Pennsylvania born & bred, and true salt of the earth guys, Mike & Dave Stampler are the brothers behind Norman Porter Co. I reached out last year, asking if I could come down and see their Philly workshop. I was greeted with genuine smiles, a firm handshake, and a ton of passion for their craft. We’ve gotten to know each other, and I’ve grown to like poking around their place and shooting the shit with them from time to time. Everything in their studio has a purpose, history, and heart. I like that. I also find it fulfilling talking about the inspiration, design, materials, craftsmanship, repurposing of old machinery, and all the attention to detail that goes into everything they do. They are the epitome of “industrious little fuckers”. Their father was a mechanic. The boys grew up in the garage and were bestowed with a solid work ethic. Dad still doles out chores when they come visit. Knowing Mike & Dave now, it’s no surprise that Norman Porter Co. (named after their Grandfather) is all about utilizing the best quality materials and craftsmanship to create an honest product that stands the test of time. Quality is not some cliche tagline for them. It’s legit.
The PRPS NOIR Collection is not about black denim. Noir utilizes the best selvedge denim fabrics available anywhere in the world– with incredibly extensive washes and old school wear, tear & repair details that are authentic to genuine vintage jeans painstakingly collected over the years worn by real miners, mechanics, and laborers alike. Each jean is handmade and can take up to a week to produce. No one is doing denim at this same level. Noir represents the best of PRPS– true collector’s items.
My Friend Donwan Harrell of PRPS gave me a preview of his yet to be released denim line–Noir. Almost 10 years later, PRPS continues to innovate and evolve denim like no one else. In fact, you can thank Donwan in large part for the Japanese denim phenomenon that we have today– he was the the first American to manufacture jeans in Japan, using Japanese fabric and Japanese construction. No one else was doing it. In the founding days of PRPS, Donwan set out to find the best quality selvedge denim in the world, and it wasn’t at Cone Mills— it was Okayama, Japan. (Back then Cone was really struggling just to stay alive, facing stiff pricing competition from Turkey, India, China– and the whole “Americana, US heritage brands, made in USA” menswear movement hadn’t happened yet, so there wasn’t the appetite like we have today for American selvedge denim from all the denim brands that have cropped-up in recent years…) In search of the old vintage looms, Donwan found a family there that for generations had been keeping the quality and heritage of old school selvedge denim alive. One thing that many don’t realize is that Japanese weaving technology has long been light-years ahead of much of the world. The old Toyoda and Sakamoto shuttle looms dating back many decades were much more advanced than the Draper looms that Cone Mills utilized for Levi’s.
1960, Reno, Nevada — The cast, writer, and director of The Misfits. Montgomery Clift as Perce Howland, Eli Wallach as Guido, screenwriter Arthur Miller, director John Huston, Clark Gable as Gay Langland, and Marilyn Monroe as Roslyn Taber (and who had recently divorced Miller) — Image by © Underwood & Underwood
There are certain films of the 1950s-60s that capture what I love best– Hollywood icons clad in cool denim. The Wild One… Rebel Without a Cause… and the list goes on. Wild, rebellious, good-looking misfits wreaking havoc on the mainstream squares– and doing it wearing denim all the while. Yes.
Marilyn Monroe (in her Lee Storm Rider jacket) & Monty Clift (who wore Lee Riders jeans) in John Huston’s 1961 film The Misfits.
Marilyn Monroe wore her fair share of denim back in the day– both onscreen and off. In The Misfits, alongside costar Montgomery Clift, you see great Lee icons of denim history well worn by Hollywood’s finest. It’s an added bonus for a film that’s a true classic, and full of real-life irony, sadness and loss of epic proportion– which just serves to add to my sentimental yearnings for this bygone Hollywood era.
I was in 5th or 6th grade, 10 years old, when I started making my own money. I’d go with my Mom on the weekends to the restaurant where she was working at the time out at little ol’ Litchfield Airport in Arizona. The place was called Barnstorm Charlies. I’d bus tables there, re-stock, clean-up, help out in the kitchen– whatever they needed. It made me feel independent, and like I had something to offer the world. I worked hard and didn’t complain– I was proud to have a job, and wanted to be the best employee I could be.
With my hard-earned little fistful of cash, the first thing I remember buying was a pair of Levi’s 501s. I still recall heading to the local Smitty’s, going through the stacks of shrink-to-fits looking for my size, doing the shrinkage calculations printed on the Levi’s tag in my head, holding that dark, rigid denim in my hands– and feeling a wonderful inner glow that’s hard to explain. It was the birth of an intense Levi’s ritual that is still a part of my life.
The preamble is meant only to let you know that denim, Levi’s in particular, probably means more to me than it does to most people. It may sound strange, but denim represents all that I consider to be good and of value in the world. It’s pure, honest, unpretentious, reliable, hard-working, American tradition that gets better with age. It doesn’t get any better than that in my book. The story of denim is forever entwined with the story of America. It’s part of our heritage, and a genuine American Icon.
Jack Benny, Dick Powell, Ken Murray, Bing Crosby (in head-to-toe denim) on drums, Shirley Ross. Tommy Dorsey is just out of sight on the right on the trombone. Amateur swing contest, ca. 1939.
In all honesty, Summertime is not my favorite time of the year for several reasons.
First off, extreme sun is not my friend. I just wasn’t built for it. I’m Irish (read: fair) with skin that burns like nobody’s business. It ain’t pretty.
Secondly, I prefer Winter dressing over Summer slacking– always have. What can I say, I’m just not a shorts and flip-flops kinda guy.
My lust is for layers of patinated denim, old worn-in oilcloth, chunky woolens, beaten & abused leather jackets, belts and boots. So come Summertime, I hold on to wearing my favorite boots, jeans and jackets for as long as I can– before it’s just too darn hot. I usually make it to July, then come back in September. What do I trade ’em in for? Clarks suede desert Chukkas, what else? Maybe a Chuck or Jack Purcell here and there on the down low. Might even breakdown and get crazy with some sandal action on the side– when my guard is down and it’s just us chickens, that is.
And in all seriousness guys– listen up, and never wear flip-flops or sandals on the job. Your co-workers (especially the ladies) should never have to be exposed to the sight of your messed-up cheetoes. Keep ’em under wraps, bro. Please.
Sometimes it is as simple as that- a white tee and a well-worn pair of jeans. Mickey Spillane isn’t trying too hard here– but sometimes we do. Let the jeans do the heavy-lifting. Keep them classic, but do be selective. I love a great old pair of Levi 501s with that classic leg twist and a lived-in personalized patina that can only come from wearing them in yourself. It’s all about making it your own– not buying it off the shelf. We’ve all probably seen guys ruin this look by over-thinking, over-accessorizing, over-shooting, over-posturing– what have you. White tee, blue jeans, belt optional, classic watch recommended, personality required.
K I S S– Keep it simple, stupid. A mantra that still works with just about anything. Like today– I was over-thinking what I would write. Well, sometimes it just is what it is, and if you force it– it becomes contrived. Today I feel like a white T and jeans. I’m learning to listen everyday and go with the flow a little more. When you’re obsessed with trying to control everything and everybody– you can leave a trail of brokenness and missed opportunity behind you.
James Dean in 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause”
The 1950s were a very cool time, I only wish I could have experienced them for myself. It is a time in American pop culture that is highly idealized for it’s music, fashion, style and culture. Everyone looked incredible, and seemed so squeaky clean– but you just knew there had to be much more going on behind the scenes. Rebel Without a Cause is one of the most iconic films from that era, and the stories behind the making of the James Dean classic are as incredible as the movie itself. And truth be told, Dean was not the only rebel on the set. Nicholas Ray, Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams and Natalie Wood definitely held there own.
It’s become pretty obvious through the search queue, that there are many among us looking for a way to repair our favorite jeans. I know that I definitely have a couple pairs of vintage Levi 501s in need of some serious mending. I have a few others that I can’t even wear for fear that with my next squat I may unleash a bountiful Sunday turkey dinner with all the fixins’.
Now, it goes without saying that not all of us are as skilled a craftsmen as Carl Chiara here, and it’s also possible that we want our rips repaired in a more discreet manner. That being said– we need the assistance of a reputable and professional denim repair service.
Menswear designers new and old are tracing fashion roots and embracing brand heritage– whether it’s their own or borrowed. Ralph is the true master of classic American sportswear, and no one is more in their element at this time than him.
Junya Watanabe is still up to taking iconic American sportswear and giving it his signature funky twist– playing with texture, scale & functionality.