Tag Archives: denim

Swedish Style Diary: Play Hard to Get, Take it Slow


Over several years working in the fashion industry, and countless more wondering what to wear, I’ve seen the topic of “sustainability,” appear with increasing frequency. And while the fashion industry and the media agree on its importance, no one seems able to land on a definition. The Financial Times’ Vanessa Friedman spent two days at a conference on the topic, only to conclude that “the more you try to figure it out, the more confusing it becomes.” She asked a handful of fashion designers to define the term and received as many varying answers—a troubling result, she wrote, as “sustainability” becomes more ubiquitous in the fashion community.

I don’t mind giving designers a little wiggle room as they find their places in the movement, but like Friedman, I’d like to clarify my own concept of sustainable style. So when the Swedish Institute invited me to Stockholm to learn about their country’s take on the idea, I happily accepted.

What I found on Day One in Stockholm surprised me.

Stockholm’s Old City, Gamla Stan

When I met Piotr Zaleski, one half of the duo behind denim label Julian Red, I expected to hear about sustainable materials like organic cotton and natural dyes, and I did. They were integrated into pieces like high-waisted, straight-legged, slightly cropped jeans (“The Lady Hi”—take note) and a floor-grazing skirt in midnight gauzy wool, hand-painted with thin stripes of watery rainbows. The styles were wearable and well-designed, so I found it odd when Piotr said that since 2003, their company has been growing by about 20% each season—much slower, he clarified, than many successful young fashion labels, that easily increase sales by 100% each season.

“Small quantities are the most ecological part of our business,” Piotr said. “The idea is not to make more than you need.”

Piotr Zaleski

He explained that Julian Red presently makes no more than about 200 pieces in a given style. It’s only now that he is confident with his supply chain, which includes fabric mills in Japan, and factories in Mauritius and Portugal, that Piotr will push the sales a little more—but just a little.

He manages both the brand’s marketing and production—a position that likely leaves him sleep-deprived, but also offers him the unique perspective to adopt an effectively non-aggressive sales style (I believe in dating we call this “hard to get”) that brings the label to stores like Oak in New York City and Isetan in Japan, while growing at a pace everyone—mills, factories and Piotr and his partner Mattias Lind—is comfortable with.  To boot, there aren’t scores of leftover clothing each season, an issue another Swedish brand has reckoned with in regrettable fashion.

This idea, sustainability defined as growth at a supportable pace for a business and its partners, shouldn’t seem so novel. But let’s be honest, this is fashion, and designers and the media alike have been trained to strike while the iron is hot, because it might not be for long.

But I think the guys at Julian Red are onto something, adding fuel to a fire—sustainable fashion—that is better off starting as a slow burn.

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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.)

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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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The Denim Diaries: Part 2

Well, it seems I’m not alone in my endless fascination with denim, and the industry is certainly providing plenty of material (forgive) to work with. And I’m not the only one. Today, one half of a seemingly life-sized denim-dressed backside, is gracing the front of The New York Times’ style section.

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The story touches on the often arbitrary nature of pricing jeans, which sounds like it has more to do with what the market will bear than with the actual cost of production. Maybe that’s why I’m wearing leggings today, rather than my J Brand jeans (pictured above) which The New York Tailor Shop is patching up for me–yet again.

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Jesus, who works at the Tailor Shop, along with his brother and his dad, said they get jeans with holes at the nexus (read: crotch), like mine everyday.

I loved J Brands when they emerged–they filled a hole (again, forgive) in the market for a clean, dark, straight jean with a bit of stretch. I bought one pair, and then a second. They became my everyday jeans. When I wore them to work my first week for Rogan, another denim designer, he gave me a once over and called me a “sucker.” At the time I thought he was bruised that I wasn’t wearing his jeans (flattered that he cared), but I’m beginning to wonder if he was right.

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When I asked one of the guys working the floor at Barney’s Co-op whether he got a lot of returns on J Brands for these holes at the crotch, he said “tons,” but he thinks they’re getting better. I actually fear they’ve gotten worse. The pair pictured above is my second one, and it’s getting a little overwhelming in the patch department. They’re starting to look like padded bike shorts. Not sexy. (For $158, they can’t last a year?)

It’s funny, in that New York Times story today, Jeff Rudes, a J Brand founder, says that $200 jeans were “just a fad,” and goes on to say that “the floors at most of the major stores were so overassorted that they almost looked like Loehmann’s.” Yet, on J Brand’s website, there are no less than 178 permutations to choose from–some of which appear dark, clean, sexy, and straight, just the way I like them. (Yes, we’re still talking about jeans.)

If I had any indication the price tag had some bearing on quality and durability, I just might consider purchasing a pair. But between my hole-patching fund and that story in The Times I may have to continue the hunt–just so I don’t feel like a sucker.

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