Creating the perfect Chimala Pants - An Interview with Chimala Founder Noriko Machida

An interview with Noriko Machida of Chimala, June 2020

Chimala clothing is an international approach, combining Japanese craft, skill and fabrication, along with a uniquely American image – a revival and celebration of Americana through a Japanese outlook. Tell us more about this cross referencing and Japanese outlook that characterizes the Chimala image?

Chimala was founded in New York City, in 2005 by two vintage collectors. We often take inspiration from American and European vintage collections - typically from the 1930’s to 1960’s - choosing designs and items that best reflect today’s mood and time. We always pay respect to the original design and functions of the vintage items – when we design, we leave the basic details as they are and play with the sizing and silhouette balance instead. We are especially influenced by American vintage - particularly denim, US Military styles and classic workwear – and these three core sources play a leading part of our design. Although we pay so much respect to the vintage items in our design process, we always make sure to give each vintage inspired piece a look and feeling of newness – we try to avoid expressing too much “vintaginess”, as we never want it to feel too “old-fashioned”.

We put so much pride into our denim production, and it does take time. Our goal is to make the new denim piece we are designing look like real vintage pieces that we’ve drawn our inspiration from. To begin the process, we choose one or two pairs of vintage denim to serve as inspiration per style. This is one of the most important steps in our denim sampling process, and we choose the most suitable denim out of several originals by considering things such as the wash, how it’s faded and what type of navy or blue it is. From there, we add or reduce some damages, paint marks, stains or other details to it. Then we decide which style best goes with what wash, and finally we choose the stitching, accessories and specifications. We know that having production in Japan probably does cost us more than if we were to produce elsewhere, but we are looking for a vintage style that can only be done entirely in Japan – from fabric to production and wash.

As an artisanal denim company specializing in small batch and high quality - continuing and developing Japan’s heritage of indigo and denim fabrication. How does the fabrication and creative process in creating Chimala denim shape your concepts ideas and designs?

Fabrication is one of the most important elements for creating the vintage washes to look as if they are real vintage pieces. We use selvedge denim, which only vintage shuttle looms from the pre-war era can produce. The vintage shuttle looms make denim in very limited quantities – the width of denim is about 30 inches, and the speed of weaving on these looms is four times slower than modern looms – they can only make 5 meters (about 16 feet) per hour. It sounds extremely inefficient, but the vintage shuttle looms create such a unique texture of uneven asperity like older fabrics, which the modern looms can never make. This texture is very important in order to create a vintage wash.

Chimala jeans, each have their own wash, the charming details – paint added, fades, distressing, holes and rust details – all leading to an authentic worn look that alludes to a story of the garment, and the wearer in them. Practically how are these achieved?

When producing original denim on a vintage loom (or even a modern loom), yarns and spinning become an essential part of the process. The origin of the cotton, the type of yarn, the spin counts and the dyeing times of the yarn are all considered when we begin to produce an original denim. Understanding the background of the vintage items that we are inspired by and referencing for the washes is important so we can pick the most suitable original denim for each wash and create our own vintage wash to look as if they are from a 50’s vintage pair. Damages, rips, holes, repairs and stains are added to replicate the intended vintage denim, but sometimes we add or reduce some of the details to give it the most impactful vintage look. 

Pulling inspiration from classic workwear garments of the 50’s and 70’s, how do you research and source these historical references? What stories and insight can be told from a distressed mark on a vintage pair of workwear pants?

We source design and inspiration from old photographs books and old movies from the 50’s and 60’s. We are particularly inspired by old European films and imagery from post-WWII – where you can see the lively people, how they dressed and lived back then, in particular we find the way kids dressed in Europe post-WWII to be very interesting, and we’ll often use those images as design inspiration.

Some films we recommend are (Film stills below):
Le Ballon Rouge, 1956, France – by Albert Lamorisse
Mon Oncle, 1958, France – by Jacques Tati

We currently own about 500 pieces in our vintage collection to use for our own inspiration and to reference the designs. Every season we purchase about 40-50 new vintage items at our favorite vintage shops to add to our collection.

Finding that perfect cut of pant, that suits and compliments you, is the hunt of many of our clients – Chimala offers so many options and variations, how do you find the perfect fit of pant?

Most of the time we use men’s vintage items as our reference, so many items that we offer are unisex, which gives a variety of sizes and choice. An advantage of having a variety of sizes to choose from is that you can be creative and play with the sizes and make it your own style – the same denim can look like a totally different pair by going up a size or two. And it’s the same for our jackets and coats – we design the silhouette and length to be playful.

Our 5 Pocket denim fits are standard – we offer the same fits every season with different washes, but sometimes update the sizing, length and details by season. We usually use 13 oz. – 13.5 oz. selvedge denim – so although it won’t stretch, our goal is to have our products be appreciated by someone who truly understands it and is looking for a real pair of authentic denim, and we hope we can inspire the people that wear them! We will always continue to create what we believe in and share that with the audience through Chimala products. 

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