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VANITAS x DENIMIO EGO 01 MID Wallet. Review by Indigoshrimp[:]


We have been working on something really special for the last year.

Together with Mike, who you might know as indigoshrimp on instagram or from his amazing blog, we have developed a real stand out piece. Mike wrote a review about it and was kind enough to let us share his post here on our blog. If you are into leather, denim and quality goods in general, make sure to follow him on instagram and read his blog. But without further ado, here's the review:

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Today I would like to show you a very special wallet, a piece that’s been in the works for more than a year now.

This ‘Ego’ wallet is from Denimio, who have collaborated with Kiyosumi Matsumura of Vanitas Japan to release a line of limited edition wallets, aiming to introduce Vanitas to denim hobbyists around the world.

Long time readers of this blog would have seen Matsumura-san’s work already; his wallets have been previously featured on the Craftsmen’s Own post (under his other brand, Tempest Leather Design’s) and the Tanuki long wallet overview post. Matsumura-san specializes in intricate, custom leather work, and is one of the very best at shaping leather.

Much of Matsumura-san’s work does not have his own name attached, being commissioned by Japanese fashion and work-wear brands. Our craftsman today is a professional leather worker of more than 20 years experience, having undergone baptism by fire in the difficult environment of Japanese leather workshops during his apprentice years.

Vanitas Japan represents Matsumura-san’s top of the line, custom carved work, each wallet completely hand crafted, taking many days to complete. This type of work, being produced by an experienced Japanese professional, does not come cheap – a hand-carved phone cover could leave your bank account 120, 000 yen lighter, for example.

However, to introduce this next tier of leather crafting to denim fans worldwide, Denimio has collaborated with Vanitas to produce limited pieces of this Ego wallet at half the usual price, designed and spec’d as work-style wallets which have great synergy with denim jeans.

Let’s have a closer look at this awesome mid-wallet.

 

Packaging

As you would expect from a custom Japanese maker, the Ego is nicely presented in a high-quality box.

The wallet comes with a cloth storage bag. Further included are information regarding the brand and a warranty card. Befitting of a Japanese product, the packaging and presentation here is one of the best I’ve seen.

 

Design

The Ego wallet measures 15 cm tall by 10 cm wide when folded.

As you can tell from the measurements, this is a larger mid-wallet, almost lengthy enough to be classified as a trucker or long wallet. It is both slightly longer and slightly wider compared to the average American style mid-wallet.

The Ego fits comfortably in my jeans pockets, the top of the wallet jutting out by 1 or 2 cm depending on the jeans.

A maximum thickness of 2.5 cm when folded is measured near the spine.

Being a larger wallet, a D-ring is incorporated at the spine to facilitate the use of a wallet chain or rein, should you want to spice things up a little.

The inside of the Ego is a complex variation of the ‘floating panels’ design of work-wear wallets. In total, there are six quick-access card slots, one card storage space, one notes compartment and one coin holder.

The left side of the wallet holds your cards in three storage layers. The front panel features three quick-access slots at the front, and one storage compartment at the back. The base panel features another three quick-access slots.

The coin holder takes up the entire right side of the inner. The compartment was deliberately over-sized so that it could also be used as a card storage compartment, in case you didn’t want to carry coins in your wallet.

Finally, the fully lined notes compartment is deep and wide. It will hold any paper or plastic money horizontally, and some currencies even vertically.

 

Philosophy

Vanitas isn’t just a cool name for the brand. Matsumura-san derives much of his inspirations for crafting the Vanitas line of leather goods from the symbolic art styles of the 16th century Dutch masters of Vanitas.

These early still-life works are thought to stem from Christian thinking of the time: life is futile, human endeavors have no true meaning, and only the act of praising God has any intrinsic value.

Of course, it is not that Matsumura-san aims to infuse his work with Christianity or nihilism – the modern man’s take on Vanitas and memento mori styles of art can be, of course, different to a 16th century Dutchman’s.

For me, Vanitas and Matsumura-san’s art work on this wallet represents a curious blend of existential dread, the possibility of an indifferent world, a reminder to be mindful about life, and the dissonance between the assumed futility of human actions and Matsumura-san’s effortful art.

The very intricate motif includes a human skull, flowers with leaves, and a beetle.

Death, impermanence and insignificance.

These are all classic thematic objects within the Vanitas style, which Matsumura-san has transplanted onto the leather, as if by magic.

Just like how the evolution and aging of this wallet will be unique to you, the significance of this motif and meaning of the themes which inspired this work is for you to decide. Our intellectual and emotional reaction to this type of existential provocation is certainly central to our psychology, perhaps more indicative of who we are than the clothes we choose to wear? Maybe, but I think my day job is creeping into this review a little bit.

We’ll take a look at the very fine details later on.

 

Function

This larger sized wallet will be a challenge to the uninitiated, but for someone like me who is very familiar with work-style wallets, it is a breeze to use.

One aspect of the Ego wallet which I really enjoy is that the leather remains the main character even when the wallet is fully loaded. Opening up the wallet, the natural saddle leather is on full display, with the cards minimally obstructing the view.

There’s enough storage space for at least ten cards – this storage capacity increases to almost twenty if you further use the coin compartment for card storage.

The coin compartment is more than spacious, holding a dozen coins without bulging or changing shape.

The notes compartment will hold more cash than you’ll reasonably need for a road trip. I don’t have enough cash to really test the limits here…

 

Leather

The leather utilized on this wallet is fittingly Japanese – natural saddle leather from a small tannery in Himeji, selected specifically by Matsumura-san to accommodate his intricate carving, stamping and shaping work.

The outshell has been hand-glazed with water, a process required as part of the relief and modelling work. As a result, the outer leather has a slippery feel, slightly condensed grain and an incredible, wet shine.

The saddle leather on the inner and the D-ring tab has not undergone the glazing process, and so retains the leather’s original, incredible grain growth!

The black suede that lines the notes compartment is smooth, waxy and lightly furry. The texture almost reminiscent of pig skin.

The black colour of the suede contrasts nicely with the tan of the natural saddle leather, and is thematically appropriate in combination with the Vanitas theme.

Like I’ve previously mentioned on the blog, vegetable tanned saddle leathers from Himeji are quite incredible, with deep grain growth that is second only to Baker’s oak bark leather, and the very best potential for patina development and colour change.

You’d have seen some examples on this blog of Himeji leather in mid-evolution, whether it’s Red Moon’s house-specialty leather on my Pailot River rider’s wallet or the Shonan leather on my mill handmade Japanese wallet – how the leather start incredibly pale, but gathers warmth and even more shine as the weeks go by. The resulting caramel colour will be crisp, slightly toasty and never boring: I know for a fact that the ageing process will be incredible.

 

Construct

For the Ego wallet, the focus of attention and the showcasing of Matsumura-san’s craft rest with the motif work on the outshell. The cutting & stitching of the leather panels is a walk in the park by comparison.

To streamline the work on this wallet from his usual custom fares, Matsumura-san had to acquire a new set of tools – luckily, Denimio had his back.

The creation of the symbols within the motif is very time-consuming and treacherous work – one mistake, and Matsumura-san will have to discard his work and start all over again……this has apparently happened more than a couple of times, given the skull and the beetle in particular demand precision beyond what is reasonable.

I particularly like the sutures! The prominent suture is modelled after a coastline in Japan, and the dot just above the eye socket indicates Denimio’s location on the map!

Matsumura-san incorporates a variety of techniques to create this art, including carving, stamping, lifting & shaping and multi-layer sculpturing work. He has kept the designs of the symbols neutral and un-exaggerated, in line with the still-life approach of Vanitas.

The skull is raised using four layers of leather to create a 3-D appearance, supported by a shaper underneath so that it will not sink or distort with wear. Matsumura-san creates this shaping structure with powdered leather, a process taking one day for each shaper for each wallet!

Compare this with most other carved wallets, which utilize only a maximum of two layers of leather and a cotton shaper, which tends to lose integrity over time.

(NB: Matsumura-san sometimes incorporates six layers of leather into the 3-D work for his more extravagant, custom pieces.)

Once the basic shapes and heights of the designs are set, Matsumura-san then painstakingly begins the modeling work, creating every little indent and fine line which define the symbols and give the motif detail.

This is not just simple stamping or carving – the process is more akin to working wet clay with a fine tool.

The branch of flowers and leaves is impressively done; every part of the plants is detailed, and no two leaves alike.

Yet, the beetle is perhaps the most impressive demonstration of the precision with which Matsumura-san has carried out his work. The beetle is blended into the plant, and does not look unnatural in its environment. Yet, when observed in isolation, it stands out among the leaves – an impression created through a defined outline and careful lifting.

The slippery hand of the glazed leather contrasts with the defined and intricate texture work on the motif. This considered and contrasting play of textures pays homage to the early Vanitas paintings.

The D-ring tab is precisely and neatly constructed, sitting centered on the spine of the wallet. The tab has been raised, giving it a solid and sturdy feel.

The brass D-ring is customised and nicely beveled.

You will have observed too, that not only are all the edges burnished with gum, but they are also edge creased and pressed.

The hand-made saddle-stitching is precise and regular, sitting uniformly at 6 SPI throughout the wallet.

There are more than 500 individual saddle stitches on this wallet!

More than 500!

There are no wonky corners, and the width of the stitching is fairly consistent.

The stitching at the crossover of the panels are very nicely executed; none of the threading have cut into the leather at all.

The card slot openings are creased on both sides and have both ends finished with a circular punch, to ensure minimal distortion of the leather with use.

An opening has been made at the bottom of the inner spine, to ensure the leather does not distort when the wallet is folded and the bottom of the spine does not bulge out.

A gold Hasi Hato snap button secures the coin holder. The Japanese snap works like a charm and operate very smoothly with a satisfying pop.

All in all, the basic aspects of wallet construction are well thought-out and neatly done. The motif work is in a realm of its own, however, and steals the spotlight!

 

Thoughts

The Ego wallet is a fantastic, denim-friendly wallet from Vanitas Japan which show-cases a level of skill and art that is seldom seem on a work-style wallet.

Matsumura-san and the folks at Denimio have worked very hard in the past months to bring this cross-over statement piece to fruition, and the long hours of design and experimentation invested into the Ego really shines through when I lose myself in the little details of the motif.

I’m a big fan of considered and well executed leathercrafts, and yet the Ego goes beyond simply being a well made wallet. It is thought provoking as a memento mori object, should you choose it to be. It is also a piece of artwork that perhaps crystallizes more than two decades of sweat and tears that Matsumura-san has shed in the leather-crafting profession.

Indeed, the Ego is a statement piece, a belated introduction of Vanitas Japan to denim and leather hobbyists worldwide. As a statement piece, of course, the themes and styling may not be to everyone’s taste – followers of minimalism or pure 1940’s Americana may not be intrigued. An yet, the Ego was not made to have mass appeal, and truly each Ego wallet has been painstakingly crafted over many days with the true leather hobbyist in mind.

Fans of memento mori objects and fellow ponderers who have glanced into the existential abyss will not find a finer wallet. In many ways, the potential aging of the vegetable tanned natural saddle leather with time and wear is more true to the themes of Vanitas compared with the classic blacks and browns.

I have to commend Matsumura-san for being willing to experiment and step outside the house-style of Vanitas Japan to create a work-wear wallet with Denimio. This confluence of styles makes the Ego wallet unique: incorporating strong themes and a catching artwork, and at the same time working nicely with denim & other rugged fabrics.

At 60, 000 yen, the Ego is half the price of Vanitas Japan’s usual offerings, though no short-cuts were taken in the construction of the wallet. All the important detailx on a work-style wallet are present and neatly executed; the Ego is made entirely with top-end Japanese materials and the very finest Japanese craftsmanship. Further, Denimio is offering an introductory discount for their stock of Vanitas Japan, lowering the price of the Ego wallet to 55, 000 yen – an absolute steal for this caliber of craft!

(Use the code carpediem to receive the discount.)

matsumura
Image via Wazahito

After handling the Tanuki long wallets earlier this year, I had already been impressed by Matsumura-san’s crafting. His work on this Ego wallet has just blown me away, and I can recommend Vanitas Japan to you without reservation.

Don’t wait on the New Year to acquire your own Ego wallet – there’re only five of these wallets in existence. Come join the Ego club, and let us contemplate the essence of futility together!

Check out Vanitas Japan at Denimio.com. Your code is carpediem !

[:]