A Year at Seebag: Afghanistan

Arifkhans village sprung from a single house, of a single room, 120 years ago in central Afghanistan. Then, as now his family where  masons. The year 1890 is molded in white plaster on the far wall of the founding toom, a contrast in negative to the ornate colored moldings making up the wall, & the carved wood lattice work of the ceiling. Carpets run inches deep wall to wall, the inset arches are occupied with tea service sets & a m16-A4.
The founding room of Arifkhan’s village
Arifkhan explains: the village grew from his lone family, from this single room, to a population of more than 3,000. His daughters run around, run themselves tired, & collapse onto his crossed legs. Tea is punctuated by trays of flat bread, rice, then goat, & finally long thin Chinese cigarettes.
A Tessar Lungheei, Afghan Style Special Edition Print #2
The next day the Land Cruiser follows winding horse paths. Horses still outnumber cars, & the Horsemen still wear the Tessar Lungheei, a golden 3 meter long turban. On great mounted raids, in the not so distant past, the meters long tail of this turban served as battle banner. Seeing one unfurled at speed today, the only word for it is: elan. That word died in 1914 in France, but here during a Neza-Bazi match it is alive, & galloping.
The Seebag and Tango on the road in Afghanistan
The winding horse paths follow a wadi, into the vernacular mesh of Afghan architecture: the squat mudbrick rectangle. We drive along the path until it breaks into a village, through its very walls. We’ve taken the Cruiser through someone’s living room, the road driving through the very walls, it’s moldings, interior arches, motifs & paint dusted by what could have been a few weeks or a century.
Arifkhans familly Mosque, Afghan Style Special Edition print #1
The maze of mudbrick yields to grazing land & a pastel hued building crests a far hill. Arifkhan tell us to stop, he motions to the pastel building ahead, the Mosque his family built. he asks one of the old men leaving about the bridge ahead & yesterday’s rains.
If you would like to hit the road with your own Seebag, the pre-order ends today. Two of the images from this story are included in Afghan Style, both in the book itself & as prints included with the special edition  

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The Proraso

The Proraso: One of my favorite aspects of travel are the words learned which encompass ideas with no succinct expression in English. 
Galère is one of them. (Gah-lerh for us anglophones)
French slang, derived from Galleon, & used to express an arduous, unexpected & challenging journey.
It’s a fitting description for the process not just of creating the work for Afghan Style, but finding a publisher, creating the book, & bringing it to print. Months of daily meetings, paper shortages, national protests & every other form of delay, slowed but never stalled the process.
The past several weeks have been both a time of heady preparation, & reflection, on the now 3 year long project. Junn cooked up an incredible drink to take the edge off the warmer afternoons & power us through the late nights. Smooth, effervescent, & refreshing it sits somewhere between kyoto cold brew, & velvet coke, all while resting on the lips of a Camel Crush.
The Proraso:
6oz Iced Coffee (I prefer my own 17h slow cold brew)
1.5 oz Fernet Branca (you can be a bit more generous with this)
.75 oz Creme De Menthe 
top off a Tumbler glass with a generous amount of Indian Tonic Water 
+ a slice of lime, or mint, as garnish 
feel free to share your results, tweaks etc with @thousandyardstyle

Care & Maintenance: The Whisky & Papa Wallets

  Observer Collection’s two wallets, the Papa Passport & Whisky wallet have proven to be the hardest-wearing designs of the entire collection, & the ones that show the greatest variety in patina. 
  Wallets receive more constant use than any other EDC item, & frequently less maintenance & care than they deserve. let’s fix that…
  Unlike the larger Observer bags I recommend only using Saphir Mink Oil when cleaning & treating either the Whisky or Papa. Anything heavier is going to gum up leather & negatively affect the leather’s natural ability to shed moisture, a concern with anything worn so close to the body. I recommend a light coat & cleaning every 6 months.
My whisky wallet going on more than 2 years of use
  More so than bags, wallets also need a thorough cleaning, it’s worth emptying out card slots & pockets, & paying extra attention to cleaning the suede portions of each wallet, as well as the seam & sew lines. Dirt and debris accumulated in pockets collect in the folds & seams of a wallet & can break down both stitching & leather with time. For cleaning suede I recommend Saphir’s suede cleaner.
  The Papa & Whisky wallets each have hand-painted edges. With time & use these can peel, but they can also just as easily be re-painted. If you notice the edge painting starting to peel it’s worth trimming it back gently to prevent further peeling. 
  The Whisky wallet has a unique, first-of-its-kind adjustable shock cord closure. With time the elasticity can diminish in the shock cord, so it’s worth adjusting the knot to increase tension periodically.
Papa wallet 3+ years down the line, with a souvenir matchbox from Kherson
  lastly, how you use either wallet is probably the most important aspect of care & maintenance. The Whisky wallet’s arched central card pocket is angled to fit comfortably in your front pant pocket (facing card end down), in a jacket pocket, bag or around your neck using the included lanyard. The Papa wallet is sized for a jacket pocket or bag. From a longevity & style standpoint, I would never recommend having either in your back pocket, though both are more than tough enough for it.
  Feel free to share any of your patinas or care tips with the Observer instagram page over at @observercollection
  looking forward,
Papa, Whisky & my trusty MKII 300

The Hulett Rodeo & Damn Cowboy Belt

To inaugurate the opening of the Damn Cowboy Belt Pre-order I am sharing a rodeo dispatch Junn Bollman photographed & penned, enjoy. 
  Hulett, Wyoming:   The Doc ducked below the entrance and sauntered out of his office. A white pup tent with the primordial Cheyenne prairie for a floor, an old massage table acting as a lame man’s plinth, and the words “Crash Unit” blazing boldly from the side of this triage unit. 
    He exuded the type of sobriety and solemn nature that can force a man to come to terms with himself, not in a mirror but in the respectable gaze of another. I tried to force a smile from beyond the high brim of his cowboy hat but there was no avail. 
    The air horn behind us meant the bareback bronc riders had just ceased their buckin’, thinking myself clever, I asked what the most common injury he treated tended to be….
    “I never see guys on the first day of an injury, it’s always the next day, a week later. You got bucked from your time ( 8 seconds) you’ve been kicked something good, you’re sleeping in the back of your car every 500 miles to make it to the next rodeo. A man’s pride hurts him more than anything. Na, I don’t really see all that gory stuff “ 
    The stale truck stop coffee on my breath haunted that small space between us under the Wyoming sky as we stood there brim to brim. The Doc’s lip never curled for the smirk but the deep indigo in his eyes delivered the prognosis.
    & If you aren’t hitting the dusty trail anytime soon I’d suggest these two Asian takes on the Western film genre: “Life is cheap, but toilet paper is expensive”  & “Tompopo”. More traditional but little know, the ensemble-cast guilty pleasure “Red Sun”, and the delirious Australian film “The Proposition” round out my cowboy rec’s.
    However you might want to place your pre-order for the Damn Cowboy Belt first, we are only making 20 of each!
    See you, Space Cowboys

Care & Maintenance: Observer Denim

  Observer Denim Maintenance:
Since many of you Observers now have fresh Observer Denim Noirets in hand I wanted to dispense some lessons in the care & maintenance of them.
O.D Noirets are crafted from a unique 13.5 oz Cone Mills over-dyed black denim. The over-dyed denim keeps hard worn pairs of Noirets black despite heavy wear & washing, the light resin finish on both sides of the fabric creates fades in matte & gloss contrast, & until worn down, a little protection against the elements.
If you are inclined to wash jeans before wearing them you should wash your O.D Noirets inside out, with hot water on the delicate/ gentle setting of your washing machine, followed by a hang dry.
If you find yourself in the field without access to a washing machine, an extremely hot soak will do. In both cases, detergent is not recommended for an initial wash.
If you wash your jeans regularly & plan to first wash your O.D’s after only a few wears, you should repeat the above steps for the first wash only. You may add detergent to this & subsequent washes, I recommend Woolite dark.
For those of you who prefer a long, hard break in before a first wash (and this is favorable in the cold winter months) feel free to follow the hang tag instructions & wash cold, on gentle & line dry. If you want to shrink your jeans I would recommend an initial hot wash.
O.D Noiret 9 month Patina
Regardless of your choice, after your first wash, I would recommend washing your O.Ds cold, on the gentle cycle with your O.Ds turned inside-out followed by a hang-dry.
Some of you are new to the O.D “Self-Hem” System, and it should be understood before an initial hemming or wash. Each pair of O.D’s features 3x single needle stitch lines on the hem of each leg. These are set at pre-determined lengths for popular inseams, cutting straight across the hem line of your O.D’s & BELOW one of the sew lines will allow you to hem your O.D’s without excessive fraying or a trip to the tailor. If you decide to hem them before an initial hot wash, add & an extra 1.25” to your desired length to accommodate for shrinkage.
Now that you know how to care for your O.D Noirets, perhaps you would like to know where they came from?
O.D Noirets where born at a house party in Kabul in 2021. Back against a wall, a series of German journalists interrogated me about my imperialist white denim & asked why OD’s weren’t available in the de-facto uniform of the conflict journalist, fashion-assistant or posing tortured artist: black.
The first pair of O.D Noiret’s went out for testing with me in January of 2022, the 12.5 oz Cone Mills over-dyed denim performed well across Italy, France & the slopes of St. Moritz.
With the Russian Invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022 the OD Noiret prototypes were pressed into 3 months of grueling service covering the war for Esquire. They were one of only 2 pants I packed, & after 5 months of testing, they received their first wash back stateside.
You can order your own pair here.
Myself & a fellow Observer. Ukraine 05 – 22

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Audio Observations: Caravan to Kafiristan

Caravan to Kafiristan – Cataloguing my latest trip to Afghanistan through overheard audio was more challenging this time around, namely because music, played, or listened to is banned under Taliban rule.

Interestingly enough they do allow their own religious music (called Tehranas) which push themes of holly war backed by beats influenced by dub, & modern trap music.

Rules regardless, driving 8, 12, even 14 hours overland into remote regions of Nuristan good road music is a necessity to keep spirits high & eyes sharp.

The Nuristan province was historically referred to as Kafiristan (Kafirs being “infidels”) up until the last of the locals where converted to Islam by force a century ago. As in the past Nuristan remains exceedingly remote, requiring many treacherous hours of off road driving, & steep gains in altitude to reach. Even then each district of the province is isolated from the next by impassible terrain.

Nuristan’s  isolation has kept it largely peaceful during the last 20 years of war, locals will tell you, again & again, they haven’t heard a gunshot in 20 years. The arduous journey was well worth it, yielding some of the most riveting landscapes I have ever seen, & allowing me to finish “Afghan Style”, my first photo book.

More on that later, for now enjoy some road music:

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Audio Observations: Kyiv Bathtub Club

Kyiv Bathtub Club the first in a series of playlists comprised of music collected across my travels. This playlist comes from the last few months spent in Ukraine, with music  stolen exclusively from my friends & teammates there.

  This is my semi-analogue, geographic approach to create audio experiences as documents: collecting music to gain insight, catalogue emotions, & organize memories.

Experience can often change the way I perceive & enjoy music.

Rap makes allot more sense after driving around with some heavily armed fighters in a new Mercedes, marred by bullet holes, while subsiding on gas station hotdogs. Nostalgia for late 90s / early 2000s rock of my childhood has a more natural place in a world gone so violently wrong. In contemporary music the Russian Invasion of Ukraine has been the first war where musical propaganda has been produced, distributed & listened to both ad-hoc & in real time. I wonder if you will get goosebumps from those tracks too?

Lastly, & again, this is a record of my friends & teammates, all veterans in their own way: some of different wars, some of constant war, some of the refugee experience. Music was a way to prepare, to accept the worst, & to forget afterword.

looking forward,


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Observations: The War in Ukraine

Observations: The War in Ukraine

You can view my photo report on Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Force for Esquire here, but I have also written a more detailed companion piece below for Observers:  

24 days after Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine it’s armies have failed the sweeping conquest Russia and much of the world expected. Russia’s armies lay mired in conflict, confined largely to the East and South of the country, having captured only one large city thus far. In the North the capital of Kyiv has yet to be encircled. The Russian Military has encountered un-forecasted resistance in all majors cities, it’s supply lines have broken under constant attack, and the Ukrainian military has displayed a surprising, deadly mobility.  All of these factors can be contributed in part to the work of the Territorial Defense Forces, an all volunteer force that’s had less than a month to train and mobilize before the invasion began.

 To better understand these volunteers and the role they play I spent two weeks photographing Territorial Defense units in and around Kyiv. I met men as old as 68 , as young as 18, and saw a few  of 16 turned away. Many where veterans, some had no experience at. They included Foreign Legionaires, flight attendants, native Russians, Russian jailed journalists, actors and newly wed couples. What they had in common was a fierce love of country. There role is a combination of army engineer, paramilitary and police: they build the fortifications on the streets they patrol and will soon defend by force.  

Above: Men returning by train to Kyiv

The first Territorial Defense Volunteers I met during my transit from Poland to Kyiv. Men of different ages, all with the same stony eyes fixed east against the stream of refugees that ran more torrential with each train station passed towards Kyiv.   The first Territorial Defense group I met was filling sandbags from the sand of a children’s playground. The next had in 24 hours survived a Russian rocket attack and aided a Ukrainian Army unit in a complex ambush of artillery, javelins missiles and Molotov cocktails. The shells of Destroyed Russian BRDM-2s became fortifications for their position.   At a nearby patrol base a man in his 60’s crouches in the dark jamming magazines full with bullets, then unloading them, and jamming them again full. I turned on a flashlight and he waved me away “I have to be able to do this in the dark”  

Above: loading magazines in low light

In the West heavy fighting in Irpin has closed the area to Journalists. A Territorial Defense volunteer bars our entry. Ducking down at the sound of a rocket barrage another volunteer explains it’s a Ukrainian battery attempting to pummel Russian forces before they can establish themselves in Irpin. He says all this without looking up, inserting bullet after bullet into a belt of machine gun ammunition.   A majority of my time was spent with a Territorial defense company on the outskirts of Kyiv, commanded by “Anatoly”  a 20 year veteran of Ukraine’s Counter Terrorism forces.  The days are spent re-enforcing positions, the nights enforcing Kyiv’s wartime curfew and searching for Russian Saboteurs or their work.   The first Patrol of the night is anything but routine. After a short pursuit a man is caught after curfew, he can’t answer simple questions about the surrounding area and is without identity papers. A search of the area yields a forced lock. The Territorial Defense squad clears the attached building. An aged local invites the squad into her atrium of plants and animals left behind by fleeing families.   Promises that the 3 am patrol will be less exciting prove false. The slightly younger squad patrols aggressively, more than even the -10 cold necessitates. Entering a low laying parking lot the night sky suddenly glows near white as tracers struggle to intercept cruise missiles. The patrol moves to cover wordlessly as air raid sirens blair. The nights bombardment has started and wont let up till the sun has risen. Returning to base the patrol breaks out cigarettes “the best breakfast” says one, “sunrise is the best breakfast” says another.  

Above: a late night patrol

The sun has risen just as the nights last patrol crawls into sleeping bags. Crackling radios signal an alert of an imminent Russian ground incursion. The entire company makes ready, rushing to the defensive positions. A tense hour is passed listening to the radio and peering over rifle sights through firing loopholes. The alarm is called off, the Territorial Defense unit returns to base; some to bed, some to the next patrol. Over morning tea soldiers smoke with one hand and break loose bullets to be loaded with the other.  

Above: The Seebag used during an embed as a 24h bag


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Dispatch: Afghanistan

T.M and a view on approach to Kabul

Dispatch: Kabul

Afghanistan has been entwined with America for more than 20 years of war, but to say Afghanistan, to see it on the news, does not call to mind an idea of who the Afghans are. Even to the hundreds of thousand like myself who served in the war,  Afghans remain unknown. With that in mind I approached Esquire about an Afghan assignment in early 2020. In Early 2021 I spent a month in Kabul photographing Afghans as President Biden’s withdrawal announcement loomed over a period of relative peace.

Why Afghanistan? Why Style? You can find out for yourself on Esquire as of today, and read my own narrative of the project below.

Fashion, that is clothes, how they are worn and what is communicated with them is found best at the extremes. To my experience these are the cities on the leading edge of culture, and the small blank spaces on the map in the American conscience, passed over by the homogeny of industry. I can think of no more unjustly a blank space in the American mind than Afghans. With President Biden’s announcement of withdrawal imminent I set out in late February 2021 to document Afghan style.

In Kabul, from the street kids born into the war, to old men whose empty sleeves and folded pant legs where pinned back in the last 40 years of it, each one stared me in the eye, unwavering. They stand tall behind peddlers carts, on crutches, arm in arm with friends. If they had work they showed it to me eagerly: rings, rags, hand quilted velvet, glistened vegetables, calluses like cherry tomatoes. I learned never to photograph butchers.

Piran Tamban (a matched long shirt with wide cropped trouser) and the 9ft long Patoo shawl are the national costume, and nowhere besides Kabul will you see more variation on it. Color, embroidery, hem shape and headwear can easily distinguish the region an Afghan calls home. The accessories of note are military field jackets and vests made iconic by Ahmad Shah Massoud, who apposed the Taliban, and Cheetah sneakers made famous by them.

Kabul was one of the last cities in Afghanistan to resist Taliban contention largely due to ongoing peace talks. The capital had been beyond their control but not their daily reach. Small bombs targeting government employees, local journalists and activists were a daily occurrence. From the center of town I never heard them. The shooting heard occasionally were unrelated. When I ask about gunfire down the street, I’m told “They shot a thief”.

For all the anxiety and danger I expected to find in returning, it was the un-expected return to tribe that shocked me. T.M and Jim, longstanding Kabul correspondents are my guides. Fast friends, and fast Fridays spent tearing up Kabuls emptier quarters on two wheels, or well worn rugs at house parties.

After a few weeks I developed a little report with the familiar faces of  Kabul’s streets. Those Afghans I could speak to asked: “what do Americans think of Afghans? bad people? bombs? terrorists?”. 

I lied. Because Americans do not think of Afghans at all.

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Observer Denim

Photo by Jim Huylebroek

After years of perfecting my own denim, I am offering them to the public. Denim is a known quantity, but OD’s (Observer Denims) require explanation…

“ Don’t they get dirty? ” Sure, but 4 years of riding motorcycles, crashing them, scooters, crashing them, sailing, shooting, remote villages, bustling fashion capitals, bustling conflict capitals, hail, overflowing gutters, 20w 30, & A-, has all come out in the wash, tap cold on delicate.

Junn wears a size 34 with one wash

I’ve never gone without packing them, or a week without wearing them. OD’s can be worn as easily with a tailored jacket as they can a field shirt. Worn with a patina, or boiled with a weeks worth of coffee grounds they are even suitable for conflict environments. 

Improvements to the denim format start with the Self-Belt system. Adjustable with one hand the self belt system removes the need for a belt, & helps adjust for weight fluctuations on the road. The self belt system can be routed overtly from the center waist or covertly from the side seam.

Self-Belt application

Another innovation, the Self-Hem system allows you to cut your denim to one of 2 pre-sewn hem lines, saving your OD’s from fraying excessively & you a trip to the tailors. Wash you’re OD’s before hemming. 

The pattern of the O.D’s are an amalgam between my preferred silhouette: very high waisted, suppressed waist, with a clean, straight, athletic cut from the hipline, & feedback from 7 samples sent out for testing to Observers around the globe. I’d urge you to compare the provided measures to a few of your own pairs before purchasing, if in doubt size up from your measured size as OD’s adjust down.

Proprietary nickel plated bass hardware & serialized tags

The Hardware & fabric for the OD’s are equally considered. I developed proprietary Observer nickel plated brass buttons & rivets, painted with white enamel as a little nod the surfer’s pendants I grew up with. The fabric is an ideal 11.5 oz Cone Mills broken twill denim. With Cone Mills demise the last of American Selvage Denim blinked out of existence, this is some of the last yardage available after the mills closure. The broken twill gives the denim a casual texture, that cleans up well with tailoring & takes stains better than any other fabric trialed.

The OD Pre-Order closes 07/20 with an expected ship date of 08/31, you can order your own pair here.

Robert wears size 30 with 5 months of wear