THE CHIC RETURN OF MUM JEANS
HIGH-WAISTED, FADED AND DECIDEDLY NOT SKINNY, AN UNLIKELY NEW STYLE OF JEANS – OFTEN INSPIRED BY LEVI’S CLASSIC 501S – IS BEING ADOPTED BY THE MOST FASHIONABLE WOMEN. EMILY HOLT REPORTS.
The denim cut the fashion set is into now: high-waisted, faded, and not skinny.
On the final day of Paris Fashion Week last October, art director Sofia Sanchez Barrenechea wore what she had habitually referred to as her “crappy jeans” – old Levi’s, which she bought at a vintage store. Somehow, that day, they felt crappy no more. Pairing them with a structured crop top, low-heeled boots and a polished handbag, she achieved a look that could survive even the French fashion gauntlet. “I started feeling like I could pull them off ,” she says.
No doubt. In the past few months, many women on the leading edge of the fashion curve have been seeking out vintage (or vintage-looking) denim that’s derived largely from Levi’s iconic straight-leg, long-rise and pale-wash 501 style – last popular in the 1990s. Even Vogue Paris editor Emmanuelle Alt recently wore looser, straight-leg, faded jeans – a shift away from her signature skinny crop.
“It does feel new after a decade of skinny jeans,” says Laurie Trott, fashion editorial director of e-commerce site Piperlime, who’s been living in a pair of vintage Levi’s 505s – a straight-leg fit with a slightly lower rise than 501s – that she had tapered by a tailor. She wears them with Thom Browne for Brooks Brothers button-downs and lowheeled sandals. With such an otherwise tomboyish look, she says: “I like a highwaisted silhouette. It shows I have a waist and hips.”
The new direction is part of the natural cycle of fashion, when the pendulum inevitably swings away from a supremely popular style. Florence Kane and Jane Herman Bishop, founders of the New Yorkbased denim blog Jean Stories, think the preference for the newly chic classic jeans over the ubiquitous “jegging” lies in individuality. “You don’t want to wear the same black skinny as everyone else in your office or all of your friends,” says Herman Bishop, whose favorite jeans are currently an old Japanese pair she found at Los Angeles vintage shop Mister Freedom and had altered at jean reconstruction company Denim Revival.
In Singapore, the look is gaining traction too. Chelsea Scott-Blackhall, founder of home-grown denim brand Dzojchen, says she’s seen the trend grow in the past three seasons: “We believe it’ll remain strong. The era of the skinny may be taking a break.”
And if adopting the look means turning to clothing that once belonged to somebody else, so be it. “Each (vintage) pair has a story because someone before you has worn them in a certain way or tailored them in a certain way,” says American stylist Vanessa Traina Snow, who has a few pairs of vintage jeans, including her mother Danielle Steel’s old 501s. (“I mean, they really are ‘mum jeans,’ ” she jokes.) She wears them elegantly with an oversized Celine sweater and pointy Manolo Blahnik pumps.
Since few women have the patience to sift through piles of used clothes, people like Traina Snow are doing it for them. Recently, The Line, the US e-commerce site she cofounded, partnered with Manhattan vintage shop What Goes Around Comes Around to offer a selection of vintage jeans. The online inventory of Levi’s 501s was quickly snatched up, but you can find a similar faded, five-pocket style by 6397, a two-year-old American denim brand, on the site.
At the more mainstream end of the retail spectrum, American fashion lifestyle chain Urban Outfitters’ Urban Renewal website features decades-old denim selected from dead stock by its buyers. A pair of generously cut French workwear jeans is US$398 (S$526), for instance, but Jean Stories’ Kane recently snagged a pair of Levi’s 517s – a high-rise, boot-cut style – on the site at a more accessible price. “I’m a very lazy vintage jeans shopper,” says Kane. She wears her 517s with black pumps for meetings or flat loafers for a casually chic American sportswear feel.
Levi’s has shrewdly taken note of the kicked-up demand for these styles. For F/W ’14, it released a distressed 501 style in Singapore. According to its local representative, the cut traditionally doesn’t sell as well as skinnies or straight styles but this time, it nearly sold out. And as part of its main collection, it debuted the 501CT with a slightly narrowed – but not skinny – leg (from $169.90) in stores here. “Tapering was the second most requested alteration, second only to shortening,” says Levi’s senior vice-president of global design, Jonathan Cheung. “It’s almost as if we crowdfunded the design.”
Others are also looking to fill the need. Denim behemoth Citizens Of Humanity has a faux-old Premium Vintage collection whose slouchy boyfriend fits might please a 501-fixated shopper. Topshop has been steadily expanding its denim line from last year to reflect trends and has since made its high-waisted, loose-fit, vintage-wash Mom and Hayden styles regulars. And early this month, Alexander Wang debuts his denim line inspired by his female friends’ love for vintage jeans.
Upstarts are getting in on the action too. AMO, a Los Angeles-based label launching this season, started by industry vets Kelly Urban and Misty Zollars, will offer five old-school styles with updated touches like a pitched-forward side seam that slims and lengthens the leg. “We wanted to create something that didn’t exist – something that looked vintage and cool, but fit a woman’s body,” says Zollars. “We picked the fabric because it literally looks like the Levi’s 501s we’re obsessed with. It’s an open weave with beautiful twill and a shade of pure indigo.”
In Singapore, Dzojchen has made its straight-legged Classic Blue Jean a staple since its 2012 debut. This Fall/Winter, it’ll launch a style similar to Levi’s 501s in washes like black, grey and vintage indigo.
Meanwhile, Re/Dun, another Los Angeleno brand started by Sean Barron (who co-founded casual wear label Joie) and Jamie Mazur (who founded denim flash sale company Underground Denim), also strikes a balance between vintage and new. Both source old jeans from private dealers – anything with paint splatters and distinctive nicks or fades ranks highly – then resew the fabric into one of three contemporary (read: not quite so retro and high-waisted) silhouettes: “relaxed skinny”, “relaxed straight” and “repaired,” which “look like someone’s grandmother mended them at home with another piece of denim, thread and a needle,” says Barron.
For all that work, the jeans are still priced about the same as your skinny, spandexboosted Acnes and J Brands – between US$200 (S$264) and US$300 (S$396), but 100 per cent cotton jeans like Re/Dun’s or great vintage scores may be a better buy. Stretch denim will eventually sag, and any tears will curl up, not artfully shred and fray. And with a high waist and looser leg, you don’t necessarily require that body-hugging, stickto-your-hips stretch factor.
“The skinny was designed to de-accentuate the butt, to make it look smaller and narrower,” says Jean Stories’ Kane. “I think women now are not afraid to accentuate their behinds, and real denim is going to do that. It’s a really nice change.”
New brands doing the vintage denim look: Alexander Wang, & Levi’s with its 501CT style, and & Topshop