When it comes to Japanese denim, I feel like it’s the mystery and enigma of some of the selvedge brands that keeps people—myself included—so engaged for more. It’s funny, because many modern brands in the West market themselves by being transparent, making you feel involved in their story, and so forth. But when it comes to Japanese denim, a lot of that goes out of the window. You don’t need campaigns, or any persuasion for that matter, because the craftsmanship and effortlessly cool branding has you sold from the moment you set eyes on it.
Studio D’Artisan is one of those brands. For a label that has been in the denim business for over 41 years, we know remarkably little about the Japanese denim powerhouse. The first of the esteemed Osaka 5, Studio D’Artisan has been at the forefront of Japanese denim since the late 70s and is one of the most influential names in the game.
You may know SDA for plastering playful pigs over their goods, but there is a lot more to the brand than its playful motifs. We’re taking a moment to shine a spotlight on Studio D’Artisan and what makes it one of Japan’s finest denim labels.
Studio D’Artisan History & Philosophy
Studio D’Artisan was founded in Osaka in 1979 by Shigeharu Tagaki. The denim wave that swept over Japan in the late 60s and 70s had created a generation of denim-lovers, Tagaki-san included, who’d fallen in love with the American five-pocket jean.
While blue denim had already been worn casually in the States for a few decades by the late 60s, it was like a new science to the Japanese youth, who lusted after deadstock American denim from the likes of Levi’s and Lee.
But just like any fashion phenomenon, demand outgrew supply, leading to less-than-satisfactory replicas, lower grade high street renditions, and an overall lack of quality as big makers began churning out denim jeans. This left many young Japanese denim lovers frustrated, lamenting the scarcity of decent deadstock denim – especially Levi’s.
Tagaki-san was one of many Japanese creatives who made it his mission to replicate the jeans he coveted. He was a designer by trade who had studied in France, and used influences from both French and American workwear to direct his brand, which would become one of the most important in Japanese jeans culture.
At the start, D’Artisan experienced issues with sales numbers due to the price of its reproduction jeans compared to the price of jeans from other makers and vintage jeans. Speaking to Clutch Magazine, Current D’Artisan owner, Fujikawa-san remembers:
“At the time, the starting salary for university students was about 100,000 yen, while the jeans released by STUDIO D’ARTISAN cost 29,000 yen for a pair. On average, the cost of jeans on the market were 6,000 to 7,000 yen a pair, with some going as high as 10,000 yen, so our prices were about three times more expensive. Our jeans didn’t sell as much, as they were about the same price as the vintage jeans that were sold at the time.”
Tagaki-san decided that to set his brand apart, he would not only reproduce vintage denim jeans but also design and make completely original denim goods that referenced vintage models, rather than replicating them.
This change in direction led Studio D’Artisan to create its iconic DO-1 raw denim jean in 1986. The DO-1 is a straight-leg jean selvedge denim five-pocket jean that combined the aforementioned European and American workwear features. It is touted by Studio D’Artisan as the catalyst of the Japanese denim boom that occurred in the 1990s and a symbol of how the Japanese changed the denim industry forever.
“When the brand was first established, we were barely recognized as a denim brand, and it was a very tough time for us. However, the fact that we didn’t stop making original jeans turned out to be a good thing for the brand. Using vintage designs as a base was something all brands did at the time. However, the idea to utilize designs from specific eras was an idea that was new to most denim brands at the time. What set us apart from other brands was our decision not to produce replica denim, but instead focusing on completely original denim.” – Fujikawa-san, current owner of Studio D’Artisan, speaking to Clutch Magazine
Throughout the 90s and early 200os, Studio D’Artisan forged a reputation of producing both top-tier denim and progressive products that appeal to all areas of the denim and heritage menswear market.
D’Artisan is also one of many Japanese brands to have been sued by Levi’s in the wake of the rise of Japanese selvedge denim for use of archetypal Levi’s details such as the red pocket tab, curved arcuates, and a waist patch that depicts two characters pulling a pair of jeans apart. Thankfully, Studio D’Artisan is still using most of these details, and its branding of two pigs pulling jeans apart remains one of its most recognizable traits.
But D’Artisan doesn’t just use pigs for its branding, they print, stitch, patch, and weave those little guys into many of their apparel designs. Pigs fighting Godzilla, woven into jacquard loopwheeled fabric, posing as the Beatles, driving tanks and muscle cars – the list goes on.
But amongst D’Artisan’s playful pig designs is respect and incorporation of Japanese tradition and folklore. They are known for their masterful execution of sashiko, wabash, and Amami Oshima mud-dyeing, as well as depicting Japanese legends such as the story of Momotaro through intricate designs,.
Studio D’Artisan Today
Studio D’Artisan is currently owned by Fujikawa-san and remains one of the most active and relevant brands in Japanese denim. Though not as widely stocked in the West as other Japanese labels, it has a revered presence in Japan and a wide range of online stockists. Headquartered in Osaka, D’Artisan has official brick-and-mortar locations in Tokyo, Yokohama, and its hometown.
Studio D’Artisan denim is woven in Okayama from a variety of cotton, from American long-staple cotton to Suvin Gold. The brand is also known for using the legendary iconic Toyoda G-3 shuttle loom to produce rolls of time-honored raw selvedge denim.
The D-01 is the jean that kickstarted Studio D’Artisan and the brand ensures that it remains part of its profile today. First released in 1986, the D-01 is a regular straight jean with a silhouette that takes cues from American and French workwear of times-past. SDA touts the D-01 as the first truly raw selvedge denim jean, with most other brands at the time simply making reproductions of Levi’s 501s from the 40s and 50s.
The D-01 is cut from 15 oz. natural indigo raw selvedge denim woven in Okayama. It features a full silhouette, cinch back fastening, hidden copper rivets on the rear pockets, custom SDA hardware, and SDA’s iconic waist patch.
Available at Denimio for $325
The SD-103 is one of Studio D’Artisan’s most popular models. Coming straight from the brand’s SD-100 series, which takes 15 oz. unsanforized selvedge denim woven on shuttle looms and applies them to no-nonsense cuts, the SD-103 is a tight straight jean with all the bells and whistles you can expect from Studio D’Artisan. It may be one of the brand’s newer cuts, but it’s an accessible cut reminiscent of 1960s Levi’s has seen it gain popularity across the denim board.
Available at Okayama Denim for $203
The SD-107 is another jean that is one of Studio D’artisan’s more contemporary cuts that has proved popular in the modern denim scene due to its super-tight-straight silhouette. Slimmer in the leg than the SD-103, the SD-107 is one of Studio D’Artisan’s narrowest jeans with all the historic and handsome details of the SD-100 line, such as chainstitch construction, copper rivets, blue selvedge ID, and rear pocket arcuates.
Available at Self Edge for $275