No other material has been as iconically revolutionary as denim. Every fashion designer has incorporated the fabric to their aesthetic in one way or another. Yves Saint Laurent has famously revealed, “I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes.”
Today, young British designers are pushing the boundaries with denim. What you see is not necessarily what you get. The wardrobe staple that has democratized fashion and made it available for the mass has been remade into something more special, luxurious, and totally unique. It’s all in the details.
One of the most dynamic designers reinterpreting denim are Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida, the duo behind the womenswear label Marques’ Almeida. The twosome, both from Portugal, met while studying in Fashion School in Portugal. Upon moving to London, the young designers got experience at Vivienne Westwood (Marta) and Preen (Paulo). They then enrolled themselves in the Fashion MA at Centrail Saint Martins under the hand of the great Professor OBE Louise Wilson. The designers have made a name for themselves through their unfussy 90’s inspired separates, presented in shocking colors like fuchsia, lime, and orange, and their original treatment of denim. From hooded parkas to boyfriend jeans, there isn’t anything that they haven’t frayed to perfection. They’re one of many designers who are making worn-out, deconstructed, distressed fashion covetable. It’s safe to say that they both subscribed to the Helmut Lang school of thought, “fashion is about attitude, not hemlines”. The best part about their designs is that they look as good in a full-look or mixed in with your old sneakers, plain cotton t-shirts, and precious vintage finds. It’s not surprising then, that the Newgen-supported designers won the Emerging Womenswear Designer Award at the British Fashion Awards in 2014. This award recognized their innovative work as a growing force in British Womenswear.
The latest Marques Almeida campaign, created in collaboration with ShowStudio is the perfect contrast to the array of overtly-edited, photo shopped, polished fashion campaigns. Like everything they do, they went against conventional fashion, and offered something more undone, handcrafted, and relatable.The creative responsibility was given to the young studio team, the same crew that stitched the collection together, and they were asked to follow their instincts. Their latest collection, inspired by Corinne Day photo-shoots in the 90’s, was a mishmash of rich and raw fabrics. Brocade was introduced alongside denim and created a colorful juxtaposition against blue, red, and apple green denim . Magazines like The Face offered insight into the styling of the 90s. Marques’ little sister Sophia has always been a constant source of inspiration. It’s refreshing to find designers who, instead of redefining themselves season after season, recreate what they’re best at.
Another British-based brand taking London fashion by storm is Faustine Steinmetz. The Parisian born Steinmetz uses her East London studio to spin, dye, and weave all of her own fabrics. The designer began her studies at Atelier Chardon Savard in Paris before moving to London to complete her MA in fashion under the guidance of Professor OBE Louise Wilson at Central Saint Martins as well. It’s about reproducing iconic pieces, ones that everyone has bundled up somewhere at the back of their wardrobe, except they produce it by hand. Each piece is meticulously made, some even taking over a week to create, but they never look too perfect. After working for designers like Jeremy Scott and Henrik Vibskov, Faustine set up her label in 2013. Everything is made with the belief of craftsmanship over trend. Think of her pair of jeans as a couture dress made entirely by hand. Looking at the design process of the pieces is absolutely mind-blowing. Hand weaving to hand panting to hand knotting (don’t forget hand shredding). Everything is woven on large wooden floor looms which is made up of alternating shafts that you can control by pedals (no advanced technology here). Small chunks of yarn are then dyed (individually) and then left out to dry in the sun. The whole process begins again and is repeated about five times. The denim she uses is recycling denim that is re-felted. Even the label is written on by hand. Like couture, not everyone will be able to get their hands on her pieces, as only a few are made.
When it comes to menswear, James Long is a name to keep on your radar. The designer truanted at the Royal College of Art with an MA degree in Menswear and Accessories. His fan base ranges from Another Man Creative Director Alistar Mackie to GQ Style Creative Director Lucas Ossendrijver. Not only has he received the first Newgen award but The British Fashion Council has also recently awarded the designer with the Fashion Forward Sponsorship. The press have notably called him “one of London’s promising menswear designers”. His consumer is not afraid to mix it up, combining various materials (such as leather, embroidery, embellishment) with denim through patchwork. Long puts it perfectly when he said to GQ, “with menswear, it’s not a case of being boring. It’s about getting the right amount of boundary pushing with the right amount of commercialist”. The designer has also revealed that he aims to design clothes that are treasured and worn forever. The menswear was so desirable that the designer went on to create what is now an equally successful womenswear line.
The reason why these designers are so appreciated today is because of their artisanal approach to fashion. In an industry that is fixated on changing trends and over-consumption, it becomes refreshing to find creatives who are celebrating true craftsmanship with timeless pieces that go beyond seasons. It becomes even more noteworthy when the designers are doing so with denim, the material with the largest environmental footprint, and the garment we cannot seem to stop buying …