Clara Young ex­plores our sto­ried re­la­tion­ship with denim.

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at the end of the Louis Vuit­ton show in a faded jean jacket and dark rolled-up jeans. There was noth­ing fash­ion­able about the dou­ble-denim getup: The hems on the jeans weren’t sel­vaged, and the jacket was a lit­tle dirty. It just looked like he had stayed up the night be­fore work­ing hard on the col­lec­tion.

Denim is a fab­ric that can tell you a lot of things about the per­son wear­ing it. And, at the same time, it can tell you a lot of wrong things about the per­son wear­ing it. Be­cause denim is the great be­fud­dler—the fab­ric that is all things to all peo­ple. Does the per­son wear­ing dark 501s, a white T-shirt and a jean jacket se­cretly fancy him­self a rugged fron­tiers­man? Are faded dun­ga­ree over­alls a per­ma­cul­tural style state­ment? Are the Stella McCart­ney work­er­wear one­sie and the Chloé jean maxidress a sig­nal of im­pend­ing re­li­gious con­ver­sion? Of course not. Or, rather, prob­a­bly not. But denim al­ways comes with a back­story, and the nar­ra­tives mash up in the mix. It is univer­sal yet ut­terly Amer­i­can. Clas­sic yet re­bel­lious. Dust bowl yet de­signer.

This sea­son, and the last, de­sign­ers have been do­ing denim. Dolce & Gab­bana adorned theirs with more em­broi­dery and baubles than a Vatican cush­ion. Saint Lau­rent chopped theirs off into miniskirts and sent them into the mosh pit. But the pale-blue den­ims at La­coste, Ro­darte, Kenzo, Veronique Bran­quinho and, es­pe­cially, Eck­haus Latta are the story.

The pale blues form an in­ter­est­ing lit­tle fac­tion in denim’s mas­sive come­back. They don’t have the over-thetop irony of norm­core mom jeans or Jerry Se­in­feld acid­washed high-waisted pants. Rather, they pos­sess the Mid­dle Amer­i­can, JCPen­ney-like gen­tle­ness of clas­sic Amer­i­can sports­wear, mi­nus the elas­ti­cized waist and wide-load seat. “That colour—the jeans I’m wear­ing right now are a re­ally white blue—that’s the colour we are drawn to,” says Zoe Latta, who is one half of—with Mike Eck­haus—the bi­coastal duo Eck­haus Latta. “The corn­flower blue and the sky blue are what we’re also re­ally drawn to. The colour is not re­ally a state­ment in it­self; it’s a clas­sic idea, with­out whiskers and weird washes. That’s the way we treated the denim. Com­pletely raw, not washed.”

Colour isn’t the only thing that catches the eye at Eck­haus Latta; the ex­tra­ne­ous de­tails do too: the pan­els that stream off the sides of wide-leg trousers and an apron dress, the mud flaps over skirt pock­ets, the faux pants-on-pants. Other than the last item, which riffs h

on a Comme des Garçons and Junya Watan­abe idea, the gar­ments are not ag­gres­sively avant-garde. But the pieces con­cep­tu­ally chal­lenge denim’s util­i­tar­ian code: “We were think­ing about denim as a large, ex­pan­sive plane of a sur­face and us­ing it in that a tarp,” says Eck­haus. “It’s a word that has an out­door qual­ity and the no­tion of util­ity—about cov­er­ing your body and be­ing able to move eas­ily. But when your gar­ment is pour­ing off your body, that’s when the idea of util­ity be­comes a graphic idea.”

Jeans are an ideal can­vas for ideas, but they are even bet­ter car­ri­ers of per­sonal his­tory. Jeans em­body time. They are one of the few ob­jects left to us that do not feed in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. It takes time to break in a good, durable pair of jeans, for them to de­velop a le­git­i­mate patina. It’s like wait­ing for a bot­tle of wine to age, a Jamón Ibérico to prop­erly cure or a wheel of brie to lus­ciously ripen.

For denim purists, the break­ing-in process is so long, ar­du­ous and smelly, es­pe­cially for raw denim that must stay un­washed for half a year, that one company hired peo­ple to break in its jeans be­fore sell­ing them. The Guardian re­cently ran a story about a Welsh denim company, Hiut, that sends its jeans to “break­ers” who wear them re­li­giously for six months. Once prop­erly worn in, the pants are sent back to the company, which then washes and sells them, with break­ers get­ting 20 per­cent of the sell­ing price.

Our jeans stick with us through thick and thin, through rips and tears, patches, re­pairs and heart­break­ing stains. Our sto­ries seep into them through the seams. Piero Turk is a long-time denim de­signer for brands like Ed­win and Lee who also col­lects vin­tage jeans. He says it is the mended jeans in his col­lec­tion that he likes best. “I love to think about who did this re­pair— the mother of the guy or who­ever. If you had the same re­pairs done on men’s wool pants, you would look like a home­less per­son, but on jeans, you look richer. They’re the per­sonal life of that gar­ment, th­ese re­pairs.” ■

Jeans are an ideal can­vas for ideas, but they are even bet­ter car­ri­ers of per­sonal his­tory.

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