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How to Achieve the Classic Italian Denim Look In a Sustainable Way

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With waists rising and pant legs widening, denim brands are reacting to consumers’ desire to revisit the ’90s with gusto.

And the stone washes and acid effects made famous by Italian denim brands from the decade are making a bold impression on women’s and Juniors’ denim, too. Rachel Comey, Alex Mullins, Levi’s and IRO are the breadth of labels taking a literal approach to throwback fashion.

However, innovations from companies like Italian garment finishing firm Tonello are allowing brands to achieve the same look in more efficient and sustainable ways through NoStone washing and laser finishing.

Here, Alice Tonello, head of marketing and R&D of Tonello, looks back at the pioneers of Italian denim and how contemporary brands can recreate the vintage looks.

Rivet: When did Italian denim peak?

Alice Tonello: In my opinion, the boom was in the Nineties, which were definitely years of glory for Italian denim. This [was made possible] thanks to completely new finishes and washes that gave room to creativity. Stone washing was no longer enough and Italian brands [focused on] worn and localized effects on denim. In short, they created a ‘new current’ for denim that soon became popular in the United States. What they managed to do—to sell the jeans to Americans—would have been unthinkable before.

Rivet: Which brands were part of this surge of Italian denim?

AT: First of all, Fiorucci, which not everyone knows, had been the first jeans to be sold in Italy. After that, Diesel and Replay revolutionized the old approach to denim with a new look.

Lindsay lohan

Lindsay Lohan in Diesel jeans in 2003.

Rivet: Describe the hallmarks or design signatures of denim during this time.

AT: Very strong abrasions and whiskers, colorful finishes and every kind of creative effect that could help to give a new look to the classic stone wash.

Rivet: Are your customers asking for these vintage washes and effects?

AT: For sure, there’s some kind of nostalgia. The ’90s look is popular everywhere and in order to answer this request with a sustainable approach, Tonello has developed the NoStone, a technology that gives denim an authentic stone wash effect without the use of stones.

Rivet: Last year, Tonello collaborated with Denim Dudes founder Amy Leverton on a collection of upcycled denim and sportswear pieces by Versace, Diesel and Iceberg from the ’90s. Why was it a good time to revisit these iconic Italian labels?

AT: Because we all feel this nostalgia. We tried to reinvent and give new life to the brands that had a strong role in the change of denim and fashion, in order to celebrate the Italian taste and to inspire our own customers. The response has been extremely positive from designers and from the brands involved in the project.

Rivet: What do you think is triggering brands to revisit the ’90s?

AT: Maybe it is this return to authenticity and uniqueness. And the search for a story of success. Many brands all around the world are working in very creative ways through the upcycling of existing garments.

Rivet: How can Tonello help brands recreate this aesthetic? And how are you offering this in a more sustainable way than its original form?

AT: I think the project with Amy Leverton is a clear example and inspiration of this. For example, through the recycling of fibers and fabrics, adopting sustainable finishes and reducing consumptions of water and chemicals. I think that, compared to those years, we can definitely reproduce the same appeal of the past using less water, avoiding hazardous chemicals and respecting the health of workers and consumers.

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