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Year In Review: Denim’s Big Moments on the Runway

Designers unleashed their creativity with denim in 2019. From the Milanese and Parisian catwalks, where legendary designers mixed denim with satins and fur, to the whimsical and laidback styling of London and New York, denim was a mainstay in high-end collections.

And the variety of denim out there kept fashion-watchers guessing.

Hints of the subversive crept into denim fashion from brands that cater to Gen Z and millennials. Extra-long belts with bold grommets, key ring hardware, chains and zippers in revealing places brought a ’90s rave vibe to the catwalk. The trims were typically styled with wide-leg jeans, latex tops or tees with gothic fonts.

In 2019, logo mania manifested in printed denim with brands like A.P.C., Iceberg, Vetements and Jeremy Scott trying their hand at laser and digital prints. Vetements then-designer Demna Gvasalia made a statement on censorship and technology, while Scott recreated newspaper print across jean jackets and mini skirts.

There were no shortages of dye effects on denim. For men, brands like Qasimi, Liam Hodges and Emporio Armani played with dip dye, Pollock-inspired splatter, water color effects and traditional tie-dye. Christian Siriano took an artistic approach to embellished denim. Splatters of paint and cascades of colorful crystals decorated the sides of the jeans.

Dye techniques were more strategic in women’s collections. Alberta Ferretti applied dye effects to denim overalls, jeans and button-down shirts. The result was bands of indigo, orange, red and tan across the waist, shoulders and legs of the label’s garments.

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By the Spring/Summer 2020 shows, designers began to downplay streetwear on the runway.

Femininity stepped into the spotlight. Designer Jonathan Cohen replaced buttons with sweet denim bow ties for his version of a jean jacket. He also updated the denim jumpsuit with ruffled sleeves and small denim ties at the ankle. Molly Goddard presented a multi-layered fluted skirt together with a puffed sleeve denim top embellished with 3D denim flowers in her goth-tinged S/S 20 collection.The regal lifestyles of Monaco’s Princess Caroline and Stephanie in the ’80s led Philosophy designer Lorenzo Serafini down a path of luxury denim. The collection spanned woven denim tweed jackets and bustiers, to mini dresses with ruffled sleeves.

Color denim continued to enliven collections. Ulla Johnson peppered in vintage-looking coral and dark green high-waisted jeans with exposed buttons and cropped jean jackets. Yellow, pink, green and cobalt blue denim sets paraded down Balmain’s black-and-white runway. Chloe chose desert colors to add a fresh flavor to ’70s-inspired high-waisted jeans. A light brown short-sleeve jean jacket and wide-leg jeans were defined by white contrast stitching, and rose-colored hardware offset a pair of terracotta trouser jeans.

Celine designer Hedi Slimane heralded the ’70s with his much-talked about collection of vintage wash boot-cut jeans, culottes, denim jackets and button-down shirts. Embroideries and peasant skirts added a bohemian vibe. Slimane merchandised the denim pieces with fur vests, aviator glasses and floppy hats.

Pangs of Americana were felt across collections, too. Michael Kors chose a red, white and blue palette for his nautical collection of pleated jean skirts and wide-leg jeans. Brandon Maxwell made a strong case for classic slim jeans with clear casts. And Prabal Gurung marked the 10th anniversary of his label with the politically charged question, “Who gets to be American?” running throughout his collection. A slouchy dark indigo jumpsuit and a ruffled jean dress were executed with contrasting red stitching. A jean jacket also featured inserts of red crochet.

All-American cartoons also earned a place on the runway. Kith teamed with Disney for a range of denim with Mickey Mouse embroidery. United Colors of Benetton debuted a collaboration with Popeye the Sailor Man to celebrate the nostalgic cartoon’s 90th anniversary in 2020. Styles included men’s jeans with sailor rope drawstrings and slouchy jeans with laser-printed anchor motifs.

Other designers turned to New York for inspiration. Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller was inspired by New York City, ’90s denim and a “conscious future,” according to notes from the show, which manifested into a range of upcycled vintage denim from the decade. In its ode to New York City style, Parisian brand A.P.C. paired logo T-shirts and baseball caps with relaxed fit jeans and a button-front jean midi skirt.