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Off the Cuff: 3×1 Founder Scott Morrison on Bespoke Denim

Despite his ability to create and lead top denim labels to success, you can’t describe 3×1 founder Scott Morrison as a control freak. Instead, Morrison is a freak about denim and he shares that passion with other denim aficionados, fashion girls, professional athletes, and the like, through 3×1.

After establishing Paper Denim & Cloth in 1999, followed by Earnest Sewn in 2004 and directing the re-branding of Evisu in 2009, Morrison launched 3×1 in 2011, a high-end, Made-in-USA concept centered on limited-edition, custom and bespoke denim. Meaning anyone can play designer and create their own jeans, albeit jeans that start around $1,200.

Morrison considers denim a blank canvas. “It’s a product that almost everyone is intimately familiar with, so there’s a simplicity to it,” he said. “You start the process of building your jean, selecting all the details, and in essence have the opportunity to make it your own.”

The crown jewel in 3×1’s collection is its Mercer Street boutique-meets-factory. Stocked with 460 denim fabrics sourced from the top mills in the world and all of the finishing touches that help make each pair of bespoke jeans a true treasure, the store is a homage to Morrison’s love for rare and selvedge denim. And this summer, he’s taking the experience to Southampton with a pop-up shop located in tony yet stylish New York retreat.

Rivet caught up with Morrison, who shared some of the most memorable designs to cross his path since opening 3×1’s Mercer Street store, and how bespoke denim has come a long way since the days of soaking jeans in the tub.

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Rivet: What have been some of the highlights since opening the Mercer Street location?
Morrison: I think the best part has been proving the concept. Creating a vehicle to talk about denim, introduce the world to something you love and enjoy—that’s probably the most rewarding part.

Some notable highlights have been getting a chance to interact with some really interesting people, not just the Thomas Keller’s, or the Jack Dorsey’s, or the Tony Parker’s of the world, but meeting with people like Andrew Pullman, who loves and appreciates denim in a way that only a designer really could or would. The chance to collaborate with brands like Nike, or Maiyet, or Cadillac—that’s incredibly fun and rewarding. It’s also been great to see how we adapted the business to the changes in the market and in the process made an impact on the way people see and think about denim.

Rivet: What have been some of the more memorable custom orders?
Morrison: Every week we have few standouts, but I tend to remember the clients who are a bit more discerning, or introduce us to something new that maybe we hadn’t considered.

As an example, we’ve had a number of customers who’ve asked to turn their jeans inside out—i.e. wear them with the weft yarns exposed, and the warp facing on the inside. At first it seems like a strange request, but when you see the denim they’re selecting, in the first case I remember, a red colored fill/weft yarn, it makes perfect sense. What’s the point of customizing something if you can’t make it your own?

Rivet: What’s the clientele for custom denim like?
Morrison: Our clientele is as diverse as it gets, I have no doubt. We cater equally to denim lovers and enthusiasts, to designers and creative types, as well as finance guys and fashion girls. Age isn’t a factor at all, and what we’ve found is that quality, service and experience are the thread that weaves all these clients together.

Rivet: Does it skew male or female?
Morrison: We’re really seeing a lot of women coming in over the past year, much more so than in our first couple years. Custom-made and bespoke are still concepts that seem to resonate more with our guys, but there’s still hope for our girls. Just this morning we had [French photographer and fashion blogger] Garance Doré in for a custom appointment.

Rivet: What is the next jean silhouette to watch?
Morrison: Flares for the ladies, and bit more of a full silhouette for men. Again, it’s hard to tear anyone away from slimmer skinny jeans, but it’s starting to happen.

Rivet: Describe your dream pair of jeans, or have you already made them?
Morrison: Yes, I have—several times. My favorite jean is probably our xx60 greencaste denim from Kurabo, in our M3 fit. Back pocket #21, Red-Orange and Egyptian Topaz thread theory, and Distressed Black hardware. No rivets on the front pocket openings.

Rivet: Which jeans in your closet are currently getting the most wear?
Morrison: I’ve tried to embrace a washed pair of our M3 jeans, called Pine. It’s based on one of my vintage garments, and I love it. Candidly, it’s probably the jean I’m wearing most these days.

Rivet: What is your first denim memory?
Morrison: My mom taking me into Miller’s Outpost [a Southern California denim chain] when I was probably 5-years-old, and buying a pair of shrink to fit Levi’s 501. That trip was quickly followed up by a long soak in the bathtub at home, where my cardboard-feeling jeans turned the bathwater blue, and through what could only be explained as ‘magic’ at the time, the next day they miraculously fit—or at least quite a bit better than in the store. We’ve come quite a ways in 30-plus years!

Rivet: Sneakers or boots: What’s your footwear of choice to pair with jeans?
Morrison: At the moment you’d be hard pressed to see me wear anything other than a pair of Nike Air Max 90’s or my vintage Van’s SK8-Hi’s, but that’s me and I’m definitely more of a T-shirt, jeans and sneaker guy.

Rivet: If you weren’t designing denim, what would you be doing?
Morrison: I’d think I’d really enjoy being an architect.

Rivet: What is your favorite part of your job?
Morrison: In a single word, it’s probably the challenge. I love working with a great team, being constantly challenged by the market and ever changing consumer preferences, and working with innovation on the fabric and laundry side of the business. Every day is different, and with that, you have to adapt and move forward.