Norman Russell is a fairly new player in the raw denim world. Founded in the end of 2012 by Kortney Hasting, who named the brand after his grandfather and father, they have been based in LA making small batch denim goods in several fits. While their story is a familiar one: he was inspired by his family lineage where denim was part of his family’s identity, Kortney makes it a little more personal with quirky anecdotes behind the different fits he’s designed as well as the names for the fits.
Norman Russell has 3 basic fits: The Cookie (slim), The Hammer (straight), and The Fish (bootcut). I’ve been seeing the trend of more and more guys hanging up their slimmer jeans and opting for roomier but still modern cuts so I decided to give The Hammer a swing (I know, it’s a hilarious pun).
- Name: Norman Russell The Hammer
- Fabric: 13.5oz. 100% cotton sanforized selvedge denim from Cone Mills
- Fit: Mid-rise, straight leg
- Unique features:
- Heavy canvas pocket bags
- Red branded rivets
- Every jean is hand-numbered and limited to 270 pairs
- MSRP: $250 at Norman Russell
Norman Russell lists The Hammer as their straight cut, but it’s more of a modified version of a straight with a slimmed down leg and a shorter rise than you’d find in a classic straight. The result is a fit that is somewhere between a slim straight and a straight cut which will please fans of 3sixteen‘s SL-100x, Railcar‘s James, and Tellason‘s John Graham Mellor.
I received a size 29 which had these measurements:
- Waist – 30 inches
- Thigh – 10.75 inches
- Rise – 9.5 inches
- Knee – 7.75 inches
- Hem – 7.75 inches
- Inseam – 34.5 inches
As someone who regularly wears slimmer fits, The Hammer is a good cut if you want to try a slightly fuller cut that still retains modern look. The lower rise, however, could be a problem for those used to the higher top block that is more common with straight cuts. The leg opening is large enough for boots but will still work with lower profile sneakers. The 34.5 inch inseam is more than enough length for most people but will leave out taller people who need a 36 inch + inseam.
Looking at the brand and their descriptions, It doesn’t seem like the idea behind the cut was to do a very classic straight cut so in this respect, The Hammer works well as a modern straight cut.
The denim is a sanforized, 13.5oz, 3×1, right hand twill selvedge denim from Cone Mills. Cone Mills has unfortunately earned somewhat of a reputation of producing denim that is not as desirable compared to Japanese denim. Part of this can be due to many of their fabrics being very uniform and tightly woven which can result in a more gradual and less exaggerated contrast fading over time.
I personally think it’s an overgeneralization in the argument of American denim vs Japanese denim with many examples of beautifully worn in jeans made from Cone Mills denim as well as many Japanese denim fabrics that share many of the similar characteristics.
This particular fabric has a dark and rich indigo color that has a soft hand on the warp side. The weft side is brushed which feels pretty luxurious and makes the break in process easy. The uniform look of the denim makes for a jean that is easily dressed up and while it isn’t the most exciting denim on the market, it doesn’t have to be and will still age well with wear.
Construction and Details
Norman Russell’s jeans features the standard details that we’ve come to expect from jeans in the $200-$250 price point: heavier canvas pocket bags, brass buttons and rivets, branded leather patch, and chainstitched hem. An interesting detail is the red bartack stitch that is at the hem and on the side of the jean along with two matching red branded rivets for the coin pocket.
The leather used for the patch is an Argentinian cowhide that is soft and pliable but thinner than the leather used in some other brands. Like the rest of the jean, the leather is cut and laser branded in LA. The canvas pocket bags come from a mill in Georgia and is screen printed with details of the jean and Kortney individually numbers the jean. According to the pocket bags, only 270 were made of this particular jean. As for the hardware, he opted for solid unbranded buttons and rivets from Kentucky that are designed to age with wear alongside the denim.
Construction wise, there isn’t much to write about. That’s not to say that it’s badly done but like many other aspects of the jean, it’s constructed in a way that we’ve come to expect for a this price range. Aside from a few loose threads here and there, everything is on point and cleanly done with the stitching lining up straight and all the stress points properly riveted and bar-tacked.
10 years ago or maybe even 5 years ago, Norman Russell’s The Hammer jeans would have been a standout among all the brands on the market. It’s a sleek, handsome, and well made jean that is comfortable to wear from the beginning. However, it’s 2014, and the denim resurgence has created an ever growing number of small brands who frankly are sourcing their materials and labor from many of the same places. And there’s only a limited number of interesting things you can do with a jean without becoming gimmicky or driving the costs up. In this respect, Norman Russell gets lost among all the other brands at that level.
It’s an interesting time when the bar has been raised to the point where a well made jean like this has become par for the course. For me, I take it as great news because it points to a future where more and more people will come to expect more out of a product and are willing to pay more for better goods. However, it also means that the independent and hardworking guys behind brands like Norman Russell have a lot of work ahead of them trying to market themselves and/or find some way to really differentiate themselves from the pack.
In any case, Norman Russell makes a good jean. The fit makes sense and works, the details are there, and is yet another great option for those looking for a solidly made jean. It will just be hard to differentiate them from any of the other brands out there selling a similar modern fitting minimal 5 pocket jean using a mid-weight sanforized uniformly woven selvedge denim. However, they’re still so new and already have started with a good product so it’ll be interesting to see where they go from here.