Red hot and blue: Scott Morrison has the luxury denim market all sewn up
To create one cult denim brand might be considered good fortune, to repeat the trick – as Earnest Sewn's Scott Morrison has done – is surely jeans genius
Sunday 06 July 2008
Most people can only dream of creating a cult clothing brand. At 35 years old, Scott Morrison already has two to his name. Not content with co-founding Paper, Denim & Cloth – the must-have denim label of the early noughties and the prototype of the now ubiquitous high-end fashion jean – it wasn't long before Morrison began chasing the next Next Big Thing. Now it seems he has found it in the shape of his latest offering, Earnest Sewn.
Describing itself as the world's first luxury denim line, Morrison's designs are fast eclipsing the J-Brands and Cheap Mondays of this world to become the thinking fashionista's brand of choice. A huge celebrity following at the hipper end of the Hollywood star spectrum (featuring Kirsten Dunst, Natalie Portman and Sienna Miller among the girls and Jake Gyllenhall and Orlando Bloom among the boys), has sealed the status of Earnest Sewn jeans as the off-duty uniform of the quietly stylish.
At a time when a quick inspection of the denim ranges on offer in any department store reveals an overwhelming array of options all tipping the £100 and even £200 price point, it might be easy to conclude that the market is already awash with "luxury" jeans. But with his "sewn in earnest" philosophy that avoids assembly-line manufacture, Morrison hopes to demonstrate that there's an awful lot more to luxury than whacking a fancy label on to thousands of identically reproduced garments.
And it seems his strategy is paying off. By September, Morrison will have increased the number of US Earnest Sewn stores to four, all occupying New York and LA's trendiest locales. So well researched are Earnest Sewn's retail outlets, in fact, that each store has been custom-built to provide something that Morrison feels is lacking in the area that surrounds them: for example, one New York store features an espresso bar while the other one has a florist.
In the UK, it's the calibre of Earnest Sewn's stockists that is testament to the brand's growing style cachet. Browns, Net-a-porter, Urban Outfitters and east London's trend-setting Start boutique are just a few of the outlets to have snapped up Morrison's collections. Tie-ins with other brands – such as cool French shoemaker Repetto and Santa Maria Novella beauty products – have re-inforced Earnest Sewn's credibility as a niche brand for those in the know.
All of which is not bad going for a man who claims never to have been particularly interested in jeans. "I was more into the idea of creating a sportswear range," confesses the California-born business graduate who very nearly bypassed the world of fashion to become a professional golfer. Yet, even if Morrison's passion is not for denim per se, his enthusiasm for quality and crafts-manship in clothing is obvious and almost certainly accounts for his success.
If Paper, Denim & Cloth was, according to Morrison, all about reviving the somewhat stale American jeans landscape to produce sexier, trend-led styles to rival emerging European brands such as Diesel, Earnest Sewn represents an entirely new direction in the denim market, and indeed in current fashion and design more generally.
"When I left Paper two years ago I had no idea what the new range would be like," he explains. "But as soon as I started to look around I felt there had been a real shift in what people were looking for in all aspects of their lives, right down to their clothing. Perhaps it's the post-9/11 world but everyone began to want things that were simple and honest and made sense."
Morrison translated his conclusions into the basic Earnest Sewn principles of quality, integrity and tradition that guide every aspect of the brand. At its heart is a return to the manufacturing processes of vintage American denim, a labour-intensive enterprise with a slender profit margin that Morrison admits could never be a recipe for getting rich quickly.
"We are completely unique in that on average only three pairs of hands touch each pair of jeans in the production," he says. "With another brand you'd be looking at more like 70 pairs of hands. There's a much greater sense of ownership; we stand behind our products in the way that has been lost by most brands."
With twice as many stitches per inch than almost any other brand, these are jeans that really are built to last and, unlike other top-price labels, the painstaking production process goes a long way to justifying the £150 or thereabouts that prospective buyers can expect to have to splash out on a pair.
Likewise, the use of hand-finishing techniques over mechanical operations means that sewers learn to value rather than eliminate any irregularities there may be in the cloth, making a virtue of the fact that no two pairs are quite the same.
In aesthetic terms, Morrison has revisited classic American five-pocket styles for inspiration. While he is adamant that faddy throwaway fashions are no longer what drive savvy consumers, his designs are always a nod to the silhouette of the season (see above for this year's crop). For women, narrow cigarette styles such as the Harlan have been an ongoing success, while new wider, higher-waisted fits that were designed with British customers in mind are also proving popular this summer.
So what does this denim savant think the future holds? "I think that the way people buy and wear clothes in general has and will continue to change. The desire for what is simply 'new' is no longer there – things needs more substance than that."
The skinny on Earnest Sewn jeans
Great staple skinny-fit in classic storm-blue denim, much beloved of Sienna and the Olsen twins. About £165
2. Cropped Zazo
The high-waist cropped length is perfect for working this summer's rockabilly looks. Tuck in your top for best effect. About £149.50
Many of us will be thanking heaven for the return of forgiving wide-leg styles. The ES version comes in a very of-the-moment pale wash. About £165
For the lithest of limb, these itsy-bitsy shorts will look great dressed down with flat gladiator sandals. About £135
Tried-and-tested flattering narrow boot-cut in a colour that looks like you've been wearing them for the past 10 years – the holy grail of denim washes. About £165
Available from Harvey Nichols (www.harveynichols.com), Net-a-porter.com and Start (www.start-london.com). See the current Start summer sale for good reductions
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