The Flat Head event at Corlection

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.

I’m the tall guy in the mirrow btw…

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.

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Pirated from Corlection’s website.

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)!!!

This lucky dude right here!

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!

First Arrow’s event at Corlection

It was an awesome night at the First Arrow’s event held by Corlection in Melbourne last month, attended by First Arrow’s founder Kazuya Ito.

Who would have thought that an exhibition of this sort would happen in Melbourne – crazy!

It was interesting to note that Corlection is now probably the largest First Arrow’s stockist outside of Japan, a considerable feat. given its Australian location.

Of course, most silver fans are Asian immigrants, but more local Aussies are getting in on the hobby nowadays too.

While I’m not a huge jewelry fan myself, I do appreciate fine handcrafts, so it was very interesting to see these silver wares and to see a master silver smith in action.

Everything from eagle pendents to boot lace arrows featured.

There was a door prize of signed leather key-tags too.

You’ve probably seen my own key-tag on Instagram already (if not, find me @indigoshrimp).

Apart from the spectacle and social fare, the individual pieces of silver craft were beautiful indeed. This isn’t the same stuff as the $50 sterling silver rings you’ll find in bulk at a night market…

Really, really beautiful pieces indeed.

Other than Goro’s, First Arrow’s would be the next name that is widely known when it comes to Japanese production of Native American style silvers. Not hard to see why when you have a good overview of their crafts.

My favourite piece on the night was the boot lace arrow loop.

A pair of these will go nicely with your $2k Japanese boots.

There were also some interesting wallets, which are collabs with J. Augur Design, made from true vintage materials. The wallets shown here are $1.2k and up.

The big boss was also doing some custom initial work for pieces bought on the night.

The big finale was the demonstration of bracelet making, showcasing some of the basic steps in creating the intricate patterns found on First Arrow’s pieces.

It was a time consuming process indeed, with the markings gradually produced. The amount of work done by hands is considerable, and this partially explains the cost of these Japanese silver crafts.

The Japanese do have a knack of borrowing from other people’s crafts and taking it to the next level. American jeans? Japanese do it best. American work boots? Arguably, Japanese versions are better made. American silvers?

It was great to see the process of crafting in person, and seeing the master in action did make me appreciate American Indian style silvers that much more.

The bracelet was the grand attendance prize for the night, and it was won by a high school kid, haha.

Anyway, a very informative and interesting event for sure. I’m very happy that our hobbies have grown so much here in Australia, that Japanese brands are coming down under to hold exhibitions. Of course, in most instances, Corlection is doing the heavy lifting for the scene, in terms of expanding the market in Australia.

Definitely worth coming along the next time there’s a Corlection event happening.

Wild Frontier Goods – Aomushi bracelet

Mike & Chie Falkner at Wild Frontier Goods have been on my Instagram feed for some time, mainly known to me through a shared love of Japanese denim as well as Mike’s occasional work with Japanese denim brands in English language PR. You’ve probably seen Mike in the Social Fabric video recently, where he introduces the program host to various aspect of Japan’s denim industry.

Though Mike & Chie’s love for the hobby is well known – with Mike even moving to Japan to get closer to the Japanese denim industry – what I didn’t know was that their @wildfrontiergoods IG handle was actually also the name of their workshop, where they create craft goods with traditional Japanese materials and methods. Everything from hand-dyed goods to leathercrafts, Wild Frontier Goods produces pieces slowly, authentically and mostly for themselves and selected friends – there’s not even a website or catalogue!

I was very intrigued by the bracelet that Mike was wearing in a recent video, so I asked him about it, not knowing Mike had created it himself. So, here it is, all the way from Mike & Chie of Wild Frontier Goods, Japan: the Aomushi bracelet!

 

Materials

Fresh indigo dyeing is main focus of this bracelet, something I’ve not seen before and makes this bracelet totally awesome!

All of the indigo dyed garments and craft goods commercially available are dyed with fermented indigo, which gives a deeper blue colour compared with the use of unfermented, fresh indigo leaves.

As you can see in the photos here, the colour is a shade between blue and green, with various tones of yellow being produced depending on lighting. This is a really gentle and natural tone compared with the indigo colour that is found on blue denim.

The use of fresh indigo dye is very rarely encountered, due to the fact that it is entirely uneconomical. A dye bath can only be prepared when indigo leaves are abundant and mature, and the resulting dye can only be used once! This means that in order to achieve a thorough dye job, you need to prepare multiple batches of dye using fresh leaves over multiple days!

This crisp ‘Ao’ colour you see on the Japanese cedar beads was achieved only after several days of dyeing. I can’t imagine this being commercially profitable, but the unique colour does make this bracelet super cool!

The beads themselves were turned using Japanese cedar by one of Mike’s friends. The resulting interplay between the cedar grain and fresh natural indigo is pretty incredible, with the beads looking very organic.

The rawhide leather lace is also dyed using fresh natural indigo. The colour tends toward grey rather than yellow in tone on the leather lace.

The small, handmade glass bead was also locally made in Tokyo and dyed using indigo. The play of colours on the glass surface is very interesting indeed, and gives the bracelet a bit of pep!

 

Construction & Styling

As you might have already guessed, Mike styled the Aomushi bracelet to resemble a cute caterpillar. ‘Ao’ () translates to ‘blue’, where ‘mushi’ refers to ‘bug’, and so this is a ‘blue bug’ bracelet.

The lead bead features a smiley face and also functions as a clasp. It is a bit bigger than the other beads at 12 mm in diameter.

The rest of the bracelet consist of 8 mm cedar beads one after the other, strung together by the dyed rawhide lacing. The leather lacing has no elasticity or give, so sizing this bracelet correctly is important.

The beads have all been nicely turned and deeply dyed – with a fresh indigo colour that has totally penetrated the cedar wood. The beads are not waxed or polished, so while relatively smooth they do have a nice texture to them.

The major sections of the bracelet are separated by knots in the leather lace. The last section of the bracelet is the tail of the bug, and features a single, small glass bead.

Have I mentioned how beautiful the glass bead looks?

 

Thoughts

This Aomushi bracelet from Wild Frontier Goods really is a special little piece.

I have never seen (or actually heard of) hand-dyeing using fresh indigo leaves before, and I’m very glad to have experienced it on this bracelet. The combination of Japanese cedar and fresh natural indigo is super cool, resulting in beads that look very much alive…and happy. The colour is a happy one, very warm and gentle, like the smiley face here.

The Aomushi bracelet also changes colour tone depending on lighting and viewing angle, so it’s never boring to look at. Quite therapeutic too, as I can do a bit of mindfulness with it during the workday.  🙂

The bracelet is deceptively simple in appearance, as the amount of work that went into the dyeing of the materials, in particular, is simply insane.  Also, Mike & Chie have actually grown the indigo plants themselves, so the quantity of dye is severely limited by season and how many plants they can grow at home.

I really can’t see these bracelets being a financially profitable venture, but Wild Frontier Goods is all about the passion for our indigo hobby. Mike has been making crafts for 15 years, but still has no website and doesn’t really showcase his crafts on their Instagram either, preferring to quietly make & dye things that bring them joy and share them with other people who have a genuine interest in the hobbies of denim, leather and indigo.

Would I recommend the Aomushi bracelet?

Totally! But, it’s not actually available at this time as Mike has run out of beads and indigo after making bracelets for themselves and a couple more for friends. Like I said, very limited production given everything is done by hand and the methods are time consuming.

But fear not! Wild Frontier Goods and I have something very interesting in the works…if this Aomushi bracelet or fresh indigo dyeing method catches your attention, please follow me (@indigoshrimp) and Wild Frontier Goods (@wildfrontiergoods) to keep in touch with the exciting project coming up!!!

 

Ask Mike Something – Initial Care of Natural Vegetable Tanned Leathers

“Hey buddy,

You review for PR wallet is fantastic. I bought the wallet after reading it.

What should I do for initial treatment? Sun bath duration and leather product?

Usually I don’t care much about leather treatment, but this is my first high end leather craft, [so] I have to ask an expert.

Thank you, I enjoy reading your blog :)”

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When I first received this DM on Instagram, what had appeared to be fairly simple questions I found difficult to answer concisely. This blog already has a leather care page accessible via the blog menu; I’ll link it again here. Instead of answering these questions with any certainty, I thought it may be more useful to list some considerations and generalisations. Let’s break it down:

Within leather enthusiast circles, the need for conditioning and feeding has long been a topic of intense debate. Sometimes people bring with them very strange beliefs – I have heard everything from “neatsfoot oil is bad for leather” to “mink oil will rot waxed threads”. There also tends to be too much talk regarding whether a specific product will darken natural leather – which, mostly, to me, is a nonsensical discussion. To begin thinking about this issue coherently, we need to start from basics.

My first thought on this would be: “What is this leather? What is its purpose?”

In our current example, the leather is Red Moon’s top grade, in-house natural vegetable tanned saddle leather which has received 3 to 6 months of pit tanning in Himeji. This leather has been further processed post-tan, and as such is a shade darker compared with true natural, and is much more supple and oily compared with other similar natural veg tanned leathers. The purpose here is to be a back-pocket wallet.

One conclusion we might reach based on these facts is that: No, there is no real need to treat this leather initially. This saddle leather is of high quality, and will not need any further treatment to improve functioning or durability as a wallet.

Given this conclusion, why did I then decide to feed and sun-tan this wallet???

This is because, if we think more broadly, the leather and wallet has another purpose: To look nice, and to look nicer with age!

People’s preferences in terms of the patina and evolution of leather are, of course, different. My own preferred aesthetic is one of balance between staining vs colour vs grain growth vs shine, and also for a yellow or red tone to the browning.

Usually a good idea!
Usually a good idea!

Over the years, I have found that a certain level of oil/wax content in natural leather and a certain amount of boosted oxidisation through UV light via the sun helps me to achieve the particular appearances that I find attractive – the ratio of these factors must be adjusted according to tannage, finish and initial lipid content of the leather, but also the predicted usage and severity of wear.

Take, for example, a very dry & unfinished drum-tanned vegetable leather. Without treatment it will stain easily, have minimal grain development, and tends to age quickly towards a very dark brown and low shine, without any tones of yellow or red. Personally I dislike this appearance, and yet this is how most people’s leather goods will turn out.

Sun bathing, day 3.
Sun bathing, day 3.

With the right initial treatment, however, even a low quality veg tanned leather can achieve a more handsome patina. Through initial feeding and sun-tanning, we are changing the lipid levels and gross oxidation of oils and fibres – depending on how we go about this, we can reduce staining, boost colour tone, increase grain growth & development, and even boost the eventual shine of the grain.

What I have found with Red Moon’s saddle leather over the years is that a gentle sun tan, combined with some beeswax, at the start somehow gives the leather more redness as it ages, which is to my liking. However, being in Australia where the sun can be unpredictably harsh, I am always careful to apply a thin layer of oil and wax to prevent the leather being damaged by intense heating or dryness.

How long should we tan our leathers in the sun?

This depends on seasonal and geographical factors. I remember once trying to sun tan a natural leather belt during Autumn in Taiwan…after two days, there were minimal changes to the leather. On the other hand, I once experimented with sun tanning during a particularly hot Summer day here in Australia, and within two hours of direct sun exposure most of the leathers had actually been ‘burnt’ (dry and too dark).

So, I will say that there is no optimal length of time for sun tanning. We must carefully monitor the leather! Once there is one shade of darkening, I would recommend that the leather be removed from sun exposure.

Options are endless...
Options are endless…

As for leather care products?

There are simply too many for me to individually test and recommend all the commercially available products. A few years ago I made my own conditioner, optimizing the oils and waxes to my own textural and aesthetic preferences. Nowadays I tend to use animal oil based products for natural vegetable tanned leathers, and certainly would not recommend any products which don’t disclose the main active ingredients.

My favourite animal oil product is probably Tender Co.’s pure mutton tallow, and I am constantly on the look-out for other high quality tallow. Neatsfoot and mink oils present unique challenges: easy to over-oil the leather if too pure, although most of the time you will have the opposite problem in that most products contain way too much filler. Unless you know precisely what you’re doing, I would recommend sticking with tallow, or lanolin for exotics.

In terms of wax blended products, for items that will experience harsher use, my favourite for the past couple of years has been J & E Sedgwick’s leather conditioner. I have also recently tried Montana Pitch-Blend, and find both the oil and dressing formulations to be user friendly and to provide relatively good results. I have found certain other products such as Obenauf’s and Sno-Seal to be too cloggy for use on carry goods.

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Well, that’s it for today. I hope my perspectives regarding these questions have been helpful. Feel free to send me questions via the contact section in the blog menu, or DM me on Instagram @indigoshrimp