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TOKYO — The best souvenirs tell a story. The jeans in Japan provide a walking history lesson.


Levi’s landed in Japan about 75 years ago, and since then, Japanese manufacturers have combined their centuries-long tradition of indigo dyeing with their love of the Levi’s 501 style to craft some of the world’s most meticulously constructed high-end denim and classic jeans, according to W. David Marx, cultural historian and author of “Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style.”

据文化历史学家、《洋风和魂:日本的美国风尚留存》(Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style)一书的作者W·大卫·马克斯(W. David Marx)介绍,李维斯(Levi’s)大约75年前登陆日本,从那时起,日本制造商就将几百年的蓝染传统与他们对李维斯501风格的喜爱相结合,做出了世界上最精致的高档丹宁和经典牛仔裤。

We met over coffee in Tokyo to discuss what makes Japanese jeans such an appealing purchase for a traveler who likes to shop.


“The stretch denim, anything that’s too skinny, too tapered, too wide, is going to look ridiculous in five years, but all these really classic 501 straight leg model jeans will look as good now as they will in 20 years, because they’re just the classic archetype for what jeans are supposed to be,” he said. “Designs change and art changes, but really nice materials are really nice forever.”


Japan’s love affair with denim — especially bluejeans — began with World War II, Mr. Marx said. During the postwar occupation of Japan, used jeans, mostly Levi’s, found their way into shops after being bartered by American soldiers. At that time, people in the United States devalued jeans so much that they would rip them up and use them like tissue paper in packages. In Japan, shoppers valued them so much that stores would stitch these scraps back together and sell out.


Over the next decades, Japan went from embracing the bluejeans style to perfecting it.


If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in this capital city with a day to shop and yen to spend, you can find a concentrated selection of the country’s best high-end denim just a short walk from the central Ebisu station, among the side streets, shops and bakeries of the Daikanyama neighborhood, often called the Brooklyn of Tokyo.


“Daikanyama is all the chic Brooklyn retail without the edge of Brooklyn,” Mr. Marx said. “Everything is very dainty, artisanal and calm.”


To start your day, head to its stylish bookstore, Tsutaya Books Daikanyama, for a quick denim education. In the fashion section, aside from Mr. Marx’s book, you’ll also find “Jeans of the Old West: A History” by Michael Harris and a book whose title translates to “Who Made the 501XX?: The Unspoken Levi’s History” by Aota Mitsuhiro.

作为一天行程的开始,你可以先去代官山的时尚书屋茑屋书店,接受一场丹宁知识速成教育。在时尚专区,除了马克斯的书,你还会找到迈克尔·哈里斯(Michael Harris)的《老西部牛仔裤史》以及青田充弘(Aota Mitsuhiro)的一本书,书名翻译过来是《谁创造了501XX?未曾讲述的李维斯历史》。

Flip through pages of vintage photos and diagrams while sipping coffee in the adjacent Anjin Library & Lounge to start to understand how the jeans you’re about to try on came to be. You’ll begin to understand why you might step into a shop and, while surrounded by jean jackets, flannel, patches and trucker hats, feel as if you were in a vintage Marlboro commercial right in the middle of Tokyo.

去毗邻书店的安进图书馆酒廊(Anjin Library & Lounge)一边喝咖啡,一边翻阅书中的老照片和图解,你会开始了解你将要试穿的牛仔裤是怎么来的。你也会开始明白,为什么当你走进一家商店,被牛仔夹克、法兰绒、皮牌和卡车司机帽包围,会觉得自己仿佛走进了一个位于东京市中心的古早万宝路广告。

When I visited the UES shop in Daikanyama recently, I felt as if I could have been in Nebraska but for Asami Makino kneeling to measure a hem while chatting in Japanese with a customer buying his first pair of their jeans. As she sat down at a Union Special midcentury sewing machine, Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” wailed in the background.

最近我去了代官山的UES店,如果不是看到牧野麻美(Asami Makino)正在跪着量裤脚,还用日语跟一位首次购买他们品牌的顾客聊天,这里感觉跟内布拉斯加州没两样。当她在有半世纪历史的美国Union Special缝纫机前坐下时,背景响起齐柏林飞艇(Led Zeppelin)的《许多爱》(Whole Lotta Love)。

“Levi’s started it all and definitely we have had a lot of inspiration from Levi’s,” she said, “but we tend not to follow anyone and try to have our own originality.”


When she folded over the edge to form the hem, rather than ironing the crease, she tapped it with a wood-handled hammer. To finish the job, she took out a branding machine and seared the date of purchase into the leather patch, a detail that made them a fabulous souvenir if you can afford to spend the 23,800 yen, or about $218, for a pair.


The post-World War II model jeans lifted off the shelf as if folded around a cardboard insert. But no. The stiffness was because of the raw denim in this model. These starched jeans haven’t been prewashed, because the best way to get the desired high-contrast fades is to wash them just once, said Ms. Makino, then keep wearing them like this, unwashed, for at least six months.


“They are uncomfortable at the beginning, as the material is really quite stiff. And also because in the waist you buy them quite tight at the beginning, about one inch,” Ms. Makino said. “But if you can bear with them for a while, they get really well-fitting and you can just wear them every day.”


The development that pushed Japanese denim to be worth this kind of sacrifice started in the 1970s, when labor strikes in American factories disrupted fabric imports, according to Mr. Marx. To make their own truly domestic denim, Japanese manufacturers had to forget much of what they’d learned in a millennium of dyeing with indigo. If the color went all the way through the fabric, the jeans wouldn’t fade. They had to dye the threads more shallowly, maintaining a white center that would start to show over time.


Hidehiko Yamane, a vintage shop manager, decided to make jeans “just like I bought at surplus stores when I was in middle school,” he said in his book “Tateoti: Evisu the photobook.” He started a brand called Evis, a play on Levi’s, and painted a sea gull-shaped logo on the back that looked similar to Levi’s stitching. Evis eventually became Evisu.

古着店经理山根英彦(Hidehiko Yamane)在他的《Tateoti:Evisu摄影集》(Tateoti: Evisu the photobook)一书中写道,他想做出“像我上中学时在剩余物资商店买到的一样”的牛仔裤。他创立了一个名为Evis的品牌,是对Levi’s这个词的演绎,还会在裤子背面画上海鸥形状的品牌标识,看上去和李维斯的针脚形状很像。Evis最终演变成了Evisu。

At Evisu’s Daikanyama location, Evisu the Tokyo, among the denim-coated motorcycle helmets, a sweet selection of denim fanny packs and golf accessories, I found Saito Yasushi, a shop worker, bent over a pair of jeans, hands tinted indigo blue, painting dots and swirls in a huge sea gull pattern over the back of a pair of jeans, turning them into a creation no one would mistake for Levi’s.

在位于代官山的Evisu东京(Evisu the Tokyo)店里,我在一堆牛仔涂层的摩托车头盔、一组可爱的丹宁布腰包和高尔夫配件中找到了店员斋藤安石(Saito Yasushi)。他正俯身面对一条牛仔裤,双手染上了靛蓝,在裤子背面画上点点旋旋的巨大海鸥图案,由此就成了一条没人会错认成李维斯的裤子。

“Evisu was the brand who really broke replica denim,” Mr. Marx said. David Beckham wore them and Jay-Z name-dropped them in a song. “But then it also caused a backlash with his employees, who were like, ‘No, we must make the purest perfect copy of the 501.’”

“Evisu是真正打破了复刻牛仔的品牌,”马克斯说。大卫·贝克汉姆(David Beckham)穿过,Jay-Z在歌里提到过。“但当时这可引起了他手下员工的强烈反对,他们觉得,‘不行,我们必须做出最完美的501复刻。’”

Brands branched off with different levels of dedication to strict tradition, from the copper rivets to the chain-stitched hems to the classic cut to the selvage denim, which signifies that the fabric was made on small-batch looms.


“It comes from this really Confucian idea,” said Mr. Marx, “that there is a perfect iconic pair of jeans and it is the Levi’s 501 from the ’30s to the ’60s. It’s the idea that there was perfection in the past, and we lost it, rather than some Western idea of progress, which is that you can always make a better jean. It’s like this race to make a better version of the thing we lost.”


After you check out UES and Evisu, head to Gohanya Isshin Daikanyama for a lunch of sashimi and tempura. If you skip the pumpkin crème brûlée here, you will have made a grave mistake. Afterward, the garden of the Former Asakura Residence, a traditional Japanese home from the early 20th century, serves as a quiet place to sit before heading off again.

在UES和Evisu结好帐,你可以前往代官山Gohanya Isshin餐厅,尝尝生鱼片和天妇罗的午餐。不吃这里的南瓜焦糖布丁将是一个巨大的错误。吃饱之后,你可以在动身前往下一站之前,去趟前浅仓公馆的安静花园坐坐,那是一幢20世纪初的日本传统住宅。

Walk east, where you’ll technically cross into the Ebisu neighborhood to visit Warehouse & Co., a brand whose founders used to work at Evisu, but now focus on “faithful reproductions of vintage garments.” These jeans satisfy the purist.

往东走,穿过惠比寿,你可以逛一逛Warehouse & Co.的店。该品牌的创始人曾在Evisu工作,但现在专注于“复古服饰的忠实复刻品”。他们的牛仔裤可以满足纯粹主义者。

“We replicate vintage jeans with no compromise,” explained Masaki Fujiki, the manager of sales and public relations at Warehouse & Co., over email. The brand, which is approaching its 25th anniversary, never changes its production process, he said, from the yarn to how it’s spun to the indigo dyeing method.

“我们毫不妥协地复刻那些复古牛仔裤,”Warehouse & Co.的销售和公关经理藤木正树(Masaki Fujiki)在电邮中表示。他说,从纱线到如何纺线再到蓝染,这个即将迎来25周年纪念的品牌从未改变生产工艺。

Warehouse & Co. reproduced its line, the Duckdigger, from work wear found in the 19th century in a ghost town in the American West, Mr. Fujiki said. Its jeans, overalls and coveralls cost between $200 and $300, and it sells its own brand of denim wash.

藤木介绍说,Warehouse & Co.的“Duckdigger”系列是根据19世纪在美国西部一座鬼城中被发现的工作服设计的。他们的牛仔裤、背带裤和连体服的价格在200到300美元之间,还会销售自己的牛仔水洗品牌。

“Beware of imitations,” the labels say. Around the Warehouse website and catalog, a word often leaned on is “authentic.”


“So how do you make authentic jeans?” Mr. Marx asked. “If you can make the jeans authentically to how they used to be made, then you have a claim to authenticity, and that’s what Japan has done.”



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