Goodbye, normal jeans: hello haute denim
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This is not your average denim. This is denim that’s so artfully cut and washed that it looks presentable in the office. Denim so delectable it mingles effortlessly at a party. Haute denim isn’t new, of course, but this season’s offering is different: a cache of fashion houses have sought out partnerships with traditional denim brands, combining an eye for design with decades of technical know-how. It’s less Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake at the 2001 American Music Awards, more Brooke Shields in that 1980s Calvin Klein advert: glamorous, stylish and sophisticated.
Womenswear label Ports 1961 and New York-based denim brand R13 have this season co-designed a collection inspired by Jane Birkin’s relaxed ’70s Parisian look. Even Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle label Goop has worked with APC to create a five-piece denim collection, giving the French utility-wear brand’s pared-down aesthetic a more feminine touch, with flared jumpsuits and puff-shouldered shirts.
“Denim was always something I wanted to work with,” says Michael Halpern, founder of the eponymous London-based label, who recently collaborated on a ’70s-inflected collection with Los Angeles denim house J Brand. “But I wanted to wait to do it with a brand that had real experience and knowledge in this field.”
These collaborations tap into a particular kind of mid-pandemic mindset: a desire for clothes that are casual and comfy enough to wear all day but also feel uplifting. Playful denim, with fun patchwork details and comfy loose cuts, fits the bill perfectly. Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director for Net-a-Porter, agrees: “As we continue to dress more casually, denim is an opportunity for designers to reach customers in a more practical but elevated way.”
Cult Californian denim brand Slvrlake, which counts Janelle Monáe and Bella Hadid as fans, recently joined forces with Australian ready-to-wear label Ellery on a capsule collection that features Western-style denim replete with vintage washes and voluminous-sleeved jackets. “It’s an opportunity to bring a bit of light and luxury to the denim scene,” says Louise Edgley, who co-founded Slvrlake with her husband Gary. “We wanted to explore items that were structured but still completely wearable. I want to wear all of our collection, and we’ve been working from home. So, for me, it was about elevating that space.” Kym Ellery, the designer behind the eponymous Sydney-based fashion brand, said the collaboration was an opportunity for her to move into a more casual area. “We met some time before the events of this year, but now I desire these kinds of clothes even more so – I’m thinking about comfortable pieces that are effortless and easy to put on.”
“Structured but wearable” is a demand that Net-a-Porter has experienced across its denim offering. “We have seen a resurgence in more stretch-denim styles as customers are working from home or wearing denim to work, so comfort is key,” says Von der Goltz.
It isn’t only fashion houses that are choosing to tap into denim’s timeless appeal. Claire Choisne, creative director of French jewellery maison Boucheron, recently created the Quatre Jean cuff bracelet and high-jewellery ring, which layer denim with white diamonds. The set was designed to be worn as part of “an all-out denim look”. And Toronto-based jewellery brand Mejuri has also partnered with Frame denim on a collection of gold chain pieces, ready-to-wear and long-in-the-leg jeans. For Frame co-founder Erik Torstensson, it was about merging two sets of expertise in order to create a complete wardrobe. “More than ever we are cherishing our most loved pieces,” he says. “This collaboration celebrates that: quality, timeless fashion and accessories, made to be loved and worn forever.”
But denim is also one of the more polluting aspects of the fashion industry, a fact some of these collaborations are working to combat. J Brand has created a sustainable stretch-denim made with 30 per cent recycled cotton, as well as an Eco Wash process – which uses an average of 90 per cent less water than a standard denim wash – that is incorporated into Halpern’s collection.
A partnership between Danish brand Ganni and Levi’s takes sustainability one step further: reuse and rental. The three‑piece collection includes a pair of patchwork-style jeans – which are loosely based on the 501 straight-cut – and a two-tone, flouncy-collar shirt, made entirely from upcycled and repurposed denim. More importantly, the entire capsule is available solely on a rental basis. They chose to emphasise the sense of community spirit inherent in rental fashion by tagging the back patch of each pair of jeans with a chip that accesses the names of all the previous wearers. “Denim is such a versatile and democratic product,” says Ganni’s creative director Ditte Reffstrup. “It’s something most people wear every day, and it’s in everybody’s wardrobes. So we loved the idea of playing with the concept of rental with a product that is so casual. Most people think of event dressing when it comes to rental, but we wanted to challenge that concept.”
Whether it’s perking up your officewear or bringing some 2000s cool to your party look, haute denim is a good investment. As Ellery says of her Slvrlake collaboration: “People are pivoting towards sweats, so it was nice to go in the opposite direction.”
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