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The Hill-Side on Japanese Fabrics & Menswear’s Beginnings

When Emil Corsillo started The Hill-Side, the menswear movement was on the brink of exploding.

“I think it was all kind of in the air and about to take off,” Corsillo said. “The internet made clothing cool and exciting for a lot of guys who weren’t into getting dressed that much before.”

The Hill-Side, the Brooklyn-based menswear brand, was started by brothers Emil and Sandy Corsillo in 2009. Though the brand now encompasses everything from sneakers to jackets, it started with neckties made in unconventional fabrics. The neckties were made with heavier workwear fabrics like denim and chambray and were shaped with a square, selvedge end.

The Hill-Side’s first lookbook for the brand’s accessories was styled with vintage workwear at a time during which this trend was just taking off. At the same time, a lot of the stores that would eventually become the The Hill Side’s stockists were also launching, including Unionmade, Stag and Context.

The brand takes a minimal approach to jeans. Corsillo described it as more like the brand is trying to perfect its idea of a pair of jeans and offer that as its opinion. The Hill-Side produces one fit, which they do in an indigo and a heavy stonewash. Each season, the brand also adds some new fabrics; this season they did a white selvedge denim, and last season they did a couple non-traditional, non-denim fabrics.

The jeans have virtually no branding, possessing a blank patch and rivets, a WWII waist button and a small loop of cotton twill that comes out of the back patch. Corsillo said that it is the incomparable quality of the denim that brings the reaction from customers.

A lot of The Hill-Side’s fabrics, denim and otherwise, are imported from Japan. Especially in the early days, this made the brand stand out. “We didn’t even realize to what degree it was kind of a competitive advantage,” Corsillo said.

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One of the brand’s founding partners is Hisashi Oguchi, the brand’s production manager in Japan. Corsillo and Oguchi first met in college, and Oguchi introduced Corsillo to Japanese jeans. “My original interest in clothing at all came from meeting Hisashi and learning about the Japanese clothing brands that he was wearing,” said Corsillo.

When The Hill-Side was beginning, Japanese denim was gaining interest in niche markets. Yet, it was still very difficult for brands outside of Japan to obtain Japanese fabric. A lot of the mills are surprisingly small and may not have a website or speak English, Corsillo explained. They tend to be very risk averse and conservative and since there is a big enough apparel market in Japan, these mills can do well selling clothes domestically. If the Japanese fabric mills don’t sell to foreign markets, they don’t have to worry about currency exchange or having a deal go south.

Having Oguchi working in production in Japan therefore gives The Hill-Side a big advantage. The brand has access to a far greater volume of fabric, and Corsillo doesn’t have to work through a middle man. Using these Japanese fabrics, which are relatively unique in the market, has now become part of The Hill-Side’s branding. “We continue to buy fabric from those brands, partially because it’s our identity,” he said.

Corsillo explained that he also holds a personal connection to Japanese fashion, as he became really interested in Japanese design and the American vintage clothing that inspired it long before The Hill-Side began. “It’s a strange, fascinating circumstance of history that Japan became fascinated with American clothing and started appropriating it and reproducing it and archiving it in a way that no one here was doing,” said Corsillo.

For Fall ’16, The Hill-Side is expanding its unique product and working with new partners. The brand is collaborating with Woolrich on bags, and with Toms on footwear printed with Japanese fabrics. The Hill-Side is also debuting jeans made with the brand’s first fully custom denim fabric. In keeping with the brand’s identity, it is not flashy, but has a special weight to the indigo weft yarns, specific slubbiness and its own selvedge ID code.