This advertisement caught my eye. Japanese denim? That’s like a Chinese Cadillac or something, isn’t it? I decided to find out. And discovered there is a whole lot about blue jeans I don’t know.
My memories are that the popular blue clothing known as jeans was a purely American invention, made for workers, picked up and popularized by our youth, becoming incredibly popular and in high demand abroad, ironically especially so among Japanese teens, who for a time gobbled up all things American, and then finally becoming so fashionable that one could spend hundreds of dollars for a brand new pair of pants that looked like they’d been run through a Goodwill store five or six times.
But even cursory research reveals claims that Genoese Navy sailors in Italy were wearing denim back in the 1500’s. Indeed, if one can believe the internet, the word “jeans” is derived from the French word for Genoa, and the fabric itself originated in Nimes, France—the word “denim” derives from the French serge de Nîmes, referring to the city. (Basically the phrase means a type of twill fabric from Nimes)
So much for my American-centric memories I guess. I suspect at least the Levi Strauss publicity machine would agree with me, and most certainly that firm’s production and marketing of riveted denim clothing made jeans an American icon in the 1900’s.
So, fast-forwarding, when did Japan and denim happen? Apparently in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, while I was busy living and working in Florida, where jeans, in my opinion, are just too hot to wear. South Florida’s for shorts.
The Japanese denim industry began in the 1970’s with the use of expensive, Japanese-made selvage denim and modern, efficient looms developed by a man named Sakichi Toyoda, founder of the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, a company that later became known as, you guessed it, the Toyota Motor Corporation.
The best summary of it all is this passage from http://www.highsnobiety.com/2012/11/16/japanese-denim-a-history-of-the-worlds-best-denim/ :
“In short, Japan’s obsession in recreating the American jeans they crazed over led Japanese denim manufacturers to become the world’s best in terms of knowledge and production. From then on it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world caught on to the craftwork behind Japanese denim. Now, the jeans market is saturated with Japanese denim leading to a dizzying amount of “Made in Japan” jeans.”
And you have learned all this from a fellow who last wore denim in the 1960’s.