For denim fans passionate about vintage, the thrill lies in what they’re able to dig up—literally.
In a Carved in Blue webinar on Wednesday, a group of denim heads discussed some of the most extreme journeys they’ve undertaken to find denim treasure buried in the rubble.
For Mike Harris, denim historian and author of the book “Jeans of The Old West,” that involved years of rummaging through a dump site at a silver factory in Nevada. After digging through a 100-foot-tall pile, he uncovered a triple-pleated blouse that dated back to 1874. That piece is now included in the Levi’s archive.
While some of his outings are fruitless, this one conjured up some of the most valuable pieces he had ever found.
“It’s so hard to find 1870s pieces, and there were three all together,” he said. “So we had a lot of luck.”
Other vintage denim lovers scour old railroad tracks and remotes mines in far-flung, largely abandoned towns and brave harsh weather conditions around the world to discover what denim is buried underground. For denim collector Cory Piehowicz, the adventure is the best part.
Piehowicz reflected on a trip through Western America that took him through rugged ghost towns with picturesque landscapes and unpredictable weather patterns. And while he didn’t uncover any gems during that trip, the journey was all that mattered.
“To me, it isn’t always about finding the jeans or the denim,” he said. “It’s about the experiences that you have on those trips—that’s where it’s at for me.”
For others, the hunt is less physical. Panelists explained it mostly comes down to staying in touch with the right collectors and frequently scouring eBay. For this reason, Mohsin Sajid, owner of jeanswear label Endrime, noted that his vintage denim discovery hasn’t slowed down through the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, Sajid says the extra downtime has given him more opportunities to shop online for rare garments and rediscover some pieces that he already owns.
“It’s been lovely being at home with my archive,” he said. “I’ve had time to find things that I had forgotten about for years and years.”
Tracey Panek, a Levi’s historian, noted that the pandemic has shined a light on the importance of maintaining a digital archive—a project she’s grateful for having worked on before offices closed around the world. Her team spent a month photographing every item in the archive so it could be accessed and shared accordingly.
Levi’s archive inspires everyone from fashion students to high end designers. Just recently, a Levi’s 517 bootcut style from the 1960s inspired Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection.
Vintage denim is often a source of inspiration for designers. Sajid first started collecting denim and vintage fabrics at the age of 18, and now has more than 1,000 pieces from the ’30s and ’40s that shape his collections.
“I collect lots of fabrics and work on developments with fabric mills, so I often go around Japan [looking to add to my collection], even if I find a scrap fabric,” he said. “I’m often collecting vintage fabrics that inspire all of the collections that we do.”