.
That brings us to this pair – the Legacy is built on the new Comfort Tapered cut, designed by Okayama Denim, based on Western consumer feedback and recent denim trends toward looser top blocks and tapered legs.
With the Legacy, I’m currently 92 kg (true waist 36) and wearing a size 36. In reviewing this cut, I’ve managed to get most of the shrinkage out of the way, and tasked these pants pretty hard over a period of three weeks, climbing mountains and trekking across glaciers in South America.
The rise is moderate. The top block is more spacious than most other Samurai cuts, but only moderately so – definitely not as roomy as ‘regular’ fit jeans by Western brands, though loose enough so that there’s a good amount of room in the bum for activities like climbing and hiking.
The thighs are slightly more spacious than something like the 710 cut, but remain slim, having less room compared with an archetypal Western lifter’s jeans (e.g. Left Field’s Charles Atlas cut.)
The taper is strong and start fairly high up, above the knees, and a bit of force is needed when I remove these jeans in order to push my calves through the leg openings.
The inseam length has been shortened compared with Samurai’s usual offering, and with the Legacy I can choose to stack or do a short single cuff, but double cuffing is not possible at my height of 185 cm.
Overall, for someone with a larger build, I would consider these to be a slim-tapered cut, rather than lifter’s cut. If I actually did squats and calf-raises consistently, I could not fit into this Comfort Tapered cut, as it would be skin tight if my legs are bigger. For thinner or average built folks, this Comfort Tapered cut should be a nice upgrade compared with Samurai’s older cuts.
The Legacy features Samurai’s well known 15 oz, right hand twill, unsanforised Texas cotton denim. After the first wash, this denim will shrink at least 6%.
This 15 oz denim is an interesting one, and has been a staple at Samurai Jeans for many years. It is densely woven with short staple American cotton, imparting the denim with its signature crunchiness and coarse texture.
The denim is rigid and mildly rough to touch at first. This roughness, combined with the initial neppiness and high numbers of small sized slubs, creates a rustic vibe for which this denim is renowned.
The indigo here is what I would consider to be a very pure, or ‘grand’, colour – a purple shade to the blue, moderately dark – old school indeed.
For me, this denim evokes the American West. I’d have called this denim the “Maverick” or “Mustang” – wild and rugged, possessing great character without going over-the-top with big slubs or enormous weight.
The selvedge features Samurai’s signature silver lamé ID, evoking the steel and soul of the katana.
Indeed, at 15 oz, this denim is one of Samurai’s lightest. Yet, having sampled and handled many Samurai Jeans fabrics over the years, I’d say the most classic of their denims would be this Texas cotton denim or their 19 oz denim. I’m very glad then, that Okayama Denim chose to spec the Legacy with this 15 oz denim – a true classic, and represents Samurai’s body of work quite well.
There are plenty of fade examples of this denim over at Superfuture – this is known to be a fairly fast fading fabric, with relatively high contrast and moderate verticality.
The top design aspect for the Legacy jeans would have to be the graphics which feature on the patch and the flasher: SJ x OD.
Embossed onto thick, natural vegetable tanned cowhide, this patch is radically different from Samurai’s usual patch designs, courtesy of the guys at Okayama Denim. This chunky patch promises plenty of evo!
Samurai’s innovative ‘hidden arcs’ make a welcomed appearance. The arcs will appear in time, as the indigo denim fades.
The back pockets are fully lined with Samurai’s jacquard fabric, and here you can also see the hidden arcs.
The top edge construct for the back pockets is a bit different on the Legacy, and features running selvedge.
Hurrah for the red tab!
An inverted “A” signifies this is a special edition dungaree.
Like many anniversary jeans in Japan, the Legacy goes all out with a mixed button fly. You’d have seen all these buttons before, on various Samurai Jeans denims.
I don’t have a favourite, they’re all pretty cool…
The back studs for the buttons are fully customised too, as expected for Samurai’s jeans.
Silver flat rivets from the Yamato series are used for external riveting.
These are some of the nicest around.
Of course, the coin style hidden rivets feature.
In true Samurai Jeans style, the hardware is 200% customised.
Another unique feature is the use of a kasuri shirting fabric as pocket cloth.
Whilst not as thick or dense as Samurai’s usual jacquard cloth, this indigo dyed kasuri is simply beautiful!
A simple but sturdy woven tag completes the pocket features.
The fly features a half-selvedge finish.
Well, no one does Japanese detailing like Samurai Jeans, and customisation has been further boosted on this Legacy jeans. This is one of the most detailed jeans ever made.
Another Samurai signature is the use of very traditional sewing with pure cotton threads.
I count five different colours of threading in at least four different thread sizes!
The construct here is not only very neat, but also fantastically old school.
Dual chain-stitched waistband with contrast lemon and orange colours – notice how the chain-stitching are also different thicknesses too!
More chain-stitch through the seat. Again, varying threads sizes and stitch densities.
The sewing changes up – indeed, different threads and specialized machines are used for every part of these Legacy jeans.
One interesting feature is the use of white and red bar-tacking for the belt loops – the colours of Okayama Denim.
Of course, there is a folded selvedge coin pocket featuring peak-a-boo selvedge.
The waist band and fly finishing are perfectly neat.
The button holes are dense and tidy.
The non-selvedge side of the fly is neatly cut and locked.
Indeed, these are some of the nicest machine-sewn button holes I’ve seen.
The finish at the crotch is clean.
Note the horizontal reinforcement.
The outseam above the selvedge line is nicely cut and locked.
The inseam finishing is very neat also, completed with three types of stitching.
Finally, the hem is, of course, chain-stitched.
Impeccable and retro-style sewing has come to define Samurai Jean’s garments, and this tradition continues with the Legacy jeans.
It’s a very happy 20th birthday for Samurai Jeans, and the brand continues to redefine Japanese denim with new fabrics, new styles and new cuts, and of course the celebrations aren’t complete without dozens of collaboration jeans sold through shops all over Japan. Out of all the anniversary collaborations with Samurai’s various Japanese dealers, Okayama Denim’s Legacy Jeans is perhaps at once the most innovative and also the most retrospective.
The most innovative?
Well, the new Comfort Tapered cut is pretty big news – Samurai rarely produces new cuts for small runs or collaboration jeans. This cut, designed by Okayama Denim, is perhaps the first attempt at creating a modern cut for the Western market.
The new patch design too, is wildly dissimilar to Samurai’s usual, comical style of patch art. The kasuri pockets are also a first.
The most retrospective?
It’s the combination of nostalgic Samurai Jeans flavors and features, to be appreciated by fans who have been following the brand for many years. 15 oz Texas cotton denim? The naughty red tab? Remember when the Levi’s lawsuit happened and Samurai created the hidden arc? Various buttons and rivets from older models?
The Legacy has a bit of everything, a sample platter of Samurai’s body of work over the past decade.
I think Okayama Denim has spec’d out this Legacy collaboration very well in terms of detailing and fabric. Sure, some people might say the level of customisation might be a bit over-the-top, but remember all these flashy details are hidden when the jeans are worn. The only person to see the buttons, the kasuri pockets and the hidden selvedge lines is the owner of the Legacy.
I’m glad Okayama Denim picked the 15 oz denim. This Texas cotton denim has real Western flavor – it’s the kind of denim that Cone Mills should have made. Ironic that this Samurai Jeans fabric, to me, is more American than any denim I’ve seen come out from North America is the past many years. There’s so much character and charm in this Texas cotton denim – I would love to have a pair of Wrangler reproductions jeans made out of it.
The construct is top notch, as expected. Samurai Jeans have always employed great sewing workshops to create their jeans, and the make of these Legacy jeans really showcases old school Japanese jeans making: pure cotton threads, balanced thread colours, dense sewing, varying thread sizes, and specialized machines used for each component of the jeans. I would expect this pair to break down gracefully with wear.
Samurai Jeans’ legacy, of course, is not in doubt. Countless photos on Superfuture over the years attest to the grace and beauty with which Samurai’s jeans wear over time. Samurai is one of the few brands which have not released questionable products, outsourced too much manufacturing or seen a gradual decline in quality with rising Western and Chinese interest in Japanese denim.
This new collaboration with Okayama Denim on a new cut, however, would be somewhat uncharted territory for Samurai. Samurai’s jeans have been cut pretty much exclusively for slim built Asian guys, and they’ve been slow to adapt to new trends and silhouettes over the past few years, especially as their relationships with Western dealers such as Blue in Green have cooled down. Okayama Denim, now one of the main representatives of Samurai Jeans on the international market, will play the roles of guide and adviser – the creation of the Comfort Tapered cut is a great start.
Having thoroughly tested this new Comfort Tapered cut, I feel it is a modernization of Samurai’s popular cuts, such as the 710 and 0511. However, it is still geared towards a thinner body shape, and whilst reasonably comfortable, there is still not quite enough room in the crotch, thighs or legs for a larger built person. Therefore, I see the Comfort Tapered cut as a side-grade or an alternative to the 710 and 0511 fits – in essence, the Comfort Tapered cut remains a slim tapered fit for a person with average or above average build.
As such, there is still an unfilled spot in Samurai’s line-up for a true lifter’s cut or a tapered cut for larger folks. I really do hope that Okayama Denim will continue to work with Samurai Jeans to create ODSJ002, as there’s a whole lot of potential in this new Comfort Tapered cut, with just a couple of tweaks to the measurements – I’d love to see what the guys at OD will come up with next.
For Samurai fans, the Legacy jeans is a must see, especially if you don’t already have their 15 oz Texas cotton denim in your collection. For chunkier folks, I’d recommend sizing one up. Remember, this is unsanforized denim, and will readily shrink 6%, and we’re looking at perhaps 8 % shrinkage over the long run with trips to the washing machine and dryer down the track, so don’t buy this pair too tight.
At $280 USD with free international shipping, the Legacy jeans is actually one of the best priced special edition Samurai Jeans dungarees you’ll find. At only $50 more expensive than Samurai’s regular edition mid-weight denim jeans, the host of customisation and exclusive detailing on the Legacy jeans more than make up for this price difference. All aspects considered, the Legacy can be considered to be good value within the top tier of Japanese denims.
All in all, an easy recommendation! Definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re wanting to try your first pair of Samurai Jeans.
Head over to Okayama Denim to take a look!