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This New York Denim Legend is Revisiting His Streetwear Roots

Maurice Malone is on a denim journey.

As the owner and designer of the Brooklyn-based manufacturer, retailer and denim brand Williamsburg Garment Company (WGC), Malone caters to the borough’s hipsters with raw denim and heritage-inspired designs. It is a business that seems lightyears away from his start in the ’80s designing urban denim before labels like Sean John and Rocawear made baggy jeans the de facto uniform of hip-hop artists and the youth that followed around the world.

Now, Malone is exploring his roots again with an eponymous new brand, Maurice Malone. Whereas WGC is basic, clean and meant to be a reliable source of quality denim essentials, Malone says the Maurice Malone brand focuses on fashion and creative exploration, intended to evolve every season with fresh ideas and concepts.

“The two brands may have some cross-over customers, but a lot of WGC’s consumer base wouldn’t have an interest in the MM brand,” he said. “It can too forward.”

The collection lands just as nostalgic labels relaunch and brands re-issue throwback styles or dabble in streetwear fare, but that wasn’t the spark that lit the fire. “I didn’t relaunch the brand to jump on the train of the recent ’90s nostalgia trends,” Malone said. “I did it because I felt the time was right.”

Seeing streetwear’s impact on the luxury and designer sectors, and watching his favorite designers like Jerry Lorenzo of Fear of God and Virgil Abloh of Off-White ascend the fashion ranks, Malone said he was inspired by how the market is welcoming designers with a strong history in the hip-hop community, he said.

“I believe the streets need me,” Malone said. “I’m getting back in streetwear to remind people about the power and appeal of good product, hoping to enable the dog to wag its tail again.”

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And it is his understanding of denim that has led him to one of his most creative lines—a collaboration with artisan Arimatsu Shibori-Some. Part of the Maurice Malone brand, the line of denim includes jeans made with selvedge fabric tie-dyed in Japan and shipped to Brooklyn for sewing. The made-to-order garments feature rippling wave and cross-hatch dye effects.

Shibori jeans by Maurice Malone
Shibori jeans by Maurice Malone Courtesy

Other pieces in the Maurice Malone collection include logo tees and jeans trimmed with branded tapping.

Malone launched the brand in August at Liberty Fairs in Las Vegas. The Spring/Summer 2020 collection spans more than 40 styles, from tops to bottoms. The men’s jean fits comprise a skinny, slim tapered, slim and straight. For women’s denim, the brand offers relaxed and slim-straight fits. Retail prices for basic twill jeans start at $185; selvedge jeans start at $280.

Retailers are gravitating to the shibori collection, but with retail prices capping off at $1,120 for the shibori garments, Malone says accessibility—even for luxury designer specialty stores—is an issue.

“We want a wide and varied consumer base,” Malone said. “The mass-market-priced buyers loved the jeans but were intimidated by the price point. We are working on solutions to create a more affordable version of the jeans without compromising the original handmade versions. Overall, people were happy to see Maurice Malone is back.”

Here, Malone shares with Rivet how the shibori collection was born and why after all these years, he’s still tied to denim.

Rivet: Why was a collaboration with Arimatsu Shibori-Some a good match for you?

MM: The collaboration with Arimatsu Shibori-Some came about from a desire to introduce a new and creative technique to denim. In our first meeting, I saw textured fabrics and scarves that I thought were really creative, but I needed time to think about how we could collaborate.

I saw shibori clothing before, but it all looked elementary to what I witnessed Arimatsu could do. I thought if we were going to do something, it had to be very special. Arimatsu came in to collaborate with Williamsburg Garment Company because of the American made aspect. However, after some thought, I came to the conclusion that it would be better suited for the Maurice Malone brand because I had already been modernizing iconic styles for its relaunch. I thought as an addition, the shibori fit perfectly into what the brand is revered for—introducing new and unique ideas.

One of the things that struck me about shibori is the nearly identical repeating patterns made by hand. I thought it was great, but I feared the consumer might not appreciate the art if it looked like a print. So, I expressed that the key would be to come up with something beautiful but not repetitious.

Rivet: Is the collaboration with Arimatsu Shibori-Some a long-term collaboration?

MM: Perhaps, it is hard to say for sure right now. We will see how the collection is received and work from there. For now, we are only at step one of the process. The textured shibori was most interesting to me, but we did not explore that this first time around. Who knows, we may wander into that.

Shibori jeans by Maurice Malone
Shibori jeans by Maurice Malone Courtesy

Rivet: What gap do you aim to fill in the market with this collection?

MM: I believe there’s a space for great denim in streetwear where craftsmanship has all but disappeared and given way new brands still learning their way around. I’m confident I can make denim more relevant in streetwear through creativity, quality, and well-disciplined design. I plan to be in a space, touching the very high-end consumer as well as those in the middle seeking the best product.

Rivet: Do you think streetwear’s influence on luxury fashion has staying power? 

MM: Early in my fashion career, rock ‘n’ roll was the choice music genre of those in power, while hip-hop was frowned upon. Hip-hop is currently the predominant choice of music in streetwear. The kids today are growing up on the influence of hip-hop, and because music is intrinsic to fashion and culture, I see no change in the near future.

Rivet: What is exciting you the most about denim in fashion?

MM: Denim allows for endless possibilities. We can manipulate the material in countless ways and countless permutations. Straight off the roll, denim is available in all types of weights and personalities. We can blend it with different yarns and materials, use it in its raw form, bleach it, dye it, destroy it, distress it, etc. This potential allows for untethered and boundless expression and exploration.