I'm lucky enough, and of course old enough, to have worn dozens of beautiful selvage jeans. I've worn in original Levi's from the 50s and 60s, and from the early '90s on, many brands including Evisu, Lee, Levi's Capital E, LVC, Samurai, Full Count, Mr Freedom, Sugarcane, SDA, Roy Slaper and many more.
For many people, jeans that come close to the classic pairs of the 1950s are the ultimate holy grail. Yet this is a search that can have no final destination; the original jeans varied hugely, depending on the cotton used in a particular year, and there were countless other variables, even before we think about how a pair of jeans is worn and washed. All we can expect, in modern jeans, is an interpretation of that aesthetic; and in terms of '50s homage jeans, very different interpretations can still be very convincing.
Over recent years, the fashion for super-fast-crocking, high-contrast denim, as popularised by companies like Samurai and Ironheart, has arguably subsided in favour of more subtle, slow-wearing interpretations that evoke more closely the feel of 1950s jeans. One small maker in the forefront of this move is undoubtedly TCB.
I first heard about the brand early in 2013; I believe the company, founded by Hajime Inoue, was founded in 2012. I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in a contest to wear-in a pair of 1950s models, at the beginning of 2014. Here are some photos of my pair, and how they've worn in, plus an interview with the main man himself.
This '50s pair undoubtedly rank as some of my favourite Japanese jeans; they take a long time to wear in, just like the originals, have many gradations to their fading, have some slubbing, but not too much, and via subtle features like the puckering and crinkling which is revealed as they age, just had a certain 'rightness' to them. Rock fans will know that TCB was a motto for Elvis Presley and his musicians: taking care of business. Inoue-san has done exactly that.
The' 50s pair embodies much of the TCB aesthetic – all their designs are workwear-oriented, and my favourite items include their Navy shawl-collar jacket, and the new cotton duck vest. You can check out more at TCB's blog, which more than most companies, focuses on how the jeans evolve with wear. Note these are jeans designed to be worn the old way - lots of wear, lots of washing.
My particular pair is on its home straight; the Superfuture contest concludes at the end of the month. Four out of five pockets on mine have worn through, although the knees are holding together, just. They feel like old friends, and I will miss wearing them every day.
This interview was conducted aid of Google translate; it adds a certain enigmatic, dreamy quality, but I think the sense is still there. I will add the dates later. I started wearing the jeans in September 2014.
A brief Q&A with Hajime Inoue
It was affected by a lot of people, so I can't decide on one person.
I was affected by the old clothes man's shop assistant who passed in school days and the superiors who met after I moved to Kojima, and American old movies, a Japanese drama in '90s. I think it's quite blessed with an encounter after jeans are produced.
What did you do before starting TCB?
When I was in [my] teens, I was working as a salesperson at a tailor's shop.
I was handing wonderful of the person who makes jeans (craftsman) down to a customer. I was to do daily service repeatedly, and charm to a craftsman and admiration were full. In 2000, I have begun to move to Kojima of Okayama-ken at twenty years old and work for a sewing factory.
What's your favourite 501 style? 1940s? 1950s? 1960s?
From the late 40's to '50s jeans. Because there is still an atmosphere of work clothes. Dyed fabric is darker. A thick sewing thread.
Your jeans seem to wear in like originals – traintracks on the outer seam, and the way the yoke seam crinkles when it's washed. Was that hard to achieve?
The first characteristic of TCB jeans is puckering. Please compare the [result] after having done the first wash because I set a sewing machine for cotton yarn.
Which aspects of your jeans are you proudest of?
I think that it is the most important to work at the distance that is the nearest to a craftsman.
Tell me about your workshop. Do you have many old machines?
Our products are we're good at vintage style sewing(sewing machine, Union Special.....etc). A total of about 40 units.
How do you choose the fabrics? Are they unique to TCB?
Well, that Zimbabwean cotton was used had not been decided at first. Cotton close to '50s Levi's was chosen by what I have in mind. And if the producer was checked after that, it was revealed to be a Zimbabwe [cotton]. That's the first trigger. I think the feel of a material peculiar to Zimbabwe charms a wearer.
Do you live in Kurashiki? It's a beautiful town, you're very lucky!
I'm not born in Kurashiki. I wanted to make and [the opportunity] to make jeans came in Kurashiki.
Thanks to Inoue-San for sparing some time to talk to me - and for making such beautiful workwear!