Hawksmill Denim Co. – A Hidden British Gem
I love to shop. That is, as long as said shopping is for me. When it comes to shopping with my wife, it’s far less fun, as she browses and buys according to a wildly different, inexplicable set of rules. (If eight things are allowed in the dressing room, that doesn’t mean you must bring four things you’re actually interested in and four additional things, just because. Eight isn’t a minimum, it’s a maximum. Guys, back me up, right? Is this thing on?)
However, the upside of this is that while my wife is busy I can steal away to a nearby Barnes & Noble (the Starbucks of bookstores, limited but reliable), and page through pricey and exotic men’s magazines from Europe—their heavy, glossy stock pages filled with stories and adverts for brands not readily available here in America, even in Los Angeles, where I live.
It was on one of these afternoons that I came across a piece on Hawksmill Denim Co. (thank you Jocks & Nerds) and was taken by what I felt was a pitch-perfect blending of the classic, historically referenced DNA of their designs with contemporary fits and fabrics. I was also annoyed with myself that I hadn’t heard of them before, and so I set out to right that wrong. My email inquiry was answered by none other than Fraser Trewick, co-founder of Hawksmill (along with Anthony Smith). You gotta’ love it when a head honcho checks the “info” email account. Thus, we started a correspondence, and Fraser was nice enough to also send along a selection of Hawksmill pieces for me to try out. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Why surprised?
On the cusp of turning 30 for the nineteenth time (and having been a part of the Heddels team for approaching four of those), I’ve been lucky enough to try out a lot of clothes, and to paraphrase an old saying, “Jeans are sort of like pizza—when they’re good, they’re great, and when they’re bad…they’re still pretty good.” Rarely have I come across a style that I’ve really disliked—it’s more that I didn’t love one along the way, and personally I’d rather not write about those styles anyway—but there’s too much great stuff out there to waste time writing about the occasional dud of heritage duds.
So I assumed that Hawksmill made decent stuff that I’d like, but I was not prepared to love their designs as much as I do. I’ve been essentially living in one particular pair of pants for the past few weeks—they’re by far the favorite pair of non-denim bottoms I’ve ever worn. But before we get to all that, here’s a bit of a conversation I had with Fraser about his brand, where it came from, and where it’s going.
Heddels (John Bobey): With Hawksmill Denim Co., what is it that you feel defines the brand…makes it stand out in the crowd?
Fraser Trewick: Firstly, we worked extremely hard to create a premium product at an affordable price. A lot of time was spent studying historical production techniques and vintage sewing machines, as we wanted to stand out from the mass-produced denim market. All our selvedge jeans have felled seam construction and are chain-stitched using vintage Union Special machines. However, our objective has not been to literally replicate the past, but to take these historical production techniques and use them in contemporary shapes and fits.
H: You’re a UK company–do you feel there’s anything especially “British” in your approach?
FT: We do manufacture some of our product in England, and this is something we are going to be doing a lot more of in the future. We also take most of our influence from British and French workwear, as we feel there are already plenty of brands who produce excellent American-style denim products.
H: How long has Hawksmill been at it? What have you learned and how has the brand evolved through the years?
FT: I’ve been in the denim industry for 20 years, but Anthony and I started Hawksmill around four years ago. We are completely self-financed, so we have a lot less margin for era than larger brands. This means that all of the products we produce have to be well thought through and considered before we release them.
Everything that we produce has to justify its existence, and this has resulted in the brand gradually moving away from producing cyclical seasonal collections. We now spend far more time on product development, only releasing new items when we feel they’re the best we can possibly create.
H: In the premium denim world, “fashion” almost seems like a dirty word (though it certainly applies). How is what Hawksmill designs fashion, and how is it not?
FT: Denim has historically moved in and out of fashion over the decades. Its popularity has always fluctuated, but it has always retained a constant presence. Our aim has to been to create a well-made product, which is classic in its approach and aesthetic, and that hopefully becomes an everyday staple in someone’s wardrobe.
H: Where do you see the brand heading…anything exciting we can look forward to?
FT: We are going to start manufacturing more products in England. This will begin with a limited edition Made In England jean produced in Nihon Menpu [Mills] fabric. The release date is set for April.
H: What are you most proud of with Hawksmill?
FT: Everybody who starts a brand sets out to create a product they hope people will buy and enjoy. The proudest moment is always when someone contacts us saying how much they love our jeans.
Yes, let’s start with their jeans. I’ve been spending time in their loose tapered Japanese selvedge denim, and it was the “loose tapered” idea that initially intrigued me. As I’ve written before, Levi’s attempt at this fit in their 501 was not successful, and yet the idea of some room in the seat and thigh that gracefully tapers to a narrow leg opening is a goal worth striving for. As much as I like the idea of a completely slim or skinny fit, my physiology will not play along (and I am not alone—I’ve seen far too many tops o’ asses. Most of us are not French models, and we need to start dressing accordingly).
In a 34” (46.5cm…c’mon, isn’t it time we all started using the metric system?) waist, that gives me a 25cm rise, 31.5cm thigh, 22.5cm knee, 19.5cm leg opening, and 81.5cm inseam. They might as well call it the Goldilocks Fit, because it’s just right. The majority of the trim silhouette comes from the legs, not the topblock, so to the eye these are slim jeans. That’s a win.
It’s made with a 14oz. Japanese red line selvedge raw denim, with a smooth, consistent hand and an inky, almost overdyed quality. (Mine are far from needing their first soak, but I suspect they will release quite a bit of dye and could yield some high contrast fades.) Hawksmill’s nods to the past are a Union Special chain stitched hem, belt loops folded under the waistband, pockets of heavy duty sail cloth, nickel-free copper rivets, heavy corded button holes, felled seam construction, and a chain stitched waistband. At £149.00 (a little over $200), that’s a Toyota Camry for the price of a Corolla (I’m car shopping, and that’s nothing to sneeze at).
Hawksmill offers all the menswear basics, and I found their t-shirts (garment dyed with a mildly slubby texture, £39.00) and sweatshirts (also garment dyed, and made from a slubby, 100% loopback cotton with flatlock seams, £79.00), wonderful and comfy, though I’d personally prefer a slightly roomier cut, especially during Cadbury Egg season (I’m sized up in an XXL. The shirt I mean.).
What really got me excited were three pieces in particular–the Olive Baby Cord Utility Shirt, and the Reverse Weave Utility Jacket and Trouser. The cord shirt surely has the boxy cut that references the French chore shirtjac that Fraser mentioned, but it’s made from the softest corduroy I’ve felt, and thus perfectly straddles the old and new that seems essential to the Hawksmill design aesthetic. But it’s £175.00, which is a real splurge for a shirt, though one worth considering.
But it’s these Reverse Weave Pants (a steal at £119.00) and Jacket (slightly less a steal at £149.00) that have stolen my jaded heart. The pants look like classic Vietnam War era fatigues, but even while sized for comfort, they still appear slim and, dare I say, “fashionable” (my wife’s word, one she uses to illustrate they are dinner-out-worthy). It’s more of that loose tapered fit (still a 34″ waist), and the side-cinched button adjusters on the waist are a cool detail I’d love to see more often. The reversed sateen cotton twill looks combat-ready, but started soft and is only getting more so. Lately, if I’m out of denim I’m in these.
The jacket is an XL and is cut to fall just below the waist—I wear it more like a heavy shirt than jacket (I’d likely need an XXL for true jacketness to be achieved)—and is perfect over a tee for when it gets to what people in Southern California consider “cold.” The color has a brightness to it that is far more olive than drab, and they’re my new go-to staples (though never at the same time). It’s also worth mentioning that, while ordering from Hawksmill’s site is a breeze and cheaper than you might suspect, their stuff is available through other US-based online retailers.
While I’ll never say it to her, perhaps I should shop with my wife more often? If it means more opportunities to discover high quality, won’t-see-it-on-all-your-friends-unless-you-live-in-England brands like Hawksmill Denim Co., the hours spent might actually be worth it. But seriously, who brings more into the dressing room than they need? And since when is it fun trying on clothes you have no intention of buying? Where are my bros at? Hello?