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Off the Cuff: Raleigh Denim’s Victor Lytvinenko on New Traditions

Raleigh Denim founders Victor Lytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough have always favored quality over quantity. It’s why the husband and wife design team controls production in the U.S. instead of farming it out to less expensive foreign countries. It’s why the duo rolled out two exceptionally designed retail environments instead of a fleet of cookie-cutter locations. And it is why during a year when denim experienced record low sales, Lytvinenko said they remained calm.

“Denim is not necessarily something you have to buy a lot of each year. We are in the business of making denim that last longer, so there is evolution to the garment,” Lytvinenko explained.

Since 2007, Raleigh Denim has spoke to denim lovers in a language they understand: by connecting history with modern construction, fit and fabric. For Fall ’15, the company is continuing its tradition of looking back in order to move forward by exploring the possibilities of herringbone and dark teal, and marrying indigo with twills and loose weave canvas—styles that don’t necessarily look like traditional jeans, but feels like and breaks in like denim.

“Trying different things with the same tools that make traditional denim speaks to a modern market,” Lytvinenko said.

Rivet caught up with Lytvinenko about denim trends, his own denim wardrobe and why denim remains his No. 1 source of inspiration.

What has been Raleigh Denim’s biggest contributions to the denim market?
Lytvinenko: We focus on where things are coming from, how they are made and why they are being made. We look at the intricate details on construction. For us, the design of the process is just as important to us as the end product.

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Describe Raleigh Denim’s retail stores.
Lytvinenko: Most denim stores have a heavy feeling with dark wood and black metal fixtures. That’s a good feeling——our Raleigh store is like that——but when we decided to open our New York store two years ago, we wanted a very forward-looking store. We wanted to create light and have a design that offered flexibility in how things were displayed.

Why does denim inspire you?
Lytvinenko: Denim is my favorite fabric, for sure. I love that there is an evolution of the garment and how it gets better over time, how it starts out beautiful and perfect, and can evolve and mold to your body as it gets older. Denim becomes part of your story. And it is one of the only things that look better years after you bought it. What people do in their lives affects it. Other than silk, denim is the only material that really embraces inconsistencies.

What is your first denim memory?
Lytvinenko: I remember going to Kmart with my mom a week before school to buy a pair of jeans. The jeans were dark and stiff and pretty expensive. They were an investment, and my mom said, ‘This is your pair of jeans.’ Well, I tore a hole on my knee on the playground. I was upset at first, but then my mom stitched it up and she made it even better. It goes back to the philosophy that denim actually improves with life experiences.

Which pair of jeans in your closet is currently getting the most wear?
Lytvinenko: I only wear a couple of jeans at a time. I like our Martin Original. It’s a very slim, tapered fit. And I wear the Original with a tinted wash fabric exclusively made for us by our mill with a traditional gold stitch. It starts out as super dark, but then the tint breaks in.

Sneaker or boots——what type of footwear do you pair with your jeans?
Lytvinenko: Definitely sneakers. Today I have on the new Adidas Derrik Rose sneaker with all blue leather and perforated stripes and white soles. I’m really into sneakers.

Name a denim trend you hope to never see again.
Lytvinenko: Jogger jeans. They are pajamas.

Name a celebrity, dead or alive, you would like to see dressed in Raleigh Denim.
Lytvinenko: James Dean. He’s the quintessential American man and wore jeans better than anyone.

If you weren’t designing denim, what would you be doing?
Lytvinenko: I would either be a winemaker, or an architect. I was really into winemaking before I started in jeans, and think I’ve adapted a lot of winemaking philosophy to denim. I also love architecture and building things. I appreciate things that solve problems in a beautiful way and we can do that in clothing.