With the help of trendsetting streetwear designers and legendary names, the fabric secured its place on the runway in 2018 in both traditional and untraditional ways.
Here’s a look back at the five most important denim moments from the catwalk in 2018.
1. Ralph Lauren’s 50th Anniversary Collection
In September, American fashion icon Ralph Lauren unveiled a “see-now, buy-now” 50th anniversary collection that embodies the casual elegance he helped coin.
The landmark 50th anniversary celebration took place in New York City’s Central Park during New York Fashion Week, serving as an homage to the designer’s signature timeworn fabrics, collegiate details and Western styling. And during a fashion week when designers dished out neon colors and deconstructed concepts that feed into social media’s thirst for shock and novelty, Ralph Lauren’s collection was a reminder of the power of timeless design.
The collection combined romantic vintage fabrications with modern and sophisticated shapes. Key items include an aged buffalo leather vest hand-embellished with silver charms and burnished leather buttons; a head-to-toe patchwork gown; and one of Lauren’s favorite pieces, the Barrick jacket, which required 170 hours to embellish the silhouette’s gold bullion and embroidery with antiqued crystals, beads and emerald-like stones.
Cargo pockets, camouflage and denim grounded the collection. Jeans looked worn-in with patchwork, mending and paint splatter. A tweed blazer was worn over denim overalls, high-waisted pleated denim trousers were cinched with Western-inspired belts, and Lauren’s signature look—a tuxedo jacket and bow tie—was paired with vintage jeans.
2. Proenza Schouler’s Made in USA Collection
After two seasons showing in Paris, Proenza Schouler designers Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough returned to New York Fashion Week in September with denim on the brain.
Denim, which the design duo sourced from Japan, served as the foundation to their Spring ’19 collection, which was made entirely in the U.S.
“In Paris you kind of get into all the embroideries and the feather work, and you’re relying on all that technique,” Hernandez told the Associated Press. “And going back to New York [we thought], ‘Why don’t we do the whole collection in one fabric, and what if that fabric was denim? What could we do with that?’ So we really limited the scope of material in a major way.”
The final collection included denim, cotton and some leather. With acid wash drop hem dresses and oversized button-down shirts as main draws, the stripped-down, utilitarian collection was a departure from the highly-embellished and fantastical designs the label is known for. Proenza Schouler’s use of acid wash—though bold and brash—was an elevated step away from the throwback ’80s and ’90s styling currently dominating streetwear.
Designing in denim also allows the brand to offer lower prices—a move that worked well for the brand this season. McCollough said a Fall ’18 tie-dye dress, which was priced lower than the rest of the collection, was among the brand’s most popular looks for the season. “It got us thinking about clothes in a different way,” he told the AP. “Maybe everything doesn’t need to be so embellished. Maybe everything doesn’t need to be US$12,000.”
3. Stella McCartney Sustainable Catwalk
In her Spring ’19 collection, designer Stella McCartney tapped fresh-faced model Kaia Gerber to walk the runway in a youthful, tie-dye flight suit made from organic cotton denim, and in some ways previewed the future of luxury fashion.
The collection—the first since splitting from Kering in March—was the brand’s most sustainable collection to date. The tie-dye effect was carried through to a line of V-neck tops and organic cotton tees. The collection also featured relaxed suiting made with linen, sustainable viscose, Econyl recycled nylon and handbags made with Eco Alter-Nappa.
The collection capped off a year where McCartney broke out an industry leader in sustainability. Along with introducing sustainable sneaker and apparel collections through a partnership with Adidas, the designer plunged into bridal apparel made from sustainable viscose, introduced biodegradable sneakers and forged a partnership with consignment retailer The RealReal to encourage consumers to resell unwanted apparel.
4. Coach 1941 Goes West
When Raf Simons for Calvin Klein took a (final) break from Western apparel to focus on a strange mix of Jaws-meets-The Graduate costuming, another American brand filled the void for Americana styling. For Spring ’19, Coach 1941 remixed craftsmanship, patchwork and archival shapes with odes of romanticism, like prairie florals and tiered chiffon.
In an interview with Vogue Paris, Coach creative director Stuart Vevers said he found inspiration in Santa Fe and its small villages. “It is about assembling and reconstructing the craft and the spirit of the American look; exploring and playing with these salvaged heirlooms and placing them a new context,” he told Vogue.
The result was a collection chock-full of patchwork denim, including a snap front button down denim dress over crinoline and men’s and women’s patchwork denim sweatshirts. The collection came together with slightly oversized patchwork leather boiler suits, prairie shirting and satin bomber jackets.
4. MSGM Nails the Luxury Streetwear Vibe
While Balenciaga, Off-White and Versace captured the “new luxury” consumers with accessible accessories and trendy sneakers, MSGM quietly built a following with its nostalgic designs, surf-meets-street aesthetic and joyous play with prints and color.
The Fall ’18 collection introduced the label’s commitment to denim with women’s masculine cut denim blazers, head-to-toe red denim ensembles, snake print denim and classic skinny jeans layered under ’80s style extra-long silk blouses and Gen Z yellow thigh-high boots. Meanwhile, the men’s line blended silk shirting with drawstring jeans, loose fitting jeans with hammer loops and uniform-inspired twill jackets and bottoms with elasticized hems.
And the look came full circle on the Spring ’19 runway with revisited ’80s silhouettes like an off-the-shoulder denim ruffle top and whimsical floral printed denim. The brand carried the youthful look into its men’s line flush with beach-bound denim, including denim jorts, denim/tracksuit hybrids and quirky vacation motifs.
5. The Other Virgil Abloh Shows
All eyes were on Virgil Abloh’s first runway show as artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton in June, but it his was his other gig for Off-White that really proved to be a boon for denim.
The Fall ’18 Off-White collection inspired street style stars around the world to dress in double denim. And not just any denim, but sets including a cropped jacket with an all-over tapestry pattern and matching high-rise jeans and head-to-toe striped red denim with “DENIM” printed across the backside.
Abloh took uniform dressing one step further for his Spring ’19 men’s show, with an exaggerated denim fisherman vests, short sleeve jean jackets and a heap of metal hardware, heralding the return of ’90s-era denim trims.