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New York City’s denim revolution

New York has gone mad for classic denim, with quality trumping trendy cuts. We meet the people taking jeans back to their roots

  • New York City’s denim revolution
  • New York City’s denim revolution
  • New York City’s denim revolution
  • New York City’s denim revolution
  • New York City’s denim revolution
  • New York City’s denim revolution
  • New York City’s denim revolution
  • New York City’s denim revolution
  • New York City’s denim revolution
  • New York City’s denim revolution
  • New York City’s denim revolution

Words Chadwick Moore
Photos Bill Phelps

For a city with a reputation for worldwide trend-setting, New York’s latest denim obsession is almost an anti-trend. Jeans are going classic – gone are boot cuts, skinny jeans and jeggings, replaced by classic fits, and a focus on quality fabrics and production.

This back-to-basics approach is epitomised by 3x1, the SoHo boutique run by jeans pioneer Scott Morrison, which boasts nearly 300 varieties of raw selvedge denim. With its minimalist décor, it feels more like a gallery space than a shop, except for the rolls of denim lining the walls and the 15 sewing machines whirring in unison.

Morrison, 40, is already a legend in the jeans world, having founded cult brands Earnest Sewn and Paper Denim & Cloth. But 3x1, which is 18 months old, is his most ambitious project yet. Nearly half of his business is a bespoke service, where customers pay at least US$1,200 (NOK6,740) for consultations, fittings and design. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was so pleased with the custom service – which allows you to choose everything from the buttons and rivets to the material itself – that he tweeted his appreciation to his two million or so followers.

“There’s a movement towards people wanting something where they know where it’s made, how it’s made and where you’re getting the materials,” says Morrison, who’s wearing a size 32 straight-leg jean with a blue cardigan and neatly looped scarf when we meet. “We wanted to invite customers into the process – to play designer to a degree, but also to add some personalisation to what they are buying.”

What Morrison says and does is important. When Earnest Sewn opened in 2004, it pioneered the so-called American Heritage movement that took off across America – soon, retail spaces were stuffed with Americana, taxidermy, flannel and driftwood.

And while Morrison’s style has changed again, the commitment to classic quality has stayed the same. You can get jeans off-the-peg at 3x1 for around $300 (NOK1,680) and most of them are a clean, straight leg made with quality materials.

This emphasis on classic cuts is good news for other outlets such as Jean Shop, which opened a decade ago in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. Once a niche rock ’n’ roll retailer, it’s gone mainstream – customers are still greeted by a shot of tequila when they enter, it’s just that the store now gets through more bottles.

“It’s not high fashion. Our jeans are a simple, iconic thing. We’re known for quality,” says chief designer Eric Goldstein, a Queens native with blue- collar swagger and a firm voice.

Goldstein is a 25-year veteran who’s designed jeans for Gap and Ralph Lauren, and is averse to trends. For him, a love of denim is synonymous with a love of heritage. His shop reflects this, from the autographed guitars through the bald eagle belt buckles to the distressed Western wear. Goldstein’s label is designed in-house and manufactured in California from hand-selected Japanese selvedge, the high watermark for denim. (Also used by 3x1, selvedge is made on vintage shuttle looms and is recognisable by the self-finished edges of the fabric).

Jean Shop, where jeans start at $260 (NOK1,460), keeps things simple. There are two fits for men – the Rocker, a wider leg, and the Slim – and three fits for women, all available in 11 fabrics with the option of custom washing, which gives a worn-in look. Customers, though, tend to prefer a raw jean they can break in, according to Goldstein.

However, the enthusiasm for high-grade denim and traditional cuts has thus far largely centred on men – women, who are usually quicker and more trusting of trends, have not yet fully embraced the new stripped-down movement. Across the East River in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Loren Cronk is trying to change that.

“Women right now are so used to wearing stretchy denim,” says Cronk. “I really want to go with 100 per cent cotton for them, but I haven’t found the right weight yet, the right fabric,” he says over a beer in his three-station workroom.

The 41-year-old designer, snowboarder and Levi’s veteran opened his shop, Loren, two years ago. Like 3x1 – though on a more approachable level – his 46m2 space embraces the transparent, factory-cum-shop aesthetic. He sells three of his own lines – Loren, BLKSMTH, and Soldier & Brave – which range from $89 to around $300 per pair (NOK500-1,680), as well as vintage denim jackets and accessories.

Cronk is one of a few designers still using American denim – as opposed to Japanese-made material – from one of the USA’s last selvedge denim facilities in Texas.

“Openness was the main thing I wanted in my store,” he says. “You can walk in and see the process of jeans being made.” The white walls, black tin ceiling, walnut floors and brass fixtures at Loren also shy away from the heritage look to offer a clean, nouveau-rustic feel.

Much of Loren’s business comes from alterations, repairs and patching, another indication that people today prefer jeans they can hold onto.

“I try to stay clean and nothing’s really over the top here. It’s all pretty classic and simple,” Cronk says, although he admits to jumping on the super-skinny bandwagon briefly, before adding that he hasn’t worn a stretch jean in several years.

Loren’s Wrangler-inspired five-pocket, slim, straight jean has some unusual details, such as a covered front button and a subtle decorative stitch on the back yoke. In addition to his simple, slim-stretch women’s jeans he sells a highly engineered line from local designer Judi Rosen, who’s known for accentuating women’s curves.

“I think denim design is totally different from fashion design,” says Cronk, however. “It’s more about construction. I always wanted to be an architect, but I was afraid of maths.”

Denim For Less

Not ready to spend over $1,000 for a pair of jeans? These favourites offer great value

Topshop British high-street stalwart Topshop, which has gone almost as big in the Big Apple, has a good selection of classic and trendy cuts at good prices. Don’t take our word for it – when asked where she buys her jeans, Emmanuelle Alt, editor of Vogue Paris, shocked the fashion world by claiming that Topshop “have the best”. Jeans from around $60 (NOK340). 478 Broadway at Broome Street,www.topshop.com

Uniqlo Cool Japanese label Uniqlo made a name for itself with hipsters a few years back by selling fashionable selvedge jeans at half the price you’d pay elsewhere. Cue a subsequent expan- sion into the US; in 2011, Uniqlo opened a new flagship store, which is the largest retailer on 5th Avenue. Jeans from around $40 (NOK220). 666 5th Avenue at 53rd Street, www.uniqlo.com/us

Levi’s German immigrant Levi Strauss invented blue jeans in 1873 in San Francisco. It’s still one of the few denim brands where you can easily kit out your whole family without breaking the bank. Jeans from around $55 (NOK310). 25 West 14th Street, us.levi.com


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