Over the years, the Japanese have been crowned the kings of denim thanks to their attention to detail, quality fabrics and cutting-edge techniques. As such, there are countless denim brands, but few boast the cult-like status of artisanal label 45rpm.
Founded in 1978, it boasts 51 stores worldwide and annual sales totalling 6.3 billion yen (HK$495 million). In Hong Kong, the brand has two boutiques, and this month is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its Star Street outlet with an exhibition showcasing archive pieces.
So what makes 45rpm a cut above the rest? According to denim technician Shigeki Takegawa, who has been with the brand since 2006, it's their rich indigo colour (their collections boast more than 30 different shades of blue).
"When I was at school, I was crazy about denim. I loved it even more when the denim looked more worn. I wanted to explore how to create the effect myself, which is how I started working with 45rpm," says Takegawa, who was in town to demonstrate how to distress denim by hand.
The label uses natural dyes. Its latest collection includes an even lighter shade of blue called Takehime, while new collections feature styles with extra stretch and elasticity (from HK$2,795 to HK$9,995).
And while classic styles like the Sorahiko fly off the shelves, it's the hand-distressed denim that fans obsess over.
"There is no specific technique or method," Takegawa says. "I learned myself through trial and error. It's the opposite of being a painter - rather than add colour, we remove it to give the jeans an antique and worn in look."
A hand-distressed pair of jeans can take one to three hours to complete, although Takegawa says his most challenging project was creating jeans for the brand's chief executive, which took 10 hours. Takegawa uses diluted bleach and rolled up cotton towels from Osaka to create a range of haphazard whiskers.
Takegawa says each pair retains its uniqueness and character. Thus, a hand-distressed pair can cost, on average, 30 to 40 per cent more than a regular style and clients can wait up to two months for bespoke orders.
"When you use a machine, the look is limited. Usually the whiskers won't cover the entire piece and only appear on the back and front rather than the sides. There is not much variation in colour," he says. "But if you use your hands, the colour graduation is so different … It's like a masterpiece."
45R Denim Exhibition is at 45rpm, 7 Star Street, Wan Chai, tel: 2861 1145. Ends August 31