Heavy Duty, Old School Truth
Dehen 1920 is an iconic example of the brands that we look for at Division Road. Dehen is a five generation, family owned manufacturer that produces everything under one roof. It started as it remains to this day, a producer of goods before a brand.
Since Dehen’s founding in 1920 they have retained a salt-of-the-earth approach towards making apparel, building a business, and doing the right thing for their customers. William Peter Dehen began learning the tools of the knitting trade at Golden State Knitting in San Francisco and after a run-in with the law migrated to Portland to work with Jantzen. True of many businesses of the day, Dehen began with pocket money, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a bit of gusto. In the 1920’s the company began knitting solely varsity and collegiate sweaters. By the 1930’s, local motorcycle clubs became familiar with the product and its durability and began collaborating with the manufacturer to make custom riding sweaters. In the 1950’s they started producing the finest handmade varsity jackets in the country for letter athletes. We’re entirely serious when we say it’s highly likely that Dehen produced your grandfather’s letterman sweater or your Dad’s varsity jacket.
From the early days until now the company’s history has been characterized by leaps of growth and large setbacks. Business boomed, then the depression hit. Things picked up again and then the customer’s changing preferences towards price slowed things down. Outsourcing overseas for cheaper trend-driven disposable products became paramount, and almost completely eradicated the domestic-made quality goods in which they specialized. In their last iteration Dehen 1920 was created, which was geared toward combining heritage manufacturing with a new customer-driven approach towards quality. In the midst of shifting terrain, somehow, they still preserve a nostalgic property for those who remember the garments from their past. In its seventh year, Dehen 1920 is forging new ground with care, consideration, and success.
Division Road was aware of Dehen from our own personal familiarity and experience with vintage knitwear. Closely watching the revival and adapted approach of the 1920 line gave us confidence to bring them into the shop as a core knitwear manufacturer. Most importantly, despite our smaller scale at the time, Dehen was open to collaborate on new products and exclusive variations on existing ones. One of our points of pride in the Northwest region is the abundance of heritage manufacturers with authentic histories within close reach. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to produce specialty pieces through a partnership between shop and manufacturer.
One of the first projects we undertook with Dehen 1920 was the development of our Shawl Cardigan. In this collaboration, we aimed to create the perfect lifetime layering piece in our favorite traditional-styled sweater. The Shawl Cardigan is one of those pieces that knows no era and lends a touch of class to any outfit. Extremely versatile, both stylistically and functionally, it seemed like the perfect place to start with Dehen and utilize their knitting machines from the 1940’s. These vintage machines only accept a specially-developed worsted wool yarn, a kind of “secret sauce” to what makes a Dehen a Dehen.
Beginning with the signature Sweater Coat as the basis of our creation, we adapted the weight of the weave to be subtly lighter, the body length to be slightly shorter, and the overall button configuration to better suit our adjustments. Over several iterations we advanced the collar to have perfect lines for lying flat within the placket seam while retaining the ability to stand up nicely for cold and windy weather. Lastly, we worked with Dehen to develop patch pockets so that the piece could be layered in winter and used as outerwear for spring and fall. Outside of those amendments we kept all of the signature details, including Corozo buttons, flannel lined pockets, rolled knit ribbed cuffs (which Dehen also knits in house), and the interior reinforced elbow patches. The result is what we, and our customers who have tried it, believe to be the essential layering cardigan. Each season since the Shawl Cardigan’s introduction we have rolled out new colorways, beginning with the deadstock Nutmeg yarn and ending most recently with the new Salt & Pepper mélange. With an array of options available, we aim to serve our customers who find that they can’t do with just one of our perfected new classic.
One of the other pieces we’ve explicitly focused on is the Crissman Overshirt. On the way down to Dehen we are able to stop at Pendleton Mills to source local woolens for the Crissman and come up with different iterations of this time-tested favorite. One of the best overshirt jackets a.k.a. “O’shacket” we’ve seen, the Crissman is an easy piece to work with and some of our most notable collaborations with it have included the heavyweight Pendleton Meltons and medium weight Flannels. These fabrics have always been produced in limited runs from either deadstock offerings or unique variations to revitalize pieces already in our customers’ closets. We always think of the signature tan twill accents when selecting our wools for the Crissman as it’s a subtle yet inherently special detail that we want to stand out in the piece.
As important as this stylish-yet-functional garment is its creator, Nathaniel Crissman. Nathaniel joined Dehen several years ago with a designer’s background and has been influential in assisting the brand to find its voice and place in the current landscape. Pushing for garment evolutions in small, measured ways that still speak to history, Nathaniel Crissman’s overshirt was the first product developed out of his current tenure and will be a signature within the collection and our own collaborations for years to come.
We are proud to work with our neighbors to engineer products that align with Dehen 1920’s vision and style. We can safely say that no one else makes a varsity, club, sweater coat, or overshirt in the method that they do. We’re lucky to have this Northwest partner that speaks to our total approach of locally-sourced, handmade, hearty and dutiful goods with class and purpose. Normally, we’re pretty skeptical about goods until they’re in our hands, but all the rumors about Dehen are true: they have already made your favorite garments, and they will continue to make you more.