Interviews

phi.: mixing tradition with modernity

28th November 2015

When you mention quality Japanese denim, chances are brands like Momotaro Jeans and Evisu come to mind. Both labels were founded to encourage the denim industry and to bring to mind the early years of denim culture and the craftmanship that came with it. Both Momotaro and Evisu are now among the most highly regarded denim brands in the world.

Surfing on the wave of the renewed interest for Japanese denim,  phi.denim is the newest kid on the block. The Franco-Japanese brand was launched this year by a team of 4 people: Philippe is in charge of design, Alex deals with the administrative stuff, commercial strategy and communication, Yuki handles sourcing matter in Japan and Vincent’s main role is graphic design and to maintain the website (and, he adds, to heat up pizzas for phi. meetings :-)).

Time to take a closer look at this exciting new brand.

phi. is new to the denim world. Could you tell us more on how the brand came about?Phil : I discovered Japanese denim when I went to Japan about 7 years ago. To me, it was a real shock to see this side of Japan without any filters: denim, indigo, kimonos, Japanese streetwear. This discovery led to the next step: I wanted to take my passion, technology and new production methods, and combine it with the things I had seen in Japan. So the idea was born right there. I wanted to recreate a simple and timeless product, that combined the best of both worlds. In this case, using local fabrics that are added to the phi. jeans.

Alex : Philippe and I are working together in the same sportswear company, him as a designer and me as a product line manager. I learnt a lot from him regarding the technical apparel industry. Philippe has always been passionate about denim and encouraged me to join him two years ago. Later on we had a talk with Yukiko, a Japanese colleague that was interested in the project. After having worked on the first concept for a few months, Vincent, a friend of mine, also joined us. The idea was to create a collective gather around the passion for denim combining the authenticity of denim with a modern approach that we know so well from the sportswear industry.
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You are all working in different places; does that affect the way you are working together? Or is it a source of inspiration?
Vincent: What one may consider to be a constraint, is actually our strength. Diversity is our wealth and is part of the phi.’s DNA, and it shows in our product too. I think it’s interesting to bring people who come from different places all over the world with a common passion together. Moreover the current means of communication allow us to work effectively.

We all regularly collaborate on product design, communication strategies, branding …
phi. is a small structure and that’s what makes the thing even more exciting because everyone is involved at all levels and every important decision is taken collectively.

Yuki: I have grown up in Japan, but I am currently living in Hawaii. I used to live in London before and visited around 50 countries for pleasure and business.
Working with people who have a different view for me is a constant source of inspiration.
ocean wash1 IMG_6126 How does phi. sets itself apart from other denim brands out there?
Phil: Nowadays, a lot of brands are relaunching succesfull collections from the past or are releasing ‘vintage’ collections. Personally, I think the past is there to create the future. And that’s also an essential part of Japanese culture: they manage to capture the soul of old objects and turn them into something new.

Vincent: Vintage or powerful ever-present “Made In France” does not necessarily concern us. We are turning towards the future by offering our own interpretation of the traditional “5 pockets”,  tied up firmly to up-to-day reality. We are not nostalgic about the past, but excited to merge it with the future to make something new, personal, and especially something of an ultra-quality.

Where can we find Japanese and French influences in the collection?
Vincent: I think there are mostly Japanese influences, with the proven and modern technology, genuine manufacturing quality and materials’ purity so well known in Japan. The French influence or let’s say more European influence might be felt more on the fit of our first collection.

Phil: The ‘French touch’ is also noticeable on the pockets, with a nice alliance between raw denim, indigo kimono and the way the pocket is fabricated.

The back pocket in old kimono fabric is indeed the thing that immediately got our attention. Where do you find these old fabrics? Is it easy to get your hands on them?Phil: It has to be love at first sight. I visit antique markets and I know a lot of traditional fabric suppliers. I think the hardest thing is to not get carried away and buy too much.

Vincent:  The rarity of kimono fabrics used on the back pockets makes our products so unique and thus available only in limited pieces. Phil is our “kimono crate digger” who always unearths incredible pieces as beautiful to look at as to touch. I think he is able to find fabrics that the Japanese themselves ignore the existence of.

Is it true that people can send you their phi. after a couple of months to get it washed in the Atlantic Ocean?
Vincent: The beach is our dryer and sands our laundry detergent. Washing your jeans in a washing machine is liable to prosecution and serious penalties! The fact of washing the jeans into the ocean offers unparalleled rendering and that’s what do we offer to our customers in order to beautify their phi.

Phil: Nature is a big part in Japanese culture, so it is only natural we maintain this relationship. We don’t use chemicals, only water, sea salt and sand. When customers send us their used denim, we can actually follow up on the wearing process.
Also, I really llike it when I put my jeans on and find some grains of sand in the pockets. It’s like I’m on holiday.

P4275514_2 P4275519_2 IMG_4724 P4275626_2IMG_4734 What is your own personal denim story? Is it a life-long love story?
Phil:  Denim has always been a part of my wardrobe, but the passion for it really took a kickstart when I first put on a pair of Japanese denim.

Alex:  My denim story started 3 years ago when I bought my first 14oz denim. The first time I tried it on, I understood what denim is all about.

Yuki: I just love denim. I like the fact that the colour and shape change over time and that it becomes a real extension of your personality. Maybe it’s also because I’m Japanese that I have a natural love for indigo.

Vincent: Jeans for me are timeless and that’s what I really like. I have always had a pair of jeans in my wardrobe. Several pieces of menswear sublime with time, and it is important to invest in quality pieces I think.

You are now sold at Colette, which is a big step. What can we expect from you in the (near) future?
Vincent: We are very proud of being presented at Colette. It’s almost logical because their product’s positioning totally corresponds to our strategy: unique pieces, rare exceptions. We really appreciate their work and what they have managed to build up over all these years of existence.

Phil: We are currently working on the new collection, still using carefully selected kimonos and still maintaining the same quality level. We hope that consumers will appreciate the quality of our products. We are keeping all options open for creative collaborations, as long as they fit phi.’s philosophy.

Thank you for the inspiring talk guys. We are very curious to see what’s next for phi.!
If you want to shop the current phi. collection, click here.