Evisu makes grand HK entrance with temple of denim

Japanese label's new temple elevates jeans into a fetish-worthy fine art, writes Tessa Chan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 11:33am


EVISU DESIGN DIRECTOR Takanori Enami is looking pretty tidy, considering he hasn't changed his jeans once in the past year.

"They're not clean at all, they're actually very smelly," he says. "I have to change them soon."

He's been wearing them daily: no washing, no steaming. It's like the ultimate product test, he explains - a test he's done seven times before.

"I want to see how the denim changes after one year, I have to see it myself. I can take them to the factory and ask them to follow this look."

If you're nodding your head in approval then you'd be right at home here in Evisu's new Central flagship store, a five-storey temple to denim worship. There's a bespoke denim floor, an artisan Japanese cocktail bar where you can mingle with other customers, and a gallery floor, currently housing the Denim X Art installation by British graffiti artist INSA.

One of the first labels to make Japanese selvedge denim famous worldwide, Evisu was launched in 1991. At the time, founder Hidehiko Yamane was creating 14 pairs a day.

"The brand was using Japanese denim of course, all made in Japan, all Japanese accessories," says Enami. "And we tried to make the best quality possible. We did hand-painting, a kind of graphic art. We were the very first brand in the world to do high-quality Japanese jeans together with that hand-painted art."

The jeans are easily spotted for their seagull logo, reminiscent of a scene of a seagull flying over the ocean. This was inspired by Yamane's love of fishing.

Equally well known, though perhaps slightly less poetic, is the Daicock logo, which appears to have several meanings. Enami writes the Japanese characters for "big" and "black" on paper.

"We have seven gods. Evisu, or Ebisu, is one of them. Daicock is one, too. Dai means big and the other word … should I explain its English meaning, too?" This causes some nervous giggling from his PR entourage.

When asked how Evisu manages to hold onto its small-scale roots now that it's a global brand, Enami draws a triangle in the air to illustrate. "Obviously, we can't do all hand-painting for all our jeans now; it's impossible. So we have to make different sections. The top of the triangle is small, but there we keep the hand-painting, the highest quality. At the bottom, here, we do embroidery or print, more of a diffusion line. This is the only way to cover our large market."

The bespoke denim floor showcases the Private Stock collection, featuring hand-painted premium selvedge denim made on special weaving machines in Japan's Okayama prefecture.

The new autumn-winter 2013 Heritage collection features camouflage print and outdoor gear elements, while the younger EV Genes line looks to Shibuya fashionistas for inspiration, with a bright palette, patchwork details and a slim cut.

Evisu's global headquarters moved from New York to Hong Kong in 2010, and the label has since enlisted Edison Chen as the spokesperson for China. There are now three boutiques in Hong Kong - another is opening in Sogo, Causeway Bay, early this month. On the mainland, there are 70 stores, and Evisu is looking at multiple openings there.

Enami says the brand has held onto its identity, and remains popular in Japan, though the customers there have different tastes from Chinese customers. "I think in Japan, they follow Europe and America too much sometimes. They prefer the tapered, cropped style. But in Hong Kong and [the mainland], they like straight or a little bit wider styles."

His favourite cut, he says, is the 2017, with a long crutch and tapered bottom. "If you're comfortable in your jeans, any fit is OK, isn't it? For men, I wouldn't wear stretch jeans myself."

He explains that Evisu jeans include shrinkage in their pattern; if you buy a size 30, they will become a size 30 after washing.

"Cotton always shrinks after washing. But after you wear it, it stretches again. It's the same with jeans; over time they become your shape. They shrink, stretch, shrink, stretch, changing their shape until they become the perfect fit for you," he says. "I prefer to keep the same jeans for a long time, but I shouldn't say that - people have to buy new ones."

Enami advises washing jeans once a month. "Raw denim has a kind of coating on top. The coating makes denim stiffer, this makes this part crease more nicely. But when you wash them too much they become very soft," he says. "So these creases are real ones. Beautiful. Very beautiful …" his voice trails off as he looks down at his jeans tenderly.

He learned paper-pattern cutting and design at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo. Designer Yohji Yamamoto, actress Naomi Nishida and Y-3 designer Masahiro Mukaiyama are among the alumni.

By the age of 18, Enami had already narrowed his focus to denim. "At the time, vintage jeans, especially Levi's, were very much in fashion," he says.

His first job was with cult denim label Yen Jeans, in his early 20s. "Everything was very free at Yen Jeans. We were trying to make designs which nobody had done before. I didn't have any staff, so I had to do it all by myself. I did the design, I went to the factories - I did everything. I learned many things."

After 11 years building the brand, he founded Engine Label in 2007. "I started it with my friend," he says. "I was design director and my friend took care of the finance side."

For the past year, Enami has been leading design for Evisu. Does he still wear other labels?

"Only Evisu, of course," he says. "But I do have some friends in Japan who make jeans, and sometimes I have to buy some. So I have many jeans in my house that I have no chance to wear, especially because I have to wear each pair for so long."



Evisu x INSA

Suspended on golden chains in the middle of the new Evisu shop's Gallery floor is a mannequin in a denim dominatrix catsuit, a joint effort between graffiti artist INSA and Lady Gaga stylist Alex Noble.

"I wanted to really exaggerate the fetishism of denim. You're meant to lust more after the denim than the lady," says INSA, who prefers to keep his real identity hidden.

"I use a lot of fetish-related iconography in my work, but I hadn't used shibari [literally, 'to tie'] before. I use a lot of gold and money, and the restraints and restriction of capitalism, so to do the gold chains instead of rope made a lot of sense to me," he says.

"It's also a reference to the traditions and detail of Japanese craft. Shibari isn't always necessarily a sexualised bondage, it's the art of rope tying. It's more about the process and the display."

INSA art-directed and painted the store interior, and will be collaborating with Evisu for a limited-edition capsule collection for October. His client list includes Kangol, Kickers and Nike, so while he refers to capitalism, the artist chooses his words carefully when asked about social critique.

"I'm aware that it would be too straightforward of me just to critique consumerism, because I'm part of it. It's just a commentary on it - a question of the intricacies of our relationship with it." Tessa Chan