Denim and trend specialist Sue Barrett has used her time in lockdown creatively, inviting her denim community friends to reflect on the industry and share stories of their favorite vintage garments.
In the midst of the bleakness and trauma brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown has forced members of the industry to slow down and shift the focus of their creativity. Spending more time at home has inspired some of us to rummage through our wardrobes, unearthing long lost pieces and, hopefully, falling in love with them again. With this in mind, London-based denim guru and trend forecaster Sue Barrett – co-founder of Denim Forum and Address the Future – virtually gathered some of her friends in the denim community, asking them to share their love for specific denim pieces and suggest how they might improve them for today.
Said Barrett about her far-reaching body of denim work, The Lockdown Nostalgia Project: “As we all know, denim is more than just a fabric. Denim is the much loved, unique canvas that captures marks and memories of good times and bad. I wanted to connect with the currently housebound indigo hearts of the denim brotherhood I’ve had the privilege of knowing, and invite them to revisit some of their denim highlights.”
Here, an edit from the project, presenting five denim experts and their most treasured pieces (part two to follow):
Malin Ekengren, Head of Denim, Stella McCartney, London
"The commercial denim industry of the early ’00s was all about stretch, bad crosshatch twills and fancy details. I hid from that world by immersing myself in vintage denim and the history of Levi Strauss, where I worked at the time as senior designer. This pair of Levi’s Orange tab jeans I maybe picked up in Tokyo or most likely at the Rosebowl in LA. It has the perfect hazy worn blue denim shade that only the Orange tab fabric fades to. I tailored the jean to my desired fit and wore it to shreds, mending and patching it up as I went along. It lived through all my past Levi’s work travels across the US, Asia and Europe; it has seen seedy Tokyo bars and celebrated best friends’ birthdays and weddings. It’s a trusted pair but also the most ripped! It being vintage reflects my own personal style at the time, although they have been tailored to be slimmer and with a lower waist.
Malin Ekengren's patched-up jeans
I wish the look/construction and shade of this fabric could be recreated but with a modern natural stretch fabric that would last until it’s composted.
My love for shredded, patched-up vintage denim has become more refined over the years – I now prefer cleaner pieces that are lovingly hand-worked, appliquéd and mended rather than just quickly patched and worn. I think I was always in a rush back then, content with a bit of a Frankenstein jean. Nowadays I can hold on to a jean for a long time before deciding what to do with it, or end up keeping it for a special project or client."
Miles Johnson, Creative Director, Worcester, UK
Miles Johnson in his favorite jacket
"This jacket was reluctantly given to me by my good friend Ben Phillips, when we were working together for Levi Strauss and spending a week in Las Vegas at Magic tradeshow. Ben had been sourcing old jackets – in denim, canvas and twill in reasonable condition to which to apply prints and embroideries, or cut up and customize. When he showed me this jacket, I just knew it needed to come home with me. Jackets like this one are hard to find, especially since it’s old and hardly worn, and with a strong indigo shade.
Miles Johnson's treasured vintage jacket
It’s an obvious workwear jacket. You can tell it’s likely to be from the 1940’s because of the laurel leaf doughnut button down the centre front and cuff. There is a beauty to how basic and simple the construction of workwear can be and is highlighted by the square, boxy form and how efficient a pattern like this would have been when tough fabric was hard to come by at a good price. So, not wasting any of the denim and keeping it as boxy as possible would have been a function over form decision made.
If I were to improve the fabric, I’d perhaps just add a little character to the surface of the denim and make the weave slightly more compact, so it’s not quite as floppy. I’d increase the weight to a 9oz, up from what I think is more of an 8oz."
Ebru Debbag, Executive Director of Global Sales + Marketing, Soorty Enterprises, Istanbul
"I found this jacket on a rainy winter day at Portobello Market while on a treasure hunt with Sue Barrett. It caught my attention as soon as we started browsing the first rack of vintage blues. The price tag was above my budget but with a denimhead as a shopping partner, there was not much to discourage me from buying it as a gift to self. It has all the perfect indigo rainbow shades, with artisan mending-patches of dark and medium yarn-dyed fabric pieces. The main body is crafted from a clean, open twill and the purple shade has washed out beautifully. I rarely find vintage pieces that fit me perfectly, but this one was as if tailored for me.
Love at first sight – Ebru Debbag's Portobello Market find
The wooden buttons and the shape of the collar make it suitable as a shirt in winter and a jacket during the warmer months. The fabric feels amazingly soft – as in the case of most worn-in pieces – but it’s probably durable enough to wear for years to come. I’ve added some stitches at the hems to give a cleaner look, and I’ve made sure not to wash it too often.
I’ve used the colors as inspiration at Soorty and we’ve developed a deep dark yarn-dyed shirting weight fabric inspired by the mending pieces. If I were to redevelop the main fabric, I’d add some slubs in the weft just to liven it up a little."
Johan Söderlund, Denim Creative Consultant, Gotland, Sweden
"I could go on listing favorite fabrics for the rest of the week, but decided to focus on a fabric that I was not involved in developing, but love dearly – Levi’s Shrink-To-Fit 01. The year was 1992. I was working in Stockholm at the time, and we were affected by the horrible Balkan war, which dominated the news. The economy was recovering from the 1990s recession and the grunge scene was exploding globally with Nirvana at the helm. The Denim business was booming. It was the era of the big brands, and there was also a small but growing premium market. The Japanese quality boom had not yet reached Europe; Levi’s was huge, and it was a big event every time a new campaign was released.
Johan Söderlund's vintage treasure
At the time, hardly anyone wore unwashed jeans, so the 501 unwashed Shrink-to-Fit was not sold in your average jean store. The worn-in jean in the picture is actually my very first Shrink-to-fit 501 garment. The fabric was unsanforized and had an approximate shrinkage of 10%. It was only used for the 501 fit, at a weight of 14 ½ Oz. Made by Cone Mills in North Carolina and woven on modern full-width looms, the fabric was non-selvedge."
Piero Turk, Denim Consultant, Treviso, Italy
"When I was about nine years old, an old a friend of my father’s went to the US to see some emigrated relatives. She came back with two pairs of jeans, one for me and one for my brother. I was so happy to receive them; it made me feel 'exclusive' as jeans were not popular or easy to come by in Italy at the time.
Piero Turk's favourite piece from his childhood
I remember the style but not the brand – it was a dungaree pant made from a 2x1 twill with grey weft. It had internal knee patches glued on as reinforcement. They were raw, very rigid and stiff – and very long. Our mother had to roll them up for us. They were much too big for me, so I was able to wear them for many years. The day I grew out of them was a sad day. I still remember the scars, holes and spots that appeared in the fabric over the years – my boyhood was imprinted on that pant."