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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Jeans

Denim first became a worldwide fashion force not because of designers — but because of the secondhand market.

Kevin Rechsteiner

The transition of jeans from workwear garment to omnipresent wardrobe staple has been written about extensively, but never with the scope presented in Blue Blooded by Thomas Stege Bojer and Josh Sims. The new coffee table book explores the history and construction of jeans and profiles notable figures in the denim world, such as Kiya Babzani, Scott Morrison and the Osaka Five. On the practical side, the book covers the best way to wash jeans, how to repair jeans and the things to consider when buying jeans. Whether you’re looking to learn more about your favorite pants, or you’re already a full-fledged denim head, Blue Blooded will provide countless pages of new insight.

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from Blue Blooded by Thomas Stege Bojer and Josh Sims (Gestalten). Copyright 2016.

Secondhand jeans played a vital role in the spread of denim fashion around the world. The first blue jeans in Europe and Japan were secondhand. Ultimately, it is secondhand jeans that motivated these markets to start making jeans themselves.

During the early 1980s, “there was a boom of vintage store in Europe selling American secondhand denim,” says trend expert Allan Kruse. The trail was blazed by store like American Classics in London, vintage stores in Amsterdam, and A.N.G.E.L.O. in Northern Italy. Camden Market and Portobello Road in London as well as Clignancourt in Paris also became important vintage hunting grounds. Even department stores were selling vintage denim. It quickly became a mainstream youth fashion.

By the mid-1980s, the economic recession hit the jeans market hard. This made the vintage denim trend go full-blown mainstream in 1985. It was “back to basics” for denim, with plenty of authentic jeanswear, cowboy inspiration, 1950s nostalgia, and the “hard times” look of washed-down and shredded jeans. It was also during these years that designers and maker realized they could capitalize on vintage denim.

By the late- 1980s, refined vintage stores like Charles Chevignon’s Trading Post and Chipie’s Au Vieax Continent had been established in Paris, inspired by the denim retail template of Japan. This sparked a second chapter for the vintage trend. Meanwhile, in the homeland of jeans there were only a few vintage stores in Los Angeles and New York City.

Photo : Mister Freedom

In 1992, a mega denim auction was held in the French capital. As the news reported about the outrageously hight prices that some of these items sold for, the common man realized that vintage could be worth quite a bit of money.

The trend gave birth to several vintage-style brands, Around 1980, Adriano Goldschmied took an interest in vintage jeans. According to Paul Trynka, together with Martelli in Bologna, Goldschmied pioneered the garment finishing industry. His brand Rivet was one of the first to use selvedge denim, from Kurabo, and the first to apply convincing industrial fading. Diesel’s Old Glory collection from 1991 was another indication of the changes in the market. The garments were heavily inspired by the original styling and look of the pre-designer era, and were made from high-end Japanese and Italian denim. Replicating vintage Levi’s jeans, Replay also developed an authentic selection of jeans. In France, Chipie too was capitalizing on the vintage denim trend, which ultimately made Ralph Lauren launch RRL in 1994. However, by this time, the vintage trend was starting to erode in Europe and the United States as Sportswear became fashion.

While heritage denim carried on full steam ahead in Japan, streetwear almost choked out jeans in Europe and the United States. By the mid-1990s, the vintage stores in Paris had closed down and RRL was only available in Japan. This meant that vintage denim was boiled down to a hardcore niche of enthusiasts who kept wearing these authentically styled jeans. Levi’s refined their products for this niche, which resulted in the official launch of Levi’s Vintage Clothing and Levi’s RED in 1999 (although Levi’s had been making replica selvedge denim jeans since 1996).

“The vintage denim trend gave Levi’s a much needed boost to their credibility and an opportunity to distance themselves from emerging specialized brands like Diesel as fashion opinion leaders were once again wearing the ‘original’ jeans,” Allan Kruse has said.

In Japan, the classic five-pocket jean had become a wardrobe staple. But following economic troubles in Japan and the rest of Asia in the early 1990s, demand for imported vintage denim came to a halt. Additionally, American vintage denim was becoming more expensive; not only because supply was shrinking while demand was booming, but also because the yen was weakened and the Thai baht collapsed. Marx reasons that, mirroring the case in the early 1970s when the economic actions of the Nixon Administration made American jeans expensive for the booming Japanese market, the response in the early 1990s was a growing demand for domestically made jeans. This eventually became the last piece of the puzzle that made the Japanese influencers of heritage denim fashion dominant in the 2000s.

Today, selvedge denim fans should be thankful for the decision Levi’s made to scrap shuttle-loomed 501s. IT became the starting point for heritage denim fashion and ultimately carved out a viable niche for reproduction brands. While Levi’s may not find the irony amusing, it was the replicators in Japan that sparked the renewed interest in the original styling and production methods when Levi’s scaled back on quality. In the end, this shifted the power balance in denim from Europe and the United States to Japan.

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