The global advance of ’fast fashion’ has made it possible to stay on the cutting edge of trends without breaking the bank, and the resulting triumphant march of multinational retailers shows no signs of slowing down. At the same time, however, more and more consumers are looking for high-quality garments that last and stay stylish for decades. Denim is a great example: it’s always fashionable, supremely casual and indispensable for everyday outfits. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t own at least one denim item. This guide lets you in on Tokyo’s best denim shops, all of which deal in top-quality, carefully crafted domestic wear and pay the utmost attention to detail in everything from manufacturing to presentation.
The top denim shops in Tokyo
If it’s ‘faithful reproductions of vintage garments’ you want, this Ebisu shop is your stop. They go to great lengths when researching actual vintage pieces, recreating originals down to the threads and the production process. Warehouse products can really make you feel the past, as their textures and looks are practically indistinguishable from real vintage items.
Archives specialises in the Heller’s Cafe brand, a collaborative venture by Larry McKaughan (the ‘King of Vintage’) and the aforementioned Warehouse store. This label deals in American workwear and offers lines designed on the basis of different eras, allowing customers to get a taste of the historical background and imagery behind the items.
The Kapital brand hails from Okayama Prefecture’s Kojima, known as the birthplace of Japanese-made jeans. Ever since its founding in 1984, Kapital has consistently emphasised exclusive use of manual processes, with all techniques – from thread dyeing, material production and sewing to washes and decoration – developed and produced by the company itself.
Another outpost of the Kapital brand, this shop focuses on manual craftsmanship, jeans and skirts. Its signature denim piece is the ‘TH Zipang Real Indigo’ model, which comes packaged in a paulownia box. Woven using an old-style loom, these jeans are made with original selvage denim and designed with a thick waist in a relaxed-fit, straight cut.
Kapital’s ‘lifestyle store’ sells a selection of original goods in a homely atmosphere, with exhibitions, workshops and pop-up events regularly held at the shop as well. A wide variety of both men’s and ladies’ items are on offer, allowing customers to mix and match freely. The ‘Amish All-In-One’ turns the popular Amish pants style into a relaxed all-in-one, while the ‘Akutagawa Pants’ are a creative mix of American workwear and Japanese hakama pants.
Conveying the joy of ‘cultivating’ denim, UES is another Japanese brand emphasising high quality, natural materials and domestic manufacturing. The brand name is supposed to be derived from the word ‘waste’, expressing the hope that their items will be worn down to rags instead of languishing in a closet.
British designer Nigel Cabourn is known as an international collector of vintage military and outdoor wear, and is said to have amassed a collection of more than 4,000 vintage items over 30 years. His treasures reportedly include a British-focused collection of European military and outdoor wear from 1910 to the ‘50s, test samples and many other pieces. Items based on these specimens form the basis for his products, with items divided into an ‘Authentic’ line manufactured in England and a ‘Main’ line centring on Japan.
Managed by renowned Japanese bag designer Katsuyuki Yoshida and his son, Leo Yoshida, this brand is committed to the ‘Made in Japan’ spirit. Porter Classic was founded in 2007 with the aim of conveying Japan's traditional culture and craftsmanship to the world, and with a collection focused on simple items that gain character the longer they’re used, they seem to have accomplished their goal.
Both stylish and thoroughly detail-focused, this ‘Made in Japan’ brand was founded in 2010. The ‘Black Flag’ utilises world-class domestic techniques in spinning, sewing, dyeing and manufacturing: Yoshikawa fabric from Okayama and Japanese cotton are woven using shuttle looms, the skilful stitchwork shines through on Oikawa denim from Miyagi, while Okayama's Mito and Hang Loose are responsible for all manual manufacturing processes.
Developed as a collaboration between the World brand and Free & Easy magazine, Rugged Factory keeps it distinctly casual. Prices here are very reasonable, while the selection includes long-running classics like pullover jerseys, chambray button-down shirts, chino pants, single-breasted jackets, items with workwear-inspired materials and gear-like elements such as blouson jackets and vests.
Designer Hiroshi Kato's unique worldview is on display at Museum Of Your History, which primarily sells the in-house brands Kato’, AAA and Grandma Mama Daughter, all of them going above and beyond the latest trends. Among these three, the long-running Kato’ reflects the designer’s careful attention to design, material, sewing, washing and feel, a combo that’s earned him international recognition.
Momotaro Jeans, another popular brand from Okayama Prefecture’s Kojima (‘the birthplace of Japanese jeans’), can be found on the second floor of the Ao shopping centre along Aoyama-dori. Their jeans are made of Zimbabwe cotton, which is also commonly used for high-quality dress shirts, have a flexible feel, excellent durability and are famous for their characteristic fade when worn.