Jean genies

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Once the roughly hewn uniform of cowboys, the appetite for premium denim shows no signs of abating, says Rebecca Gonsalves

A pair of jeans has long been one of the great equalisers of the Western world, worn by rock stars, Hollywood A-listers and regular folk alike. But now that a premium pair leaves your wallet a few hundred pounds lighter, why hasn't the bottom fallen out of the market?

It all began in the Fifties. After a century cladding the legs of cowboys, denim was embraced by the teenagers emerging in post-war America. Marlon Brando's rebellious turn, sporting jeans and a leather jacket, in The Wild One, spurred them on and remains a defining image of that era.

By the late Seventies, jeans had passed from subversive to standard attire and were likely to fit into certain criteria: denim was blue – possibly stonewashed if the wearer considered themselves trendy – and not particularly well-fitted or flattering; and, above all, American-made and inexpensive. In the early Eighties, designer denim courtesy of Calvin Klein, Guess and Gloria Vanderbilt elevated jeans to a status symbol, though a relatively affordable one at that.

While the comparatively refined fabric we know as denim today is a world away from the rough utilitarian cloth of 60 years ago, some things never change and our dependence on jeans continues to grow as retailers report a seemingly insatiable appetite for premium jeans with a premium price tag to match. Although a steady stream of new names launches on to the market every season, there are still a few that hold the top spots. Hudson, J Brand and Current/Elliott have successfully bridged the gap between fashion, comfort and utility.

Founded in 2002 by Los Angeles native Peter Kim, Hudson aims to blend Cool Britannia with the free spirit of LA – and the cachet of celebrity fans and a campaign fronted by Georgia May Jagger. "We believe that when you look good, you feel good," Kim says. "And when you feel good, you can do and be anything you want."

"Hudson was born in the early years of Californian premium denim," explains Ben Taverniti, the brand's creative director. "Denim had been around for quite some time but premium denim was very new at that time. When designing, our golden rule is 'fit, fit, fit'. Perfect fit can only be achieved when design, production and, most importantly, love are combined with a highly trained group of individuals who are passionate about what they do."

If for such a practical product this approach seems rather esoteric, it has at least resulted in a brand renowned for quality: "Fit, flattering cut, longevity and fashion are all important when creating the perfect pair of jeans – quality and comfort as well as the right fashion."

Although boyfriend-fit, skinny and straight styles in blue and black denim are the workhorses of these brands' collections, it is the fashion-forward and more frivolous styles that help to cement their place at the top. For Hudson, the Leeloo, available in a range of colours with a contrasting tuxedo stripe down the side, is a prime example of a trend-led take on a classic product.

"This year has seen our contemporary-denim business grow rapidly," says Gary Edgley, buying manager for women's contemporary- and casualwear at Selfridges. "Over the past few seasons, it's been really interesting to see the shift in popularity of different aesthetics. Denim is one of those categories which can be really indicative of the wider fashion market. There was this huge boom in 'it-jeans' which were focused on print or even which were more pants than jeans – think J Brand's Houlihan [a skinny-fit cargo pant that became the 'it-trouser' of 2010]. Now, it's much more about a return to true denim."

When jeans are a staple of casual, office and evening attire, there are shopper who feel a £200-plus price tag can be justified. Those who subscribe to the cost-per-wear school of shopping would see the benefit of investing in longevity through quality. Edgley agrees: "With premium denim in particular, which inevitably is seen much more as an investment, the most important thing is always fit – closely followed by fabric quality and longevity. It's so important for jeans to retain their shape and not loosen over time, which is one of the most common problems with cheap denim."

Whether patterned or plain, American brands retain something of an advantage in the market. "The majority of our bestselling brands are LA-based at the moment, and have been for some time," Edgley confirms. One of the newest lines picked up by the department store is Koral Los Angeles – a project led by Peter Koral, the man credited with starting the tidal wave of LA labels when he co-founded 7 For All Mankind in 2000. Seven years later, he sold it for a reported $775m, so understands the market potential. According to Edgley, the selling point of Koral's new line is the quality of the fabrics and a variation of washes that ranges from raw denim to "36 months", which is hand-processed to resemble the natural wear of a three-year-old pair of jeans.

Mother is another label with roots in 7 For All Mankind – co-founder Tim Kaeding cut his teeth there before teaming up with a former rival, Lela Tillem Becker, two years ago. "With our rich past in denim, we were looking for an outlet to expand on some of the ideas and inspirations that weren't always appropriate in the past," the pair say. "Mother is our vehicle for exploring more fantastic ideas without the constraints of corporate direction. We don't conform to any ethos or archetypes of 'premium denim'; we're free to be as creative as possible."

Almost 60 years after Brando starred in The Wild One, a celebrity sporting a certain style is still enough to send pairs flying off the shelves, though nowadays it is more often a star off duty. With the lure of dressing like an A-lister every day, no wonder premium denim is going stratospheric.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / Analyst (CIMA finalist/newly qualified)

    £32000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / F...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - .NET

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of a mark...

    Recruitment Genius: Help Desk Specialist

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides Reliabili...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Managing Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor