Trouser Tuesday: Steel Feather, Norse design meets Japanese craft

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Norway is not the first country you think of when it comes to rare denim. It’s fair to say that it probably struggle to make any list of most likely countries to even have much of an interest in the less common denim variants. Yet there are in fact two jeans companies of note, Livid Jeans and Steel Feather. I reviewed my pair of 19 oz Livid jeans last summer, and have worn them a lot since then, even wearing them on my travel to India. I wrote about Steel Feather after meeting up with the man himself, Anders, last summer.

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Now though the time has come to give a pair of Steel Feather jeans a go. I was hoping to find a pair of the original, limited edition 01-series 21 oz variety to fit me, but I was too late to the party on that one. What I’ve gone for is a pair of the 02-version. This is available in 3 different denim fabrics, allunsanforized and woven on vintage Toyoda shuttle looms by a small family-owned denim mill in Okayama:

  • 14 oz natural indigo rope-dyed with a smooth and even texture
  • 15 oz selvedge with a repro texture and feel
  • 16 oz selvedge denim with a slubby texture due to its varying thread weight

The one I went for is the 14oz variant, mainly to get a different weight to what I already have. Compared to the 19 and 21oz denim I’ve been wearing the past couple of years this comes across as positively lightweight!

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So, let’s get into the details of what we have here. Layout-wise it is a classic pair of 5-pocket jeans, as in two front pockets, two rear pockets and a coin pocket. The fit is an evolution of the first series, being described as a mid-rise, slim with, with a slight taper from the knee down. In fact, just the way I like it. Looking down and thinking that the legs of your trousers look like they’re flared is one of life’s dark moments. And yes, I have noticed that this summer is apparently when flares make their comeback. Burn them with fire, I say!

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The denim itself is unsanforized, or “Kibata” if you speak Japanese. What this means is that the denim will naturally shrink once you wash it. Most usually these days the denim is pre-treated so that the size it is when you buy it is pretty much the size it will be after you’ve washed it. Shrink to fit implies that when you wash it, it will shrink. This does make it a little more tricky to buy the trousers, as not only will they shrink, but after shrinking they will also expand a bit. There is an element of faith involved in buying trousers like this!

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The denim is of superb heritage though, being essentially the product of a one man operation. I previously wrote a bit about this in the profile on Steel Feather. Whether the denim itself is any better than more industrially produced denim really comes down to whether you place any value on the mystique and artisanal qualities involved.

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The pocket bags are art in their own right, being made of a lovely herringbone cotton. It’s quite a shame that no one but the wearer will appreciate them.

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While the previous version of these jeans had an unusual fly construction using a zipper (yes, I know fly zippers are generally not unusual, but when dealing with jeans like this they actually are a rare sight) the new version has the more commonly found buttons. These are well spaced and using buttons replicated from a WW2 style with a laurel wreaths design. The button holes seem well made, which bodes well for longevity.

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One of the first things I noticed when handling these trousers is that the stitching is in two colours. I’m not sure if this adds anything at all the design, but it is an example of how hard it is to come up with new twists to make a pair of jeans different to others. Another example of this are the “train track” back pockets, where the pockets are made up of two parts with a hidden selvedge seam up the middle. Again, like the herringbone pockets, the selvedge is on the inside, so in reality only the owner will ever see it. The idea though is that the seam up the pocket will provide another opportunity for showing desirable “fades” in the denim.

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Again on the inside, the yoke is lined with the same herringbone fabric as used for the pockets, and again, it will never be seen. The aficionado will appreciate the chain-stitching and attention to detail though. Notice also the inside of the rivets, stamped with the Universal logo. The rivets are a mix of hidden (back pockets) and visible (front pockets).

Now, as I’ve made a point of before, Steel Feather are one of the only two denim companies I consider Norwegian. Where Livid produce their jeans in Norway and Portugal, the Steel Feathers are produced in very limited numbers in Japan, to the designs by Anders. I feel I have completed my collection of Norwegian denim brands at this point!

It is very much worth mentioning though that the construction throughout is impeccable. These jeans are put together by some of the best craftsmen making jeans in Japan, and Anders struck gold when he made friends with and later established a working relationship with them. There are not many hands involved in the making of each pair of these!

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At this point you will be wondering how they fit, and this will be a two-part effort. First, what they looked like just after I got them. You will notice the absolutely massive turn-ups, a legacy of the 36.5″ inseam and my 30.5″ legs.

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Now of course, as I’ve mentioned, these are unsanforized denim, so they will shrink to fit. Could I leave things well alone at this point? No, of course not, they must be shrunk. Now, there is a lot of woodoo and myths surrounding how to treat raw denim. Some people tend to forget that we’re talking about a 100% cotton fabric and not a religious artefact that must be protected. Knowing Anders takes a more pragmatic approach to denim than most others, I checked in with him to hear what he recommended for the first contact with water. “I just give mine a gentle wash in the washer at 30 degrees with some mild detergent”, was his reply. I’ll settle for that over bathing in the sea with them under a full moon any day!

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So in the washer they went. And after drying fully the results could be noticed. For one thing the leather patch showed clear traces of indigo bleeding onto it. When measuring the waist and inseam though the difference became very clear.

  • The waist initially measured 36″, after wash it was 34″
  • The inseam was initially 36.5″, after wash it was 34″

That is quite a bit of shrink! No need to worry though, as they just fit more snugly now, and where they’re top snug they will expand a bit. According to Rivet and Hide, the only shop on the planet to carry Steel Feather, they will shrink 1″ in the waist and 2″ in the length, but the waist will stretch 1″ with wear. They may have done of cold water soak to get their shrinkage, but the two numbers give you an idea of what to expect.

So how to they look on after shrinkage? Time for another photoshoot…

 

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While I hesitate to draw attention to my pert behind, I think the difference in fit is quite apparent. Also, given the shrinkage in length the turn-ups are now a little less humongous. The initial turns-ups were a double-cuffed 3″ or so, which is how things turn out when you put 36.5″ inseam onto legs that are 30.5″ long. The shrinkage brought the cuffs down to a more manageable 2″, again double-cuffed.

PS: In case you are wondering, the jacked I’m wearing is the Monitaly field jacket I had dyed in indigo, and the shirt is one of the deadstock cotton shirts I also had dyed in indigo!

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2 Comments

  • Brandon 14/03/2015 at 16:37

    Great review, WDD. I’ve been enjoying the new Trouser Tuesday series very much.

    Perhaps you would consider providing your own measurements of other very important aspects of a trouser, i.e. front/back rise and thigh width as a comparison/reinforcement of companies measuring practices but also especially helpful on companies that do not provide measurements (unless perhaps emailed).

    As someone with an approximately 30 inch inseam (for no break) I prefer denim with a 36 inch inseam, as it allows the chainstitch hem cuff/Tender special cuff, but I also prefer to triple fold the cuffs if doing normal turn-ups opposed to double I would do on say, a 34 inch inseam. They’re not as bulky as one might imagine triple cuffed!

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 17/03/2015 at 15:07

      Thanks Brandon, good feedback. I will up my game on measurements and start providing more details. I have roughly the same inseam as you and find similar issues with cuffs. In fact, I’m working on a cuff post, so if you’d like to email me some photos of your favourite variants I would be very interested!

      Reply

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