Designer denim is a funny thing. When done ‘right’ it’s a licence to print money - almost literally as its production is often licensed to a brand by a subcontractor - a practice which can lead to overpriced, identikit designs which are sometimes produced under questionable labour and environmental practices. So all in all, pretty wrong.
But the inexorable rise of denim as an everyday item, means that, today, blue jeans are a worldwide wardrobe staple. The fabric most of us take for granted can be traced back to the rough sturdy fabric favoured by French sailors, via the workwear of the American agricultural revolution and the selvedge of Japan. So how has it become so homogenised?
It wasn’t ever thus. Crowds of clones clad in skinny or faux-distressed denim are a relatively new phenomenon, as is the acceptability of denim at almost every social occasion (the red carpet remains largely off limits, lest we forget Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake’s double denim disaster at the American Music Awards way back when in 2001). But as democratic fashion items go, denim is the leader - not least because it can be produced on an industrial scale with relatively slow-moving trends making it a particularly fruitful investment.
But when it comes to the denim of Faustine Steinmetz, you need to forget everything you think you know. Steinmetz began her label with a single loom, hand-weaving items out of recycled denim and experimenting every step of the way. In her dextrous hands the humble fabric is elevated, often beyond recognition.
For A/W 17, the designer returned to a familiar presentation format, with models in stark white boxes showing full looks or crops of single garments, better to focus on the handicraft of the items. It also afforded her the opportunity to explain just what goes into her denim in terms of manhours and material. A clever way to explain the ‘couture’ aspect of her work, and in stark contrast to the hidden practices of the manufacturing giants. Mass denim production is one of the most resource-intense, polluting practices in fashion, so more power to those who question the status quo and can help educate shoppers.
This season Steinmetz was inspired by the global reach of the fabric of her passion, and the different ways it is worked with and worn around the world. And so we saw shibori and tie-dye, shredded, and diamante crystal-clad versions of the quotidian, inspired by discovered pieces from Tel Aviv, Bogota, Seattle and Vancouver.
She set out to create a ‘textile study’ and the technique showcased was certainly impressive, but there was much that was wearable here too, including Steinmetz’ designs for men. From a thick spongy denim pencil skirt, high waisted in a mid-wash blue worn with a collarless white shirt and exaggerated white belt emblazoned with ‘steinmetz’, to a mid-calf length puffer jacket, its over-inflated tubular quilting a clever take on a trend we’ve seen elsewhere this season. The crystal-embellished pieces were a masterful combination of the tough and the delicate, while a looped thread technique created a striped effect on a two-piece denim suit. This is what London designers can do so well - channel clever creativity and skill to create something impactful and important. Long may it continue.