Being of the age I am, denim has always been a part of my life, in some form or another. From the stonewashed jeans of the 80’s to the increasingly boringly styled and baggier jeans of middle-age, I’ve never been without a pair or two, even though other types of trousers have come and gone. And while I wouldn’t characterize myself as a denim nerd (we’ll hear more about these guys in a bit) I will profess a genuine interest in the topic and I do enjoy a really good pair of jeans. In recent years I’ve been wearing either Carhartt or Nudie jeans of various types, though last year I took the plunge and upgraded to a pair of more expensive Welsh jeans. Which was a good vantage point into the odd ball world of high end denim. Hence this post.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the new showroom of Rivet & Hide, a mainly internet retailer of rare and spectacular denim and other fine related articles. Quite by chance really, as I wasn’t aware that I very much needed a new pair of special jeans until a friend pointed out to me that my life could be regarded as incomplete and unfulfilled without a pair of Japanese Iron Heart raw selvedge jeans in super-heavy-weight 21 oz denim. Now admittedly that last sentence may not make much sense to most people, but let’s break it down a bit and see what it means.
Denim from Japan is considered by most enthusiasts to be the most desirable. Why? The Japanese appear to be the most obsessive in their devotion to creating and recreating things, be it denim or vintage workwear. The best (as in expensive and special) types of denim are made in small runs on vintage looms, to the exact specification of the often small artisan workshop sewing jeans from it. There will be special, fiddly dyeing processes as well, and this is where the “raw” comes into it, as the denim has been dyed and then left untreated, which means a lot to how the colour will fade, as the jeans are worn.
And these fades are very much what it’s all about. Some of the denim will have been washed once, in cold water, to stabilise shrinking. No pre-distressing here either, part of the game is that the wearers must wear the jeans and create their own wear patterns and fades in the colour, and hence make them unique and their own. The selvedge, or more correctly self-edge, relates to how the edge of the fabric is finished. Where the edge is self-finished to avoid the unravelling of the fabric, this self-edge is often in contrasting stripes, and hence why you wear the trousers with a turn-up, to show it off. Another point of having the trousers intentionally on the long side is to allow for shrinkage. Shrinkage around waist and thighs will widen out again with use, but the length of the legs will only shrink, and up to an inch in many cases.
And then there is the 21 ounces. This is the actual weight of the fabric. The heavier it is, the stiffer and thicker it is, and 21 ounces is about as thick as it is practical to weave it. At this thickness you’re already running into problems making trousers from it, and it makes the process of hemming it difficult as well. More about that a little later though. Regular high-street denim is more likely to be single-figure weight, and your usual premium raw denim likely to be 12 or 14 ounces. I can mention though that there is denim out there at 25 ounces, so there’s always a kid with a daddy bigger than yours.
So, now you know a little more about the world of denim obsessives. Whether you get it or not, or should I say buy into it or not, it must be appreciated that a lot of people care deeply about this, and there is a small, but quite exclusive and devoted movement surrounding it. Which neatly brings us back to Rivet & Hide again.
The man behind the shop is Danny, a chap of quite similar age to myself, a long time denim fan. Inspired by what is probably the number one denim outlet/shrine in the world, Selfedge in the US, he decided to start up a similar venture in the UK. At this time the shop is still mainly internet-based, with a showroom that can be visited by appointment. This is highly recommended, as the chance of actually trying on the various jeans before buying is of great value, as is having access to Dannys wisdom regarding sizing.
And sizing is not as easy as knowing you normally use a size 32″ waist. Oh no, as in so many areas of clothing, the sizing of jeans is a total mess. You may fit a size 32″ in one brand and style, but change style and you may need a 33″. Yet another brand may be a size 34″. Confusing! And then add in that the various jeans are made from various fabrics, which will shrink or stretch at various amounts, or may be sanforized or cold washed, which will ensure they don’t shrink and the level of confusion becomes so unbearable you may decide to get a pair of cheap chinos instead.
This is where Danny is the man though. On the website the actual, real measurements of the various sizes are listed, thoroughly. As are the shrinkage and stretching characteristics. Which makes it very much easier to make an educated purchase. I do recommend making an appointment to visit the showroom though, as Danny is a real enthusiast and full of denim wisdom, so not only do you get to try on any number of variants, you also get a really good chat about all things denim and related.
Now, I used the word shrine to describe the American Selfedge shops and Danny is definitely going for the same title with Rivet & Hide. It’s still quite early days, but he stocks an excellent selection of brands, most of which you’ll never have heard of! An exception might be the Welsh brand Hiut Denim, which is almost unique in the selection of not being Japanese (though they use Japanese selvedge denim or Turkish organic denim). In fact, while the fabric may be denim, and a lot of the jeans are sewn in Japan, talking to Danny it becomes apparent that things are very much more international than you may initially think.
The Iron Heart Beatle Busters I decided on are designed by a German girl nicknamed Beatle, who also has her own brand, byBeatle. The Steel Feathers are designed by a Norwegian enthusiast. The Railcars are made by an American, who actually also works as a Railcar repairman. In fact, we’re not talking huge production numbers of each variant, but we are talking a large number of people involved in producing all these quirky, artisan-made jeans.
Rivet & Hide currently stock an impressive number of rare brands of jeans, 4 of which are illustrated below. In addition to this there are shirts, belts and other items that fit in with the denim lifestyle. All of the same obsessive detail and construction as the jeans.
While I would never describe myself as a very knowledgeable when it comes to expensive jeans, it was an enlightening experience to try on a few different pairs. Before visiting Rivet & Hide I had decided to try on the 634 and Beatle Busters from Iron Heart, and I wanted the truly heavyweight 21 oz denim. The 634 is a straight cut, while the Buster has more of a taper. I tend towards more tapered trousers, so the choice was easy in this case. It took only three tries and I had a pair that fit me perfectly. So perfectly that I didn’t really want to take them off. I had to though, as these jeans only come in a single standard length, 34″, and this is far too long for me, even with a decent turn-up. And when we’re dealing with denim this thick and stiff, you can’t take them home and ask your mother to hem them on her regular issue Singer.
No siree, you need a proper heavy-duty machine to hem this heavy-weight denim. Like the Union Special 43200g chain-stitching machine sitting in the Rivet & Hide workshop. This is most ably operated by Danny’s associate Junior and does a remarkable job of stitching this almost impenetrable fabric. In fact, when Junior delivered my jeans to my hotel, I was quite stunned to see how perfect a job he’d made of it. I’ve hemmed a couple of dozen of my own trousers, in various fabric weight and never been anywhere close to managing a result like this. A good example of a superbly done job by someone who really knows what they’re doing.
Sitting here writing this post, in my Iron Hearts, I find myself most pleased with both my visit to Danny at Rivet & Hide, and my purchase of Iron Heart jeans. Granted, they’re not the cheapest pair of jeans around, not by a long stretch, but proper stuff costs proper money, and these will last a long time. The fit is wonderful, and the denim actually feels more pliable than I expected it to feel, no doubt to the rolling process that has been done on the fabric after weaving. A certain stiffness of fabric is noticeable when cycling, but they’re still very pleasant to wear, and just different enough to remind you that this is pretty special legwear. The thick denim will really come to it’s right once the weather becomes as bit colder, for 24+ degrees it can be a little on the warm side. Seams, pockets and hardware are impressive and well constructed. In fact, the only improvement I would have liked to see is buttons for braces. Given the density of the denim, I don’t think I’ll be able to do as I usually do, i.e. sew them on by hand.
You know it makes sense.
Thinking back to my visit I recall the two young brothers I met when I arrived at the Rivet & Hide showroom. They were just departing, clutching a bag and Danny mentioned they’d been in a few times before. Regular customers, some would say. Addicts, others would say. I’ve already picked out another two pairs of Iron Hearts that would help fill a void in my life. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.