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Year in Rewind: Denim in Pop Culture

From hip-hop to James Dean’s jeans, denim is intrinsically linked to the arts and pop culture.

In 2017, denim brands and mills used that connection to their full advantage through special projects and collaborations that generated social media buzz and interest from consumers.

Under the influence of celebrities

Celebrity advertising is older than blue jeans, but the marketing technique is still effective. Famous faces were at the helm of some of the most popular denim marketing campaigns in 2017.

Celebrities flocked to take part in Levi’s celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Trucker Jacket in October. Chance the Rapper, Solange, Snoop Dogg, Diplo, Karlie Kloss and Justin Timberlake were among the 50 collaborators the brand tapped to design one-of-a-kind versions of the iconic jean jacket.

At 48-years-old, actress-musician Jennifer Lopez proved that Guess girls come in all ages. In November, the company revealed a first look at Lopez’s turn as the face and body of the brand in a Spring ’18 campaign that evokes classic Guess ads from the past. Lopez replaces 21-year-old model and social media influencer Hailey Baldwin, who has recently starred in a string of Guess campaigns.

Everything from the ’90s is cool again, even Cindy Crawford. The 51-year-old supermodel—and mom to It girl Kaia Gerber—partnered with Re/Done for a capsule collection that tees, sweatshirts and straight leg jeans constructed from vintage Levi’s denim. The designs were inspired by Crawford’s favorite pair from the ’90s.

Gap brought icon Cher and rapper Future together for an unlikely duo to promote the brand’s fall denim collection. The positive campaign celebrates what can be created when people connect and discover they have more in common than what divides them.

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DL1961 followed up its 2016 collaboration with actress and entrepreneur Jessica Alba with a Fall ’17 and Spring ’18 print and digital marketing initiative starring model Emily Ratajkowski. The fall campaign was shot at New York City’s Plaza Hotel and shows Ratajkowski soaking in a tub dressed in DL’s black zipper skirt and walking the halls in a denim jumpsuit.

Calvin Klein tapped musician and visual artist Solange and her curated troop of artists to kick-off a Fall ’17 campaign centered around all types of families. The “Our Family. #MYCALVINS” storyline will continue into Spring ’18. Rapper A$AP Rocky and his hip-hop crew appeared in the second installment of the campaign. The brand also inked a deal with Paris Jackson, though it has yet to reveal how the company will be incorporating the famous offspring in marketing initiatives.

A$AP Rocky did double denim duty this year. The musician collaborated with Guess for the launch of Guess Originals, a capsule collection focused on throwback styles from the ’90s. The collection’s light blue acid washes, bomber jackets and crop top logo tees helped boost Guess’ profile among Gen Z consumers.

Museum-quality denim

Denim increasingly serves as a canvas for designers, artists and museums.

With nicknames like “Master of Denim” and the “Jean Genie,” British artist Ian Berry garnered attention from the denim and art communities for his denim masterpieces in 2017. Berry brought his collection to the inaugural New York Denim Days, where he left legendary denim gurus in awe of his photorealistic images made by piecing together different colors and washes of denim. The result are detailed murals brought to life through Berry’s attention to shading and depth.

Wrangler supplied denim for 50 Shades of Blue, an exhibit at the Greensboro, North Carolina Cultural Center featuring more than 80 pieces of art incorporating re-purposed denim. Denim featured in the exhibition ranged from sculptural pieces to wearable art. “We’re glad to see the denim used in these creative ways, as we continue to find new ways to recycle, up-cycle and find new uses for the denim and fabrics we test,” said Steve Wyrick, Wrangler’s wet processing manager.

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Calik invited 30 international designers to take part in Denim Love Art, a traveling exhibit of artwork, furniture and avant-garde apparel made with the mill’s denim. Calik general manager Hamit Yenici said working with denim challenged the artists’ perceptions of the fabric.

Levi’s landed in the New York City institution, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), in 2017. The brand’s 501 jeans made an appearance in the museum’s exhibit, “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” The exhibit featured 111 items of clothing, accessories and more that have had a worldwide impact on fashion in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Other types of denim art are wearable. Denimrush made a colorful splash at New York Denim Days in September with a line of hand-painted jean jackets. Founded by retail design consultant Aparna Avasarala, the line plays with how paint and colors react to denim’s unique texture.

Street art and denim proved to be a natural fit. Street artist Felipe Pantone created a capsule collection for River Island featuring his ’80s inspired artwork. Pantone told Rivet, “Taking a classic piece and applying modern art and printing techniques turns the traditional aesthetic on its head.”

Denim caught on film

A series of documentaries and videos in 2017 pulled back the curtain on the denim industry.

Released in April, Blue Gold: American Jeans followed jeans hunter Eric Schrader’s journey around the world as he searches for prized vintage denim pieces. The two-hour documentary examines denim’s history in pop culture and subcultures and includes denim commentary from designer Tommy Hilfiger.

Lenzing marked the 25th anniversary of Tencel with a YouTube video chronicling the history of the fiber. In the video, CEO of Genious Group Adriano Goldschmied said, “Tencel has been able to open the minds of designers. We could design things which were previously impossible to design.”

The documentary Weaving Shibusa launched on the video sharing platform Vimeo in the summer. The film visits old mills, vintage stores and interviews Japanese denim legends like Yutaka Fujihara and Mikiharu Tsujita.

Meanwhile Hudson Jeans went to the movies in 2017. The denim brand launched a capsule collection in March with Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures for the release dystopian film Ghost in the Shell. Inspired by the movie, the collection offered 22 women’s and men’s pieces, including distressed denim, military cargo pants and bomber jackets.