Though designers are placing a greater emphasis on garments that offer versatility and comfort, jeans, it turns out, stand a solid chance of being part of that equation. The Spring/Summer 2021 collections presented during London, Milan and Paris fashion weeks resuscitated denim from its so-called loungewear-induced demise by showcasing designer jeans in wearable yet covetable ways.
Jeans felt creative and special with bold patchwork and color; ultramodern as unconventional silhouettes; and classic and time-worn—investment pieces on track to be future vintage finds that endure as seasons wax and wane.
In one of his most casual collections to date, Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli took the latter approach by partnering with Levi’s. The high-low collaboration reimagined the Levi’s 517 boot cut, a style that rose to popularity in the 1960s, for both women and men. Piccioli widened the bottom of the co-branded jean to flatter 2021’s chunky footwear styles, including the return of Valentino’s iconic (and oft-copied) Rockstud shoes—this time with bolder studs.
Les Copains kept denim simple and relatable. White and indigo boot-cut jeans paired well with the brand’s knit sweaters and ruffled tanks. A touch of gathering to the shoulder updated Les Copains’ Western denim shirt. Loose relaxed-fit jeans fit in with that pared-down late ’80s vibe that Trussardi channeled. And back-to-basics straight-fit white jeans, with a slight crop, laid the foundation for several of Equipment’s looks, which focused on Zoom-friendly blouses.
Zadig & Voltaire showed a softer side in the men’s and women’s collection with elevated hoodies and track bottoms. Jeans took on a slouchier fit as well with vintage fades and released hems. Paco Rabanne took a similar approach to denim, allowing faded loose-fit blue jeans to casually counteract gold sequin dresses and leopard-print dusters.
The master of loose—and at times, jarring—proportions, Balenciaga introduced a pair of genderless loose-fit blue jeans with a ’80s orange peel effect with an exaggerated high rise. The jeans, cinched with a basic belt, were balanced by a button-down shirt with sleeves that extended well past the model’s fingertips.
Like several designers during New York Fashion Week, tropical locales influenced Joie’s collection of breezy dresses and blouses. Vintage-feeling blue jeans and cut-off shorts, however, helped ground the line for city dwellers.
Victoria Beckham applied the crisp tailored look she’s become known for to her collection interpreting ’70s silhouettes for a modern consumer. Standouts included a pieced flare jean made with contrasting denim fabrics and a denim trouser with a sharp crease and a deep cuff.
Jeans with a well-worn effect were part of Alanui’s ode to the Southwest. Men’s mid-tone straight-fit jeans with a slightly dirty look and slim, snap-front shirts paired with nostalgic fringe cardigans with scenic landscape designs. For women, the look was lighter with a pale wash and summery silhouettes like cropped jeans and a long denim dress with a frayed hem.
Wide-leg jeans with a fluid drape added a youthful feeling to Chloe’s collection, which had a crafter’s look and feel with lace insets, soft floral prints and badges and jewelry that felt collected rather than curated. Front seams added a weighty, utilitarian mood to the jeans and kept them from veering into loungewear territory.
Dior brought an elegant look to denim with a focus on soft wrap jackets and flowing trousers. The loungewear-inspired silhouettes featured monochromatic tie-dye, trapunto edging and prints based on archival scarf print motifs. The indigo pieces were complementary to the collection’s line of classic white shirts, which Dior artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri made tunic length and men’s inspired with bib detailing and sharp-looking cuffs.
Like Dior, Lutz Huelle revisited white button-down shirts, updating the staple with shoulder pads. While pajama dressing and elasticated waists made their way into Huelle’s collection aptly named “Le Pyjama Rose,” the designer continued to experiment with denim. The collection included deconstructed jean jackets, but the pieces that felt the newest were tiered midi skirts made with three types of denim. (Designer Calvin Luo also presented denim culottes with a multi-color, three-layered hem.)
Trench coats have been a playground for designers—including Huelle—to deconstruct and update with denim for several seasons. The most famous trench of them all, however, finally got a denim facelift. In a show staged in a forest, Burberry creative director Riccardo Tisci presented the brand’s iconic Gabardine trench with a Trucker jacket bodice. The coat was among the most wearable denim pieces in the blue-hued collection, which also featured denim boots inspired by waders.
Never one to shy away from bold silhouettes, Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing reliably delivered strong shoulders on a women’s jean jacket that was cinched by a logo belt bag. Whereas in prior seasons Rousteing brought embellished and heavily distressed denim to the runway, simple shapes delivered the biggest impact to the label’s denim S/S ’21 collection. Easy indigo pieces like the skinny boot-cut jeans, an oversized denim motorcycle jacket and denim trench coat complemented the line’s cool ’90s aesthetic.
Though most of the collection focused on blue jeans, designers did not abandon color and streetwear influences entirely.
Jeans and chinos with colorful brush marks decorated Philosophy Di Lorenzo’s collection that spoke to consumers that have adopted quarantine hobbies like gardening. The theme was tied together with rubber boots, floppy bucket hat and Bermuda shorts.
The unisex garments by Each x Other echoed this artistic expression in more psychedelic way, including jeans colored with scribbles and doodles.
Designer Alberta Ferretti, whose collections have become a source for youthful denim designs, captured the essence of Italian summers with denim garments emitting a pale neon glow. Loose-fit items like rolled jeans and a zip-up jacket as well as a classic mini skirt popped in pink, green and yellow complemented the rest of the collection’s beachy sorbet colorways.
The Ritz Hotel in Paris served as the backdrop for Reuben Selby’s 14-look collection—a blend of streetwear essentialism and sustainability. The line included cargo trousers and shorts made of a denim fabric created with organic cotton and Infinited Fiber, a high-quality fiber derived from recycled cellulose-rich waste such as discarded textiles, cardboard and straw.
In the case of Ami, all it took was wheat-color stitching to add workwear undertones to the French brand’s vivid indigo pieces. The garments, like wide-leg jeans, a cropped jean jacket and button-down shirts, had a clear sheen while the violet-tinted cast complemented the brand’s assortment of purple gingham relaxed suiting.
Kenzo’s head-to-toe purple denim—complete with cargo pockets, zipper details and a matching bucket hat—ticked all of the boxes in the utility streetwear trend. Overdyed purple denim, along with tan and indigo, was used throughout Heron Preston’s workwear-inspired collection, too. The boldest pieces featured monochromatic patchwork—a nod perhaps to the designer’s Levi’s collaboration based on imperfections.
Though Li Ning’s show was based on a non-binary cyber character, Doku, workwear elements funneled through the designer’s collection. The theme was evident in his denim fisherman vests and jackets and cargo jeans.
Martine Rose’s hometown of London always finds a way to shine through her collections and S/S ’21 proved to be no different. The collection featured a cast of masculine characters through a subversive lens. Short retro soccer shorts were paired with jean jackets with a notable orange-peel texture, while karate belts cinched others. Men’s light-wash jeans, printed with a graphic of a man taking a drag of a cigarette, was styled with a lace-trimmed silk camisole.
Koche tested gender norms, too. Baggy jeans exposed boxers and long jean shorts smacked of the ’90s, but the conventional wisdom of the decade ended there. The masculine denim pieces were paired with a sleeveless chambray shirt trimmed with ruffles and lace, a surfer-style button-down shirt with lace trim and frothy white lace crop top.
Unisex jeans were part of Vaquera’s collection, which experimented with racy, exaggerated lingerie worn with giant T-shirts. Ruching added an unexpected twist to the hem of the jeans, while other denim pieces like a moto jacket, circle skirt and vest played with volume and proportions.
Though Y-Project introduced a sustainable collection during quarantine, the extent of the brand’s mainstreaming ends there. From a deep-v waistband bedazzled with crystals to an acid wash denim bustier with peek-a-boo cutouts, the brand’s creative director Glenn Martens continued to showcase denim in extreme ways.
With the exception of Y-Project’s crystals, and Givenchy and Philipp Plein, which experimented with dye effects and coatings made to be seen, the season’s denim fashion was mostly free of excess. Marine Serre, however, found a way to add her signature crescent moon print to a slim jean jacket and matching denim trousers.