Tokyo Style

Tokyo Fashion is a large and fast moving organism. There are new brands and new trends starting and old ones dying every day in Japan's capital of style.

In the late 80s and early 90s, a small group of Japanese jeans fanatics in the city of Osaka went on a quest for the perfect jeans. Their pursuit for the best denim would eventually unleash a jeans boom that has thoroughly changed the global jeans market.

Jeans are as American as you can get. But the jeans that American companies like Levi’s, Lee and Wrangler make today are far removed from those that American icons like James Dean and Elvis Presley wore. Production of raw, unwashed denim was discontinued in the US in the 1960s; the old looms and the skilled workers that produced it vanished soon after.

At some time in the late 1980s this was starting to bother two employees of Lapine, a small fashion store in Osaka. “I really liked Levi’s 501,” recalls Hidehiko Yamane, one of the two, now well known as the founder of Evisu. “But in the 1980s, jeans were changing. The quality of the sewing was going down, rivets were different, the material was not the same anymore, and they even used plastic buttons. I thought this was weird, so I started to research how jeans were made.”

At the time, many Japanese bought vintage jeans from the US,” remembers Mikiharu Tsujita, the second employee, now owner of Fullcount. “It was becoming more and more difficult to find them, and they were becoming expensive. So Yamane and I suggested that we’d make vintage jeans ourselves.”

Lapine’s owner, Saburo Fujimoto, initially went ahead with their plans, but when it became time to pay for a batch of denim, he balked. “Japan’s economic bubble had just burst,” says Yamane, “so he probably didn’t really have the money anymore.”

But Yamane had already made the denim, and had also fallen deeply in love with the project itself. He decided that if Fujimoto wouldn’t, he’d do it himself. In February 1991 he quit his job. Two months later he started the company that would grow into EVISU.

By 1992, Yamane had made hist first 300 pairs of jeans. Popular Japanese magazine MONO happened upon them, liked what they saw, and introduced them on their pages. Sales took off.

Soon, Yamane was assisted by Tsujita, and two former customers from Lapine, the Shiotani brothers. They didn’t stay very long. Tsujita started FULLCOUNT in 1992, while the Shiotani brothers started their own company, Warehouse, in 1995. Each one following his own vision of what the perfect jeans should look like.

Text by Kjeld Duits

Read more