Photograph by Ian CastaƱares
Style Style Profile

How an obsession with WWII gear led to collecting Japanese denim

Eddie Lim shares how his obsession with World War II paraphernalia turned into a passion for artisanal Japanese jeans.
Ria Gamboa | Jun 21 2019

To say that Eddie Lim likes denim is an understatement, like saying Picasso painted as a hobby. With over 300 pairs of denim (he’s lost track many years ago) in his personal collection, this guy is obsessed.

As a young boy, Eddie developed a fascination for all things military, hence, he spent his growing-up years with his nose buried in vintage Life magazines handed down to him by his uncles. What he didn’t realize then was the influence these magazines would have on his love for vintage denim. “Growing up, I couldn’t find a good pair of jeans here in Manila,” he shares. “Because I grew up looking at all those Life magazines, I saw all these pre-war and post-war kids wearing Levi’s jeans that were turned up on the bottom because they were too long and that’s where I saw the selvedge line and thought, ‘Wow, that’s something I want to have.’”

 

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Fast forward to 2005 when Eddie’s preoccupation with war paraphernalia saw him spending countless hours scouring the Internet for vintage military jackets, boots, and the like. His search brought him to several online forums, which eventually led him to begin his denim collection. “My first introduction to Japanese denim was when I went into a couple of blogs in Japan and I became a big fan of the guys who posted photos wearing their jeans out, particularly Takashi San of denim-gallery.heavy.jp. I was one of the first 500 members of this forum called Superfuture,” he recalls fondly. “I communicated with some guys on the site and from there acquired my first piece, which was a pair of denim jeans from the brand Samurai.”

Since then, Eddie has been hooked, despite the fact that building a collection was a tedious task that required a lot of research, time, and energy, what with numerous trips to Japan. But there was a method to his obsession. “It’s more of a planned pursuit. Whenever I go out for new pieces, I look for the standard fits like how a pair of Levi’s would be made. Everything is planned. You know what you want and you go look for it and you look for the same cut from different brands.”

For most regular Joes, the quality of denim simply lies in its durability and comfort, but Eddie sees a lot more in a simple pair of jeans. “For me, a good pair depends on its fade, and it is hard to tell a good pair of raw jeans without seeing a used one. I look at how the jeans would react through time through usage and that’s when I start getting into a specific brand or fabric,” he shares.

While most denim aficionados would much rather collect vintage Levi’s (also considered by most obsessives as the Holy Grail), Eddie is steadfast in his pursuit of Japanese denim. Why? “They’re artisanal,” he says simply. On one trip to Japan, he was able to acquire an Evisu hand-painted by the label's owner himself, and signed. "So this is something I definitely won’t wear out,” he recounts. “This is also limited edition. He asked me what size I am and he chose it himself, so you just have to trust him. I’ve met him two or three times in the past but when I went to his flagship store in Osaka, he welcomed me with a pair of jeans!”

Over time, Eddie has amassed contacts who have helped him build his collection, including finding pieces from brands that have discontinued lines. He shares a tip: “There are a couple of stores outside of Japan like in Hong Kong and in the U.S. that can cater to what you want but then again, their stocks are limited,” he says.

“It’s best you go to Japan and straight from the source. Plus, it’s always cheaper there.”

Eddie is a true collector, voracious in learning about Japanese denim but purchasing only items he will use and that reflect his personality. Still, his obsession gives him pause. “I’ve tried to veer away from [collecting],” he admits, “but it’s always just there.”

 

Photograph by Ian CastaƱares

This story originally appeared on Vault Magazine Issue 13 No 1 2014