Category Archives: denim diaries

Swedish Style Diary: Of Food and Fashion

I love thinking about the parallels between the food and fashion industries, but Karin Stenmar of Dem Collective took it a little too far.

Sitting in her office in Stockholm, in a sun-filled old church with soaring ceilings, she picked up a pair of her brand’s new jeans, and told me I could eat them. 

I politely declined, having had my share of muesli and yogurt that morning.

“There’s no chemicals at all,” said the bespectacled blonde, as if the presence of additives kept me from snacking on the pants.

Food is very much a part of Dem Collective’s concept. When Steinmar was on vacation in Jamaica (how innocently these stories begin!), she learned about Ital Food–imagine a Rastafari pronouncing “vital food,” and you’ll hear the derivation. Ital Food is a religious diet tradition that focuses on pure, natural ingredients. So why, Karin wondered, did she see so many Jamaicans eating instant American macaroni and cheese? 

Karin Steinmar

The short answer is not because it’s the cheesiest, but because it’s cheap. But as Karin continued to think macaroni she realized the Rastafaris had abandoned their traditions not just out of thrift, or financial necessity, but also out of addiction to the fat and sugar.

It’s the same thing in fashion, she said, and that’s why the company is called Don’t Eat Macaroni. 

“H&M, for example, they are making people addicted to cheap garments,” she said, invoking the name of the fast fashion giant omnipresent in every conversation I’ve had in Sweden regarding fashion and sustainability. I’m going to meet a press officer at H&M’s headquarters, so I’ll do my very best to get their take on this idea.

I’ve got my own ideas, and lots more to tell you about Dem Collective, but for the moment, I’m trying to sponge up as many ingredients as I can. We can synthesize the soup back in New York.


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Denim at DENIM

The search for authenticity continues at DENIM, a new exhibit at NYU’s 80 WSE Gallery. I wore my vintage Calvins to the opening, and wrote about what I found there for Dossier.

Esprit de Corps, Rob Pruitt

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Pricing That Perfect Pair

I’m not the only who appreciates the value of finding the perfect pair of jeans.

As Guy Trebay wrote in today’s Times Style Section, for men of a certain age, the right jeans can make the difference between looking classy and classic (á la Harrison Ford in the Extraordinary Measures poster) or a little embarrassing (more like Ted Danson in “Cheers,” Trebay suggested).

I recently had lunch with another newspaper man of a certain age, my friend David. He describes himself as “fashion-impaired,” but he’s mastered the art of exactly what Trebay observed so many men fail at. That day, he wore black jeans, as he usually does, faded to a stony shade of graphite (not unlike his goatee).

As he describes them, his black jeans make “his bottom half invisible” whether with a coat and tie or an old faded band tee-shirt, and always with decal-free black Reeboks. This uniform, which suits him well, frees him from the daily burden of wondering what to wear.

“So what’s that worth?” he asked me.

“A lot,” I replied. (Indeed, after a particularly harrowing morning getting dressed, I would have forked over a pretty penny for a pair to render my own bottom half invisible–but that’s another story.)

black jeans by Hugo Boss

The black jeans David wore that day represented his first foray into the world of $100 denim–$110, actually. His wife convinced him to buy them two and a half years ago, and he has worn them pretty much every day since, removing them only to wash on the weekends.

Prior to those Boss jeans, his routine involved rotating two pairs of the Gap’s $40 version all week. They would last a year–meaning worn everyday, they would last six months before looking too tired (busted pockets, etc.) for work.

Those Boss jeans, on the other hand, at 5 days per week, have lasted two-and-a-half years. Using one of my favorite methods for calculating cost, the “price-per-wear,” they’re actually the better investment. The Gap pair maxed out (at least for work purposes) after about 182 wears. At $40, that means at their cheapest, David’s price was about 22 cents per wear. The Boss jeans, however, at 650 wears, now cost about 17 cents per wear. I’m no economist, but I think they call this amortization. If they last another year, he’ll be down to 12 cents per wear. (On the other hand, if he only wore them once, that would have been a $110 wear–see?) And they’re fitting and fading quite nicely.

“They are perfect,” he said.

And at this rate, if he keeps on wearing them, they’ll soon be verging on priceless.


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What Would Levi’s Do?

Jeff Jarvis is constantly asking us, What Would Google Do?  Now, as Google threatens to leave China, this piece in today’s WSJ finds a precedent in Levi’s tenuous trade relationship with the country, comparing this moment to the denim company’s exit in 1993 . (They have since returned.) From the article:

“If you look at the Levi Strauss and Google situations,it’s important to see there are similarities but there are differences,” said Sharon Hom, a spokeswoman for the group Human Rights In China. “The impact is much bigger today because it is making it into a public debate in China. Not everyone needs a pair of jeans but everyone needs information.”

So is Google the new Levi’s? Is information the new denim?

Where does that leave information about denim?

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The Denim Diaries: Part 3

Jeans are an essential piece of the California uniform, so I wanted to make sure I would have at least a couple of reliable pairs with me for my trip. The week before I left, my Earnest Sewns got another rip in the very top of the right thigh–which is where all my jeans seem to rip.

Earnest Sewn, Decca Straight Leg Sample

Because I got them at a sample sale, I can’t really claim this says anything about the quality (it may actually say more about the strain that my holiday indulgences have put my jeans under.) Anyway, I got them fixed at the New York Tailor Shop on Kenmare before my trip. They told me they patch holes in crotches of stretchy jeans every single day, and that they’re going to keep on ripping. But for the moment, I was happier with the investment of $8 and the time it took to drop off/pick up the pants than the idea of scouting out  a new pair of jeans.

So I packed my newly patched Earnest Sewns along with a pair of J Brand Scarlett Seven Eights jeans I got at Anthropologie last May into my suitcase for California.

It was news to me that these Scarlett jeans were marketed as “curvy fit” jeans until I just had a look at J Brand’s website, but it makes sense. Usually when I buy jeans to fit my backside, they gape at my waist. Or if buy them to fit my waist, they are outrageously tight everywhere else.

But not these–they fit my butt and my waist, and it’s likely because of that contoured waistband J Brand is touting on their website. That, of course, and a bit of stretch. I was surprised to see the content label say these have just 2% stretch, cause it feels like much more. The “Seven Eights” refers to the length, which is a good little capri length for shorties like me.

That shorter length makes them cute with espadrilles, which is what I was wearing yesterday when we took the California Christmas to another level, and went to see Avatar at the 3-D IMAX in Irvine. (So awesome!!) I ran to the ladies room before the film was about to begin, and when I went to zip my jeans…nada. I tugged and tugged to no avail. And this was not due to too many Christmas cookies, if that’s what you’re thinking. They buttoned up, no problem, but the zipper would not budge.

Luckily, the Laloo tee (purchased at the Steven Alan sample sale) and Edun cardigan (pictured here) I had on covered the open zipper, so it didn’t steal the thunder from my 3-D glasses, which provided an ample dose of wardrobe-related embarassment for the day.

One day later, that zipper still isn’t moving. It’s as if my denim supply is some sort of closed energy system, where once one pair is patched and back in action, another must become eliminated. Sounds sort of James Cameron, right? I just hope it doesn’t require an Avatar-sized budget and schedule to solve this, but I suspect we might be at the outset of a major project here.

Stay tuned…

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Update: Retail and Restoration

You may remember how disappointed I was last month when I came across this on a restorative walk through SoHo.


One of my favorite vintage haunts, Sweet Tater, had closed. I’ve since received emails from both of the Sweet Tater tots, Sarah and Christina, telling me where to find their wares. Sarah sells her vintage denim, shoes, and coats at Artists and Fleas every Saturday in Williamsburg, and Christina has opened a lovely shop, Portia & Manny, on Elizabeth Street in Nolita.
Portia & Manny, 198 Elizabeth Street
My sister, not usually one for vintage, picked up a pair of ’70s wide-leg jeans at Portia & Manny when she visited from Australia a few weeks ago. They’re made of nice sturdy denim, but are thin and loose enough to be comfortable for the summer Down Under. There she is in her front yard. 

I would be tempted to see if there’s a sister pair at Portia & Manny with my name on them, but the lovely thing about having a sister in the Southern Hemisphere is that we have our summer clothes on a time share. Maybe when Sara packs up the sundresses in May, maybe she’ll put those pretty pants in the box for me too. 


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