Denimio x Studio D’Artisan – DM003 Kakishibu jeans

A happy birthday to Studio D’Artisan, which turns 40 years old this year. As expected of a Japanese jeans maker, a special anniversary always involves creating collaboration jeans with their stockists.

Today, thanks to the good folks at Denimio, we’ll take a look at one of the upcoming Denimio x Studio D’Artisan collaboration jeans, the DM003 Kakishibu.

This review is a longer one, as we have quite a number of topics to cover – so strap in, let’s roll!


The G3 Concept

One of the core aims of this Denimio x SDA collaboration is to showcase Japanese crafts both ancient & modern. On the DM003 jeans, the highlights are the G3 woven 14 oz selvedge denim and the kakishibu (persimmon dyed) weft.

To understand the essence of denim woven on the G3 loom, we have to take our hobby right back to the fabrics, checking some facts and dispelling some marketing myths.

The beginnings of Western interest in Japanese denim was partly built on a falsehood which proclaimed that Osaka-based Evis had purchased a fleet of Draper X-3 looms from Levi’s in the 1980’s, and that modern Japanese denim are actually true Americana woven on these old Draper machines. This statement is not true, and is ridiculous in many ways.

Let’s clear things up a little…

Ever since the creation of power looms in the 18th century, fueling the industrial revolution in Europe, loom technology has undergone rapid progression. After millennia of producing fabrics by hand on primitive hand looms, the progression from the first steam powered loom to computer-controlled projectile looms took less than two centuries.

Sakichi Toyoda, founder of the various modern Toyota companies, invented Japan’s first power loom at the end of the 19th century, around the same time that Draper produced their first automatic loom. Realizing that Japan had fallen behind Western powers in terms of textile technology by almost a century, and understanding that modern civilizations are being built on mechanization, Toyoda devoted much of his life to developing and improving Japanese looms.

Toyoda’s first power loom in 1896 was to spawn a series of powered shuttle looms in the next half-century. In 1903, he invented the world’s first shuttle-change automatic loom, named the Type T. The next major step was the Type G, created in 1924, being a non-stop shuttle-change improvement on the Type T, featuring automatic shuttle-change mechanics, improving loom efficiency. The Type G was well known in its time for the quality of woven textiles, despite the ‘high’ speed (by 1920’s standards) with which it could weave fabrics.

Sakichi Toyoda passed away in 1930, leaving behind a very important legacy, and Toyoda Automatic Loom Works – a branch of Toyoda created after the success of the Type G – continued to improve upon the original.

The machine which created the denim fabric showcased here is the Type G3 automatic shuttle loom, a later version of the Type G which was produced for a brief period of time in the 1950’s. G3’s short career came much after the advent of modern rapier & projectile looms in the 1940’s, so that by the time G3 was invented, denim manufacturing had already begun shifting towards modern weaving. During these later years of the 1950’s, the golden age of American denim, shuttle looms were well & truly on their way out.

This is not to mention the fact that the Japanese had not attempted to create denim on their looms until the 1970’s, and, as mentioned in my previous review of Big John jeans, it was only in 1983 that the first shuttle-loomed, artisan quality Japanese denim jeans came into being. It is interesting to think that the G3, much like its ancestors, had been created to produce Japanese work fabrics such as sail cloth, and were not utilized to manufacture denim until recent times

Across the Pacific, in the home of denim, Draper produced its very last shuttle looms, the X-3, in the 1940’s. As American mills closed down one after the other over the 20th century, even Cone Mills’ White Oak plant had to put away their Draper looms into storage.

Toyoda’s G3 loom, over the past 60 years, began slowly fading into history. In the current day, none of the earlier Type G looms are commercially operational, and I am told that only one mill in Japan continues to operate Type G3 looms. Denim woven on the G3 have been popularized in the past few years among denim enthusiasts, with brands such as Warehouse, Trophy Clothing and, of course, Studio D’Artisan, among others, using G3 denim for their jeans.

So, what is so special about denim created on Type G3 looms then?

Consider that many Asian countries continue to build shuttle looms of course, and that if you pay enough dollars you’ll be able to obtain hand-loomed denim (which is a higher tier of product), not to mention modern looms can be programmed to recreate any type of fabric you might want, even reproduction denims…

Well, now that White Oak plant has closed down, and its Draper X-3 looms have stopped their chatter, denim woven on G3 looms are some of the very oldest shuttle loomed fabrics which can be obtained, giving us a clue as to what denim woven in the 1950’s might have been like.

What the G3 offers us is perhaps fictionalized romance – a denim which never was, but could have been, many decades ago.


The Kakishibu Concept

Cotton is not native to Japan, and was introduced from India, one of the native regions of cotton growth in the world, via China more than a thousand years ago. However, it was not until the Sengoku period when cotton agriculture became widespread. Prior to cotton, Japanese common folks wore rougher cloth made from a variety of fibres, which included hemp, and these cloth were dyed in natural pigments to provide colour and increase utility.

In this year’s collaborations, Denimio & Studio D’Artisan pay their respects to the close link between Japanese culture and natural colours, and in the DM003 the classic combination of persimmon & indigo is showcased.

The tannin rich fermented extract of unripe persimmons was an ancient natural dye which not only provided colour, but also imparted the cloth with improved qualities such as repelling insects and rugged wear. Persimmon dye was not only used on cloth, but also was routinely utilized for a wide variety of crafts including paper-making and tool preservation. This use of persimmon dye is termed kakishibu (‘astringent persimmon’), the art being almost a millennium old.

Interestingly, in its artistic use, kakishibu is often used with natural indigo to produce amazing prints on cotton textiles. So it is, then, that the indigo warp and kakishibu weft on this G3 denim is a very fitting homage to Japanese textile traditions!


Studio D’Artisan

The Studio D’Artisan brand dates its inception back to 1979, though founder Shigeharu Tagaki created the first pair of Studio D’Artisan jeans – the natural indigo, cinch backed DO-1 jeans – in 1986. The establishment of the ‘two pigs’ brand slightly precedes the creation of Evis, Fullcount, Warehouse & Denime.

Without counting companies which were birthed from large sewing factories operating prior to WWII – brands such as Big John, etc – Studio D’Artisan could be considered to be one of the very earliest incarnations of modern Japanese jeans.

I found it fairly interesting that Tagaki, a Japanese fashion designer who worked in Paris, was to create one of the very first reproduction Japanese denim brands. People write about Tagaki as a foremost expert and collector of denim jeans in Japan at the time, having come across French denim brands during the course of his European career. Indeed, his DO-1 jeans combined elements of both American jeans and French work trousers, an aesthetic very much in line with the French interpretation of American casual & work styles at the time. It is said that both SDA and Denime, brands which influenced the founders of Evis and Fullcount, were very much replicating and re-interpreting the French perspective of Americana in those early days.

At some point in the 1990’s, Tagaki left Studio D’Artisan and the brand was bought out by a larger company. Tagaki’s name no longer features in SDA publications, and current CEO Yoshinori Fujikawa is very much the face of the brand in 2019.

Today, SDA is one of the larger operations as far as niche, Japanese reproduction jeans makers are concerned, and they continue to keep the denim game interesting by exploring new dyes, new cottons, and new weaves. With Denime having changed hands several times and Evisu going off on several tangents, Studio D’Artisan remains one of the few OG operations left that have remained true to its original spirit – no simple feat after 40 years!


The Cut

With all the context out of the way, let’s actually take a look at the DM003 jeans!

The official designation of this cut is the High Rise Relax Tapered – a variation of the recently popular high tapered cut.

In the photos below, the jeans are factory once-washed and at day 3; I am wearing a sample size 36, with a height of 185 cm and mass of 94 kg.

The rise is medium-high.

The seat is roomy but not baggy.

The thighs are generous, and can accommodate muscular legs.

The taper begins from the knee, and is moderately aggressive, ending in a 19 cm hem.

The inseam, post factory wash, is 86 cm – this will work nicely for most folks.

Overall, the fit is fairly comfortable, and similar to the lifter’s cut that many Western hobbyist would know.


The Fabric

So we’ve discussed the heritage of the G3 loom earlier in this piece, but what about the actual denim itself?

This denim is a 14 oz, unsanforised, genuine shuttle loom production.

In terms of the texture, this G3 denim is moderately rough and rather bumpy to the touch, with a surprising amount of body to the fabric.

It feels and wears heavier than its tagged 14 oz measurement might suggest, and has good density.

This is a fairly sensible G3 denim, with the slub texture created mostly through gentle yarn variations and genuine loom chatter.

The grain is finer and the slubbing more subtle compared with other G3 denims, such as Trophy’s Dirt denim.

Visually, not only are there intense vertical textures, but also this denim actually possesses rather intense horizontal variegation.

This, combined with the tight warp grain, creates a mid-century aesthetic, albeit slightly exaggerated.

This denim is not very neppy or hairy.

The horizontal streaking are best appreciated on the weft face.

Even on the weft, the chatter and density of this denim is notable, but the twill lines can be followed without interruption.

The selvedge ID is kakishibu (brown).

It is stated that both African & Australian cotton are used here, though I’m not sure from where within African the cotton originates  or the staple lengths within the yarns.

Australian cotton is pretty interesting – usually short to long staple Upland – a very different feel from the cotton in East Asia.

The fabric feels rough to the fingertips though the denim handles well, and is even slightly oily.

In terms of colour, the indigo on the warp has a red cast, with dye penetration being relatively superficial due to rope dyeing.

The depth of colour is dramatic, as the kakishibu on the weft is rather dark.

From a distance, depending on sunlight, shades of red, purple and brown can feature on this denim. 

The colour tone on this denim is very deep.


The Details

The DM003 features an orange leather patch, embossed with art work of Denimio’s beetle next to a persimmon fruit, in a calligraphy style of illustration.

The Chinese character for persimmon feature at the top right corner.

Studio D’Artisan’s current generation arc features on the back-pockets.

The back pockets are half-lined with kakishibu dyed twill cloth.

The pockets are sized well, allowing for the carriage of work-style wallets.

The same kakishibu twill cloth feature for the front-pockets too, which are cut deep enough to accommodate modern phones.

This cloth is comfortable – dense, but not very thick.

The coin pocket is packed with details, and created with a true sashiko fabric also dyed with kakishibu.

Woven tags for Studio D’Artisan and Denimio feature here.

The coin pocket is wide & deep, and definitely functional.

Another very detailed woven tag features on the inside of the waist-band, just behind the leather patch.

The hardware on this pair is very nice indeed.

I’m a fan of the recessed metal buttons on the five-button fly, coated with kakishibu.

The copper rivets are punch-thru and custom embossed.

I love how the tip of the burrs have been flattened.

Even the hidden rivets are customised.

The sewing on this pair of jeans is superb – old school, reproduction style.

Lemon and tea coloured threads dominate, although black, blue & white threads also feature internally.

I count at least 6 thread sizes/densities and 3 different types of chain-stitching, giving the sewing a distinct vintage-style aesthetic.

Beefy chain-stitches are plenty to be found.

Single needle and flat-lock sewing are used to good effect too.

Take the locked fly, for example.

The inseam closure is neatly done too.

The buttons holes are sewn then cut.

The belt loops are raised in the center, and bar-tacked twice over each attachment!

Potential areas of stress are sturdily but neatly reinforced.

Such is the variety of sewing machines utilized, it is easy to spot many different types of sewing and threads converging on various parts of the jeans.

The chain-stitch on the hem are some of the nicest I’ve seen.

Overall, the construct here is top tier.


My Thoughts

I’ve been following Studio D’Artisan’s jeans releases for more than a decade now. This brand is prolific, with numerous new denims and jeans designs being released year after year, most of which do not pass through Western retailers. SDA’s special edition jeans are many in number too, ranging from the insane (small batch natural indigo hank dyed, for example) to the comical (massive embroidery of pigs), most of which are, also, not so much for Western consumption.

In celebrating their 40th birthday, it was expected that 2019 will bring a good number of fun and crazy D’Artisan jeans; in this context, I feel like this DM003 collaboration with Denimio, whilst unique & flavorful, is sensible enough to be a worthwhile addition to most denim wardrobes.

Outside of their base models, Studio D’Artisan jeans have always been colourful and busy, and certainly this DM003 jeans is an amalgamation of a few different themes. On one hand, there is the showcasing of traditional Japanese art through the kakishibu dye, further enhanced by the sashiko coin-pocket and calligraphy patch-art. On the other hand, the denim has been woven on the G3 loom, and the sewing is definitely reproduction style, the texture and aesthetics produced here being mid-century Americana on steroids. The cut of the jeans is, of course, completely modern.

On this DM003 then, we have the East meeting the West, and old ideas blending with modern ones. Whilst there are no comical embroidery of Clipper & Indy (the SDA pigs), the contrast and overload on this pair of jeans is a conceptual one. This champloo of ideas, I feel, is very appropriate in the celebration of both Studio D’Artisan and Denimio –  both Japanese, of course, but having sprinkles of American and French influences too.

Big ideas aside, I do think the individual components of the DM003 can be rated highly on their own merits.

The denim itself is fantastic. This 14 oz G3 kakishibu denim is fictionalized romance at its very finest: combining a yearning for mid-century Americana and homage to Japanese traditional arts, then totally amped up to modern hobbyist standards through sheer denim autism. This fabric was not designed as a reproduction, like most G3 denims have been, but rather, it is an imagination of something that could have been.

The kakishibu weft imparts a very deep tone to the denim which cannot be matched by other brown-coloured wefts. My theory is that the polymerisation of the kakishibu pigment on the cotton surface reflects light in an entirely different way compared with normal dyes, and hence the very different visual effect when combined with the indigo warp. This tone of indigo would be absent from most people’s collection, thus by colour alone the DM003 is worth collecting.

By the way, persimmons are my favourite fruit to eat. 🙂

The texture and feel of this G3 weave is really special, and here, the uneveness and flaws within the denim are actually real loom-chatter, produced by distortions in the fabric as the heavy shuttle loom bounces and weaves. The mill has achieved a great balance between evenness and slubbiness in this denim – the weave here reminds me of the one-off k87211 denim, which was a completely loom-state denim woven the old-fashioned way on a Draper X-3 loom at White Oak back in 2010 (the only instance that such a denim was offered to anyone other than Levi’s Vintage Clothing.)

Examining this pair reminds me how much we take Japanese denim for granted – cloth of this caliber is simply available no where else, now that White Oak has passed into history. This G3 denim is one of the few on which the vintage aesthetics, in terms of the appearance of the grain, stem from the loom itself rather than being computer programmed.

This is true denim terroir, so to speak.

The sewing on this pair is very nicely done. One aspect of jeans-making which Studio D’Artisan has maintained at a top level over many years has been the considered use of thread sizes and stitch types to produce a tasteful vintage-style aesthetic. Whilst it is true that a pair of pants sewn with polyester thread and a modern sewing machine can be just as durable as the extra fuss that SDA has injected into their jeans, there is no doubt that the retro vibes created is of value to denim-heads. The reproduction style of construct can wear down in smooth synergy with the shuttle-loomed denim itself, facilitating a graceful way of ageing which can’t be achieved on most modern jeans.

In this hobby, often times it is the finer points of the garment, such as different thicknesses of chain-stitching, which separate the top Japanese jeans makers from the lesser brands. The construct on the DM003 is hard to beat, and I don’t believe much better can be found outside of jeans from work-wear tailors.

The overall presentation of this collaboration is slightly louder than Studio D’Artisan’s regular models, but toned down compared with their usual special edition jeans. I really like the calligraphy style leather patch, even if Clipper & Indy miss out on an appearance this time. A couple of people have commented that the coin-pocket detailing is a little bit busy, and I must admit that I’d have preferred the sashiko on the pocket to be dyed a darker shade of brown so that it does not contrast so sharply with the deep tone denim. But, then again, Studio D’Artisan’s jeans are also about being playful , and a ‘quiet’ pair of jeans just wouldn’t be appropriate in celebrating SDA’s 40th birthday.

The fit of this new High Tapered cut is one of the more successful Japanese attempts at creating a lifter’s fit for the Western market. I reflect on this current cut with memories of a few poorly fitting SDA jeans in years past – their regular cuts just don’t work for me, being subjectively too tight in the top block.

On the DM003, there is enough room in the top block & thighs to achieve comfort without sagging, and the overall silhouette is quite pleasing – keeping in mind that, in the photos here, the jeans are brand new and not draping properly just yet. Personally, I would prefer a size 36 to end with a hem above 20 cm wide for tapered cuts, but at 19 cm on the DM003 the legs are far from uncomfortable.

All things considered, I feel Denimio did a great job in the design of this new cut. This high tapered cut might be candidate for SDA’s regular line-up, if you ask me.

Finally, I’d like to reflect on the nature of collaboration jeans. Given the proliferation of Western shops stocking Japanese jeans in the past few years, there has been no shortage of collaboration jeans – month after month, there are new collabs, resulting in what I sense to be a certain fatigue in the enthusiast community. Many fellow hobbyists have commented to me that collaboration jeans have lost meaning for them… I can’t blame folks for being tired either, as most collabs are, in truth, rather boring. Small tweaks here and there does not a special edition make.

Keeping the glut of uninteresting collaborations in mind, I do believe that Denimio and Studio D’Artisan have created something worthwhile in the DM003. From the buttons to the patch, the cut to the denim, most aspects of this pair have been custom developed for this project. The themes of this collaboration, too, blend together in a way which not only makes sense, but is actually rather romantic for a seasoned denim hobbyist.

Particularly, I love the idea of showcasing Japanese colours and crafts through Americana – a true meeting of cultures – and the DM003 does this concept justice. I also admire how this collaboration project pays homage to the traditions of textiles and dyes without being held up in the past – every bit as meaningful in examining the golden era of denim as a pair of reproduction jeans, if you were to look closely enough.

Given that the themes here are rather strong, and the design quite playful, the DM003 will appeal to modern Japanese denim-heads, but strict reproduction enthusiasts and American heritage snobs need not apply. The DM003 is forward looking and proudly Japanese, and proclaims loudly Japan’s status as king of the denim hill.

As far as special edition Studio D’Artisan jeans go, at $289 USD, the DM003 Kakishibu is priced very nicely, costing only marginally more than their standard models. I would definitely recommend visiting the pre-order page at Denimio if you are after some kakishibu denim or an unique pair of SDA jeans.

If you are looking for something a little more subdued, please look forward to my DM004 review later this month!

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