A new generation and definition of luxury and premium denim has emerged that is less about brand cachet and price point and more about lifestyle as well as fabric and manufacturing choices.
The denim supply chain has reacted to a new consumer mindset that puts a premium on comfort and looks that fit their design preference, while also preferring brands that source sustainable fabrics and adopt responsible manufacturing practices.
Sharon Graubard, creative director of MintModa, noted that athleisure items such as leggings and track pants briefly stole the focus from denim, becoming alternative casual bottoms.
“But these items don’t have the classic appeal of jeans,” Graubard said. “Jeans are sexy while being modest, elegant while being casual and look great with anything, from the simplest T-shirt to the most extravagant brocade jacket. Jeans still have their rebellious counter-culture connotation, making them relevant for the moment.”
In addition, jeans become individualized through wearing, which she said works into current values like personalization and self-expression.
Susan Lee, designer and fabric merchandiser at Twin Dragon, said luxury has evolved from being driven by certain brands and a price range to being about “what kind of journey you can take your consumer on, what experience you can give them.”
“It’s also about consideration to the product,” Lee said. “Consumers have all the power now and they want to know what the brands stands for. It’s a change in consciousness.”
Tricia Carey, director of global business development for denim at Lenzing Fibers, pointed to the “street to runway” trend that has seen brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors take the indigo base cloth and use it in a different way.
She said a new luxury or premium look is “taking denim out of the traditional five-pocket jean and giving it a life beyond the basic, whether it’s denim in dresses, denim in a corporate environment.”
Lenzing has worked with upscale brands such as Adriano Goldschmied to use Tencel in more fashionable looks. She said one of the advantages of using Tencel in denim is that it takes on a sheen or luster that is more reminiscent of higher-end or dressier styling.
“We’ve seen some of our blended fabrics show up in higher-end brands, especially in darker colors that are richer and deeper,” and in weaves such as chambray, Carey said.
Another key value is “slow fashion,” Graubard noted, which is about keeping items for several years, caring for them to extend their lifetimes and buying fewer but better pieces.
“Since jeans are worn often, washed infrequently, can be repaired and last a long time, luxury jeans are a sustainable choice and are perfect investment pieces,” she said.
Fabrics and fit
On the raw material side, Graubard said 100 percent cotton is “uptrending,” especially as the addition of elastic can shorten the life of the item.
“But consumers do respond to the comfort factor of stretch,” she said. “Many luxury makers use primarily cotton denim with small amounts of modal, polyester or elastane. There are also some blends with other natural fibers like linen, flax and even wool.”
Certain brands and stores are driving the push in luxury denim, Graubard noted.
“I like the classic reinterpretations from brands like Off-White, 6397, ReDone, Chloe, Brock Collection, R13, Frame, Mother, The Great—there are so many good labels out there, those that specialize in denim, as well as collections that include denim in the mix,” she said.
“MM6 by Maison Margiela always has subtly innovative silhouettes and washes and treatments. I still think Barneys has an excellent jeans department,” Graubard added. “There are boutiques in downtown Manhattan like 3×1 in SoHo and Self Edge on Orchard Street that really celebrate the craft of denim, which fits into the current passion for all things artisanal.”
Among the top sellers at Self Edge is “Strike Gold,” which uses indigo-dyed thread for the warp and a beige dyed thread for the weft in a 17-ounce fabric. The 634S by Iron Heart is the flagship model that brings the brand’s signature 21-ounce selvedge denim to a straight-cut jean made with hand-picked U.S. cotton that offers a “super soft hand” in an “ultra sheen” finish, the company noted on its website.
MintModa identifies silhouettes like the slim leg and the straight leg as important trends.
“I am seeing a big return to the sleek boot-cut silhouette in Cruise/Resort ’20 collections, which goes along with fashion’s continuing love affair with all things ’70s,” Graubard said. “Beyond the boot-cut, a ’70s mood also shows in culotte styles and midi-skirts, most of them A-line. True workwear continues its influence, like the utility denim jumpsuit, the chore jacket, the shirt jacket and the simple duster.”
Lee noted that sustainability plays into the new luxury denim because its become a must for consumers, especially millennials.
“When we have meetings about fabric, we also discuss that material’s environmental impact,” she said.
Twin Dragon CEO Dominic Poon said, “As a denim mill, we are aware that process takes a lot of water,” explaining some of Twin Dragon’s initiatives to preserving our environment.
This includes using powdered indigo in place of liquid indigo, which saves water, and using laser techniques instead of traditional washing. In addition, the company has turned to recycled and sustainable fibers, noting all polyester fibers used going forward will be recycled.