From Adriano Goldschmied posing on Los Angeles streets to Miles Johnson, the Amsterdam-based head of Levi’s Vintage Clothing snapped in Paris, “Denim Dudes: Street Style, Vintage, Workwear, Obsession” takes readers on a visual and memory-fueled journey into men’s love affair with denim.
Written by WGSN director of denim and youth culture Amy Leverton, and photographed by 14 different international photographers, the book offers a glimpse into the denim collections, memories and histories of denim designers, actors, artists, creative directors and store owners. Through personal interviews, Leverton examines these men’s undying quest for the perfect jean and what exactly makes the staple so appeal.
Rivet caught up with Leverton, who explained why a book about denim reveals much more than just trends, and how street style and blogs are inspiring denim dudes — and dudettes — to experiment and made denim their own.
Rivet: What is it about denim that particularly appeals to men?
Leverton: I think its the roots in workwear. The jean started its life in mine shafts, on railroads and ranches and in the honest, hardworking era of the turn of the century. This link with durability naturally makes men feel rugged and connected to their hard-grafting ancestors.
Rivet: Were the men you interviewed eager to speak about their style?
Leverton: Yes, they really were. Everyone I approached to be in the book said yes and everyone wanted to share their stories. I think the denim community is very passionate and very tight so people were not shy to get involved.
Rivet: Do you get a sense they are proud of their denim collections?
Leverton: Guys are geeks about their denim — there is no doubt about that. You only have to look at forums like Denimbro or Superdenim to see their passion, enthusiasm and even competitiveness. When you have learnt a lot about your jeans, you do feel a sense of pride and want to show off that knowledge along with the jean itself. And then [there is] nostalgia. This is where denim is so unique. The wear patterns, the fades and the stains — they all make up the history of that jean, they are all memories and I think this is something that makes denim such a unique fabric. You don’t celebrate a rip on a pair of wool trousers or a stain on a sweater.
Rivet: And with some interviews, the connection with denim went beyond style, right?
Leverton: There were some that were so personal and moving. One Japanese editor opened up about a very personal, near-death experience he had as a child and one guy talked about the first jean he ever customized, that inspired him to start his own label. I really appreciated those stories and that level of honesty.
Rivet: You spoke to denim legends and up-and-comers for the book. Did they share any commonalities, or were there any notable differences?
Leverton: To be honest I didn’t really think about age. I think a love of denim transcends all age barriers, but of course the younger guys were more experimental and less connected with the historical references of denim and the older guys were a little more driven by heritage and quality.
Rivet: Are there any other items in men’s wardrobes that you think incites as much creativity, individualism and interest as denim?
Leverton: Not really, simply because of denim’s unique personality. It is the only fabric that we actually expect and encourage wear and tear. Like I said earlier, you wouldn’t welcome that so much from a tee or a sweater or even a casual jacket, really.
Rivet: What affects have street style blogs and social media had on denim?
Leverton: Denim is always affected in a big way by the streets, simply because of denim’s ability to be customized, damaged and destroyed. The destruction trend and the raw edged trend have been really street-led and the runway has massively jumped on this look and taken it further. Also, I think the rise of the street style blog has had a really positive effect on denim, but it has also sped the trend life cycle up quite a bit. Now a trend can emerge in London and can be seen and interpreted by the globe in a couple of clicks.
Rivet: Are blogs changing the way people wear denim?
Leverton: Well, I think there is this whole trend right now that revolves around eclectic dressing, so that’s mixing up references, inspirations, eras and of course high street with designer apparel — high and low. Nowadays, honestly anything goes, as long as you are comfortable in your skin and happy. I think we’ve become much more open minded and accepting about personal style.
Are they changing the way brands design?
Leverton: Yes of course. I remember in the ’90s growing up and each season it would be about a certain item, a certain pant fit, one or two colors. Now that’s all changed. Of course there are still trends, but there are more trends so brands need to do the same as people do: pick the trends that are right for them, be true to themselves. Brand honesty speaks volumes at the moment.
Rivet: You’ve covered denim across the globe. Where do you see the most risk-taking happening in denim?
Leverton: Japan holds the most creativity as well as the most respect towards denim. They value craftsmanship and well-made quality and are prepared to pay extra for that. Plus, on top of that, they are much more stylish and engaged in fashion than other nationalities. This makes Japan a great place to visit for denim inspiration.
Rivet: Which is the most traditional?
Leverton: American style is definitely more commercial, more classic and built more around staples but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. America was the birthplace of denim and so jeans from the U.S. have that fantastic history woven into them.
Rivet: If you interviewed women about their denim, in what ways do you think the responses would be similar or different?
Leverton: Well, I’m already working on Dudettes as I write. We’ve shot about 10 to 15 women so far. I think women are on the whole less drawn to heritage, but of course I am featuring women who are denim obsessed. I think there will be a little more fashion in there but a real variety of eclectic style. I think it is going to be even better than dudes!