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Q&A: Denim Legend François Girbaud on Fit, Function and Copycats

Denim stalwart François Girbaud has lived through the evolution of denim.

He has served as inspiration for many in the denim world today, and his techniques have often come before their time. Girbaud used lasers before the rest of the industry adopted the sustainable finishing process. The step hem? He introduced that years ago while working in Los Angeles. And when it comes to the twisted leg engineering jean—he claims he did it before Levi’s.

Rivet caught up with Girbaud during a presentation of his second capsule collection with Closed, a company he founded in 1978 and subsequently sold in the ’90s. Girbaud shared with Rivet why he believes fit and function mean more to denim than ever and why he’s eager for newness.

RIVET: What was your inspiration for this second capsule collection for Closed?

Girbaud: For me fit and function are more important than looking for inspiration. It started at Coachella. I saw a young lady with a trouser from the ’80s with the fly open. It was vintage, so it had no stretch and she had to keep the fly open. Then I started paying close attention to the new generation wearing the old stuff we made in the ’80s and saying it doesn’t fit anymore. We need to correct something, because the fabric at [that] time was rigid. Today, it is stretched. Then I looked at the streets and noticed bikes are everywhere. You need comfort to ride a bike, so it’s more function. Fit for function.

RIVET: What up-and-coming designer or brands are you inspired by today?

Girbaud: None. They are all using my work. But they’re saying that to me. They’re not copying me, but they are influenced by what I did. All of them want me to come back. And it would be flattering to come back, but not with the same thing.

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RIVET: Levi’s recently got a lot of attention after announcing it’s going to use lasers for its finishing process. Do you think that’s good or bad for the industry?

Girbaud: It’s good. With the evolution of the laser, we save energy. Seventy-five percent of energy. That is great for today. I started using laser many, many years ago. So, what Levi’s is now doing is my work. But it’s not important that it is my work. What’s important is that it happens.

RIVET: What types of fabrics did you use for this collection?

Girbaud: Stretch for me is very important, warp stretch. That is the next evolution of the stretch.

RIVET: What mills did you work with for this collection?

Girbaud: I worked with Isko in Turkey. I wanted to work with Cone Mills, but they [closed].

RIVET: What innovations do you see happing right now that will benefit the denim industry in the future?

Girbaud: I’m expecting something, but I haven’t seen anything yet. I was expecting 2000 to be the time of change, not looking again to the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s. But nothing happened. I’m like everyone in the fashion industry, we are waiting for something to come from another territory, another country. China could be very interesting because of its history, but brands like Phillip Lim or Alexander Wang are not bringing anything new. Same [with] Russia, a country with so much richness. But nothing.

RIVET: What do you see currently lacking in the industry?

Girbaud: We have to figure out how to avoid the cotton, because cotton is the monster. And where are all these fields of organic cotton we keep hearing about? In Kenya? Two acres? We continue to talk about this lie. It’s not true.