We will never know if it were the French who created denim around the seventeenth century - it is thought that the word originates from the fabric 'serge de Nîmes' - or the Genoese through 'jean', a popular fabric in the sixteenth century, however it was a German and a Latvian who developed the most popular garment of the past two centuries, the jeans. Levi Strauss, the Bavarian who settled in San Francisco in the mid-nineteenth century as a fabric and clothing importer, together with its customer and future partner Jacob Davis, an emigrant from Riga, invented and registered the first jeans with metal rivets which increased its strength and, without realizing it, also the style. From here the rest is history and other brands such as Lee's followed Levi's footsteps to make jeans the ultimate garment for all walks of life, ages, styles and nationalities up to today.
Recently, after mass produced jeans have flooded the market, we have seen the rebirth of a brands movement who wish to retrieve old production techniques, a return to the beauty of denim from the cowboys era and the gold rush in the United States, but with a modern 'twist'.
One of the major references in this field and an important meeting point for many of these brands has been Tenue de Nîmes, founded in 2008 in Amsterdam, a space created under "the basic principles of quality, function and simplicity that are rooted in the history of jeans, a shop to share ‘The Good Things in Life’.”
For Menno van Meurs, co-founder of Tenue de Nîmes and one of the great international experts in this area, denim has maintained its relevance because “its beauty of denim is also its strength: Functionality. It is a piece of clothing that was once built to last. Every garment made with quality as its backbone.”
Having started its path as work clothes in the nineteenth century, the XXI Century jeans are back to the origins and are now part of the clothing that millions of people from different fields use in their work everyday, whether an industrial designer or an office worker on a ‘casual friday’. In addition to jeans having stopped to be just a piece of rebellious clothing, the real revolution in the world of denim is associated with the best brands having adopted the selvedge as their election fabric. Produced in a traditional way, the selvedge is developed in old looms and unlike most common denim, the rolls of fabric are narrower and manufactured with a single wire running in a shuttle from one side to another in the loom to form a denim with an unique and original texture without edges that may fray.
Besides selvedge, the best denim jeans are also currently presented to the end user without having been previously washed or manipulated, leaving the fabric in its original state, that is raw. All this attention to detail meets the desire of a group of consumers increasingly interested in the quality and origin of their jeans, ignoring fads and style without substance. Stating that it is difficult to choose brands that are developing the best work in this area, Menno van Meurs tells that “jeans should never be driven by trends, but should compliment your body instead,” adding that “there are two brands that really set the tone at the moment. First of all that is Double RL by Ralph Lauren. This very limited brand is routed in the spirit of the 20th Century cool. They make all their jeans in the best factories and laundries in the United States and their fit is what I like most: Classic Americana. Secondly we are proud we released our own jeans. The Tenue de Nîmes brand is based on quality, transparency and sustainability. The aim is to create a collection of timeless pieces that must become the next wardrobe classics. Our jeans are made in Italy and we work with American and Japanese fabrics.”
And it is exactly from these two countries that originate some of the most vibrant and appealing premium brands of the moment. Founded in 2006 in the town of Kojima, Okayama Prefecture, Momotaro is an excellent example of Japanese tradition in denim production, which began after the Second World War and was has been perfected over the following decades. With the motto ‘produced by hand without compromising (quality)’, the brand under the creative direction of Katsu Manabe stands out for tight control of the entire manufacturing process, from choosing cotton from Zimbabwe, traditional weaving techniques in Rampuya or dyeing with pure natural indigo.
Across the Pacific, Tellason is another brand that also leaves nothing to chance. Founded by two denim enthusiasts, Tony Patella and Pete Searson, Tellason is committed to make the best jeans Made in USA with local components, in the heart of the birthplace of jeans, San Francisco. Producing in a small factory in the Californian city, Tellason uses the raw selvedge quality denim from the emblematic Cone Mills, which still produces it in machines from the forties, and labels in vegetable tanned leather by Tanner Goods in Portland.
In Europe, Hiut has been making a difference for the commitment to revive the industry in Cardigan, a small town in Wales with tradition in jeans production, but also for the quality of pieces that has been making since its creation. Result of the initiative of David Hieatt, the Welsh brand combines the decades' knowledge of local artisans with the finest fabrics, including raw selvedge from Kuroki, a well-known Japanese mill.
Despite the distance that separates these brands and many others who have come to raise the denim to the art form, the future of jeans looks brighter than ever. “I believe that an article as strong as jeans will survive any period of time. Denim proved to be able to reinvent itself time after time. Therefore I believe that the free spirit of jeans will be everlasting and the only thing the future will be bring us is more knowledge in terms of fabrication and sustainable development of the garments,” says Menno van Meurs, concluding that “denim is, together with the white t-shirt, the most simple and vital part of any wardrobe. Jeans have this ultimate, effortless style that will compliment any outfit.”
Originally published in Doze Magazine