Engraved onto the fastening button of most Samurai jeans is the Japanese phrase shogyo mujo (諸行無常), which roughly translates as “all earthy things must fade away”, a highly appropriate expression when you consider that Samurai Jeans of Osaka are arguably the most highly regarded denim brand in the world when it comes to the art of fading and also one of the most popular contest brands that there is. So just what is it that makes Samurai so adept and popular at the fading game, and does their popularity translate into results, let’s dig a little deeper.
A pair of Samurai S710xx jeans were my first experience of heavyweight denim, and also what I think of as my first “real” pair of Japanese denim. I bought them slightly used and they were good enough to convince me of the merits of both heavyweight and Japanese denim, so it is fair to say that they are a brand I rate very highly. That first experience lead me onto buying some of the heavier 21oz S5000vx model jeans and starting the very first HWDC, so personally for me it seems that Samurai have a lot to answer for. If jeans like Uniqlo, Supreme and the Levi’s x Phenom collaborations were my gateway drug, then Samurai certainly made me an addict.
As a brand Samurai are famed for releasing a number of interesting, and occasionally a little crazy, special edition models each year, into which they incorporate things such as new denims, natural dyed denims, new cottons or special details in terms of hardware, patches or pocket lining. The essence of the Samurai brand is also perhaps more Japanese in feel than most other brands out there, especially when you consider the name, the imagery associated with the jeans and their (admittedly softening) approach to international expansion, i.e. they do not seem too interested in it with only a handful of international retailers. Whilst it might be the special editions which draw the crowd, it is Samurai’s regular array of cuts which keeps customers returning, and new wearers being drawn to Osaka’s finest.
The most common cuts made by Samurai total only four, there are more cuts but those making up most of the brands sales come from the 5000 (mid-rise, slightly slimmed straight), 500 (high rise straight), 510 (based on the classic 501 straight) and the 710 (slim tapered, mid-rise), with the 710 being easily the most popular of the four cuts in the western market due to a contemporary cut and a 19oz denim which produces stunning high contrast fades. These four popular cuts have been recreated time and time again using different denims and details, with some of them making regular appearances in two or three different denim types in any given year.
The popularity of Samurai jeans for denim contests stems from three very important factors, firstly their cuts are versatile so the chances are that they will have a pair of jeans perfect for you, secondly there is surprisingly little variation in measurements from one batch to the next, despite the fact that sometimes the denims can feel very different. This stability in measurements is an incredible accomplishment from a brand who deal only in raw denim and takes so much of the guess work out of sizing a pair of jeans for the wearer. The last, and probably the most important, reason for Samurai’s prevalence as a competition jean is that they fade (generally) really, really well and pretty fast when compared to some other brands.
The secret to the Samurai fade is the use of unbleached cotton for the weft of many of their denims, and dyeing the warp in a manner where the indigo does not deeply penetrate the core of the fibres, making it easier to separate the colour from the cotton and therefore fade your jeans. This process results in denim which can lose colour quite freely and with a marked contrast, I found that when I started to regularly wash my 21oz 5000VX in the second year of the HWDC that they developed a fade pattern which reminded me of marble and looked really cool I thought. Another feature of Samurai jeans which makes them ideal for a wear contest is that every stitch on them is made using 100% natural cotton, rather than the more regularly used poly-cotton blend. Samurai do this for the sake of pure authenticity and it has the effect of the hems and seams breaking down more easily under constant wear and stress, making the effective wear more pronounced and the opportunity for DIY repair a regular occurrence.
A swift search for images of Samurai jeans is, in truth, all you need to know about why they are such a popular choice in the denim community and have been for a very long time. There is a school of thought that some Samurai jeans lose their colour a little too easily and that some of the high contrast fades look forced or artificial, and there is some merit in that perhaps when considering how quickly you can see potential fade patterns appear in the denim, but like all jeans worn over a period of time, they will reflect only the wear you put into them.