It’s no great secret that, when it comes to denim, I have a type. I want what most don’t have, and I want it to be uniquely mine. Take my Indigo Invitational competition jeans, for example, 19oz Japanese milled double indigo herringbone denim, made-to-order by the denim artisans at Nama Denim. There is not another pair like them in the competition, and the way they have faded is sublimely unique. The alternating rows of left-hand twill and right-hand twill have produced some of the craziest fade patterns of any pair of jeans in my collection.
With the start of the Redline Rally, an undertaking I’m finding challenging in the unforgiving heat and humidity of the American Midwest summer, I wanted to keep pace with the uniqueness of my jeans with equally distinctive top pieces. For my jacket, I found this almost instantly—Nama found a single bolt of deep indigo/wine selvedge denim in their vaults and masterfully transformed it into what’s now referred to as a Cafe Racer Type III. Effectively, it’s a Type III with an extended band collar not dissimilar to a motorcycle jacket or racing jacket.
Picking a shirt was trickier. While I own a few denim westerns, I am not entirely won over by them. I want to jump to the end result with denim shirts, something beautifully faded and 10-ply soft. I know, sacrilege! What the hell am I even saying? Shame on me; I’ll get the bell and shame-sheers.
Then, as fate would have it while falling into an Instagram scrolling-induced k-hole, I found my shirt. Enter Johann Ruttloff and Ruttloff Jeans, an artisanal denim maker from Dresden, Germany. Many may already be familiar with Ruttloff’s work, but buckle up for those who aren’t already hip. First, however, before the shirt, some history.
I became aware of Ruttloff while getting utterly flamed on a denim board on Reddit. In a previous article, entirely unrelated to Ruttloff, I had complained about missed project deadlines and constant delays while waiting for some jeans to be completed and shipped. The article was an account of the worst denim buying experience I ever had, written as a cautionary tale to warn and inform.
While the internet is often a cruel and unhelpful place, one super helpful Redditor pointed out how “impatient and entitled” I sounded and had “clearly never been on Ruttloff’s waitlist. That’s truly waiting.” In fairness, they were correct; I had not experienced his waitlist, primarily because I had never heard of Ruttloff and therefore never made a purchase upon which to wait. Reddit…sigh.
This dim encounter with Reddit’s most OK-est human did put Ruttloff on my radar. However, it wasn’t until getting to know Bryan Szabo, one of the founding fathers of the Indigo Invitational, that I became aware of how incredible young Johann’s skills and products were. Bryan’s competition jeans are genuinely unbelievable. I was convinced by the quality and craftsmanship, especially considering the glowing reference from a denimhead I trust.
Now we can jump back to my K-hole and talk about my shirt pick.
The Ruttloff S1-21 Limited Edition Shirt
On March 23rd, Johann posted a picture of a stunning creation, the S1-21 limited run shirt. He combined sashiko fabric details and broken twill Nihon Menpu denim, and the run was limited to ten pieces. I moved quickly and was able to snag one of the ten; Jackpot. Who says endlessly scrolling Instagram when you should be sleeping, but jet-fueled insomnia has its death grip on your brain, doesn’t have its perks?
This review will be a little different in format from our typical design. After all, considering the limited and already sold-out nature of this shirt, it’s not as if I can urge you all to run out and give it a try. As with all reviews on this blog, we break things down into three categories: aesthetics, quality, and value to give an overall assessment at the end. So, while you can’t go get your hand on the S1-21, treat this as a review of the quality and craftsmanship that define the Ruttloff brand to better inform other Ruttloff purchases.
Ruttloff S1-21 Limited Edition Aesthetics and Quality
Broken twill, or Z-twill, denim was first introduced in the 1960s by Wrangler. The denim is woven with the diagonal weave of the twill intentionally reversed at every two warp ends to form a random design. The idea behind this method was to eliminate leg-twist often seen in unsanforzied LHT and RHT denim after the first wash. The S1-21 is the first broken twill piece in my collection, and it’s stunning.
The denim weighs in at 12.9oz, making it slightly on the heavier side for a shirt, and has a buttery hand-feel, especially on the weft side. The denim is a natural indigo dyed fabric milled by Nihon Menpu, one of Japan’s premier makers of top-quality denim. Nihon Menpu is possibly most known for producing the famous 50% cotton, 50% sugar fiber denim for Sugar Cane, and mills for other high-end brands like Mr. Freedom and Studio D’Artisan.
Johann had the opportunity to visit the denim manufacturer in 2019 and fell in love with the fabric, and I can understand why. The color is rich indigo with a slight sheen to the material. In addition, the denim has a smooth face appearance, and the random pattern of the twill will undoubtedly contribute to truly unique fade patterns.
Johann combined this fabric with a lighter shade of broken twill denim for the neck lining and sleeve vents, sashiko lining of the cuffs, shoulders and pocket flaps, aluminum buttons, and red contrast stitching to attach them to the shirt. Johann combines east and west influences while introducing modern lines to vintage workwear garments flawlessly. I couldn’t be more impressed…but then I was.
The shirt is brimming with little extras that make the overall aesthetic of this shirt and all of Ruttloff’s pieces genuinely magnificent, including his signature single chain-stitch “R” logo embroidered on the right breast pocket. Inside, the flat-felled seams are double chain-stitched with four thread colors, a detail unseen by outsiders but noticed and appreciated by the wearer. The back of the shirt is double-darted to create a clean, modern silhouette and flattering fit. To finish it off, chain-stitch runoff at the hem. If you appreciate the little things, Ruttloff may own the game.
As if it weren’t already enough that the denim is beautiful and uncommon, the attention to detail is off the charts. The design is the perfect amalgamation of modern and vintage. But, there yet remains the impeccable quality to discuss.
One of the first and, in our opinion, the most important checks we do on every piece we review is an accurate measurement check. We take measurement accuracy to the size chart to be an essential part of quality. With the Ruttloff S1-21, I am happy to report that the German stereotype of dead-eye precision is rooted in undeniable truth, but not at all surprised. Every measurement listed by Johann matched our findings on the finished product.
In addition, I like to pull the entire garment inside out and inspect the finishes. All of the stitching in the Ruttloff S1-21 was tight and true. There appear to be no weaknesses in the chain-stitching and no loose threads of which to speak. I have seen few artisans with the level of quality control and precision as Johann.
Ruttloff S1-21 Limited Edition Value
Some will likely say I’m nuts, and others will absolutely agree that the price of admission is well worth the ride concerning Ruttloff products. Inclusive of shipping, the S1-21 set me back $370, making it the most expensive denim shirt I own and on par with some jackets in my collection. However, while the price tag is steep, those who truly appreciate and understand the quality of Ruttloff garments, and most quality artisan brands for that matter, will feel me when I say this is wholly worth every penny.
Those feeling this is still too much to ask for a denim shirt, I’ll be a little more understanding than Reddit Iron Heart fanboy (probably). Instead of making you feel stupid for not understanding the quality and timeline of production for Ruttloff, I’ll leave you with this: If and when you get to the point where you want to explore high-end artisanal denim, Ruttloff is a sure bet. I know I will be enjoying this shirt for years to pass, long after the Redline Rally is over.
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