Wednesday, 29 April 2015


What happens when Austrias’ premier denim shop collaborate with Japan’s oldest label, Big John? Answer: something quite special - the "BIG JOHN X SUN/SET/STAR Japanther Collaboration Waistcoat."

SUN/SET/STAR BIG JOHN Japanther waistcoat

I caught up with Steve from SUN/SET/STAR to find out more.
It all started when Kiyo from Big John visited the guys to introduce the A/W 13 collection. The fit is taken from the herringbone waistcoat in this collection. As Steve says, 
It was love from the first sight: the fit, the workmanship, simply something we were searching for quite some time.”
 SUN/SET/STAR BIG JOHN Japanther waistcoat

And it proved popular with customers too, so much so that the guys asked if Big John were doing something similar for the next season, but alas not. Keen to produce something anyway they discussed collaboration; things went from there.

Surge Hunters

The fabric is called 'Grandrelle Navy Stripe Serge' based on 1920's work wear material 'Salt & Pepper', it's 100% cotton and woven in Japan. Serge was also used in military uniforms and is a particularly robust fabric, yet this waistcoat has a wonderfully soft feel to it. Worn over a henley in the coming warmer months it’ll look fantastic. As Steve puts it, the fabric is an “an all-season one, elegant but durable.”

As you’d expect the detailing is spot on. The buttons are made-in-japan silver plated brass. I love pocket flaps on a waistcoat, it just looks right and adds to the period feel, however the flaps can be hidden in the pockets for a cleaner appearance if that’s your thing. My favourite flourish is the extra slanted button hole for one’s watch chain – a period touch you don’t often see these days.

SUN/SET/STAR BIG JOHN Japanther waistcoat

Best of both worlds 

The grey inner lining is hand stamped with the "Japanther Collaboration" emblem representing the cross-town collaboration of Graz and Kurashiki; featuring the coat-of-arms of both cities: This explains the name of the collab: JAPAN (Made in Japan) + PANTHER (coat-of-arms of the guys' hometown) = JAPANTHER.
The woven label is also hand stamped with the emblem. So, are there plans for more collaborations in the future? “It might not be the last piece we create together…but there are no plans yet! We’ll keep you updated!”

SUN/SET/STAR BIG JOHN Japanther waistcoat

On to a Good Thing

In a previous interview with Denimhunters Steve and Gerry argued the long-term goal of SUN/SET/STAR is to become an institution for “good things” – well this waistcoat is certainly that. Strictly limited to run of 40 pieces – hand numbered – there are still a few sizes left, so get in there quick.

SUN/SET/STAR BIG JOHN Japanther waistcoat

A chap can never have too many waistcoats and something this special is certainly worth adding to the collection. If you’re tempted have a look here.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Heller's Cafe Larry McKaughan Interview - Heritage Fashion Done Right.

Hellers Cafe

As if more proof were needed that there’s great denim coming out of Japan Warehouse label Heller’s Café have further cemented their reputation with the new collection.

I caught up Heller’s Café founder, the “King of Vintage” Larry McKaughan to find out more.
Heller’s Café have released four new fits – ranging from the cinch-back 1920’s cut of the Lot 1 to the skinny contemporary silhouette of the Lot 4. All fits are also available in washed form – on which more later.

Hellers Cafe
The full line up, from left to right Lots 1 to 4.
All 4 jeans are cut from sanforized 12oz denim. The fabric itself is alive with slubby character and has a wonderfully rough feel in the hand – something Warehouse have lovingly reproduced through tweaking the chatter on their looms.

A Question of Detailing 

As you’d expect from these guys this attention to detail extends to the fabrication – the standout thing for me is the single needle stitching throughout. A nice touch too is the felled outer leg seam, giving a single visible selvedge edge – a very period detail seen on vintage work-wear, the felled seam made for a much stronger garment.

 On Lots 1 & 2 there is also a riveted crotch panel. Across the range is the one-piece selvedge edge fly – again a period detail seen on many vintage trousers. The scalloped back pockets are a nice touch and they’re also lined with the same cotton used for the front pocket bags. The light yellow patch is deer skin and I’m sure it will age beautifully.

Hellers Cafe
Detailing done right! Selvedge one piece fly, crotch rivets and beautiful scalloped pockets.
The collection may wear its vintage detailing on it’s sleeve, but as a whole it still has a very modern feel. As Larry explains,
My inspiration behind Hellers Cafe collections has to do with what I sense is exciting for the marketnot only the vintage market, but new as well.  I look for what I find unusual and exciting in our collection and I temper that with what I think might be interesting or appealing for the new clothing market.”
So this translates in garments that have had the fits tweaked slightly to make them more modern, for example my favourites in the collection, the Lot 1’s, whilst sporting a slightly higher rise at the back and a cinch, have a much slimmer cut than the 1920’s period jeans that inspired them.

To Wash or Not?

Hellers Cafe
The washed version of the Lot 1 fit.
This idea also partly inspires the washed versions of the jeans. I normally like to keep things raw here at New Utility but this is very much Larry’s way of experimenting with the Heller’s Café range to replicate the details of some of the pieces in his vintage collection. 
As the man himself puts it, Larry wants to imbue “some of the feeling to the new pieces that the vintage pieces have and to add life to them.” The detailing on the washed fits even extends to heavily oxidizing the rivets and buttons. Whether you’re a fan of denim aging or not for me it is this dedication to perfecting the smallest detail that has always separated most Japanese labels like Warehouse from the others.

A Brand Apart 

Hellers Cafe
The Lot 3's in action. (Jacket courtesy of Universal Works. Cap by Hepville.)
With so many heritage brands focusing on work wear, what is it that sets Heller's Cafe apart? With Heller’s Café that’s easy to answer – Larry has dedicated his career to finding the best, most unusual and rare pieces in the world.  The HC collections are based on those samples and offer a line of clothing that is based entirely on authentic design from actual pieces in Larry’s collection.  As he argues “we commit ourselves to recreating that feeling.  No other line of clothing has the experience in vintage and know how with production to do what we have done.”

As you’d expect from the King of Vintage Larry has struck this balance perfectly with the new collection – giving us beautiful jeans with the all the period detail that vintage buffs like me love, without falling in to heritage fashion trap of just producing costume.

Hellers Cafe
Yours truly modelling my favourite pair in the new collection - the cinch-backed Lot 2's with a vintage '49 Pattern battledress blouse. 
So what’s next for Heller’s Café & Warehouse? Larry wanted to keep future projects under his hat but did say that his anticipation is Heller’s Cafe will become a permanent part of the Warehouse brand and that HC “will occupy a part of the brand that continues to offer the most unique and exclusive designs to the vintage lover and collector.” Excitingly Larry is also looking forward to opening more stand alone Heller’s Cafe stores as well as “continuing to offer our product through other venues and expand.”

As a European based denimhead Japanese denim in general can be hard to get hold of so this is good news.

Check out the collection here.

A big thank-you to Larry McKaughan, Masiki Fujiki & Keita Senzaki at Ebbets for all their help and time.
Denim cap by Hepville Custom Clothing. Denim jacket by Universal Works.

Words and photography ©Mark Larner.