Thursday, March 12, 2009

Visiting Ooe Yofukuten & Co.

Two weeks ago I visited Ryo and Hiro of Ooe Yofukuten in their atelier in Nagoya. It was an interesting experience, meeting two very dedicated individuals and see how they make their jeans and how much effort they put into it.

Their atelier is located in a small warehouse on the outskirts of Ichinomya. The house is shared with the family's box making business but once you step inside, there's no doubt that this is a house of denim.
Greeting you inside is a stack of samples of jeans they've made and various other things like an old shuttle from a wide loom and inspirational photographies.

Can you spot my gift?

There's also the custom built display frame that will be given to the winner of Ooe Yofukuten's first fading contest.

Walk a little further and you'll see the small brand's collection of vintage sewing machines. All of the machinery, except for the one used for riveting, they use for making jeans is vintage.
Most notable is a German Union Special chainstitching machine and a 1920's belt loop machine.
The latter is one hundred percent vintage, down to the spare parts and even the oil used to lubricate it!
With this equipment Ryo and Hiro makes the jeans all by themselves from start to finish, cranking out just one pair a day.

1920s belt loop machine.

Union Special on the right.

Attaching rivets and buttons.

There's also the rolls of denim and other fabrics. Ooe buys only deadstock fabric from a mill in Okayama which is why once one of their choices of fabric is gone, it's gone. The quantities they buy of each fabric is very limited and is enough for as few as three to twenty pairs of jeans.

I looked through most of their denim and have a few favourites. Unfortunately I can't disclose which they are as they might run out then, and I'm waiting to order one of the new models which are made available when Ooe has received their new machines.
The denims are fairly similar though, almost all of them are going for authenticity rather than innovation. It's hard to determine which fabric is 'best' by just looking at raw samples and since their not that different from eachother, I would suggest you make you decision based on something like weight or color(dark or light etc.)

The opportunity here to make you own custom jean is unique. Not only can you choose your own denim but you can also decide on which rivets and buttons to use. It's also possible to design your own backpockets and, I believe, get a customized patch.
It doesn't stop there. If you're not happy with what history has to offer you can even mix and match the decades--if you like tighter cuts but want the detailing of mid-century Levi's, it's possible to get a '70s cut with '50s detailing.

For inspiration when making more original products like the Double Knee overalls or the 1850s Logger overalls, Ooe has a large amount of magazines like Lightning, Free & Easy and old Boon.
They also have rare books like "Denim", My Freedamn! and old American catalogs from as early as 1900 and 1902.

The 01XX, 1947-1951 501 model, cut is made with an early '50s 501 as a base. The cut up original was used to get the pattern for this model.

The backpockets are shaped slightly differently.

I compared my pair of 1101XXs to the once again sewn together original of roughly the same size and the result was pleasing. There are a few millimetres of difference here and there between the two, but all in all this is a very good replica, especially considering that there were large variations between individual 501s at the time.
As for the denim, it's very close too. It's very toned down and not trying to be innovative as some other Japanese brands. If innovation is good or bad is for everyone to decide by themselves but right now I'm personally more interested in a vintage type denim that will work together with my real vintage garments(I can't afford to buy real vintage jeans just yet, so I opt for reproductions).
The No. 11 denim has more slightly more vertical unevenness or striation than the original, which in my mind makes it look a little more like a mid-to-late fifties pair, but it does not bother me.

All in all, I'm very happy with my pair. Ryo even showed me details I had no knowledge of before, like how the fabric for the backpockets is cut and folded before attaching the hidden rivets. This is different between WW2 501s and the '47-'51 era 501s and is replicated correctly on the 01 model. The correct type of UFO rivet is also used here.

I find that the backpockets even wear 'realistically' thanks to this. See the comparison below of the area around the hidden rivet:


Here's my pair of AG1101XX compared to a new pair. I've worn my pair for about 4.5 months and washed twice by hand, twice in machine.

As you can see there's not much in the ways of honeycombs, and I have no hopes of them developing either. Defined honeycombs require infrequent washing and stiff denim. You pretty much need to wear your jeans for 4-6 months between each wash to get sharp honeycombs and I'm washing more and more frequently. This denim is also not very starchy and 'just' 13.5 ounce.
I've barely seen any vintage Levi's with pronounced honeycombing though and I attribute this to how they were treated, basically washed a lot.

The all-yellow stitching brings my thoughts to Levi's jeans during the WW2 era. It will be interesting to compare these jeans to the ones Inoue was wearing.

Ryo and Hiro have worn their jeans a bit longer than I have. Ryo on the right is wearing the 402XX and Hiro is wearing a pair made from the #11 denim. She's worn them for about 6 months and washed them once every or every other week. The denim certainly doesn't get ruined by washing, it actually just gets better with wear and washing. Washing fairly frequently is also necessary if you want to get a fade that looks authentic.

Old Ooe samples. The right-most picture is of a sample in unknown denim next to the original Levi's. The denim is very close to the original.