To further understand the importance of the most vital piece of clothing in your wardrobe, we spoke to WGSN’s Denim Editor Samuel Trotman about the history and future of denim, as well what jeans he would where when the end of the world comes (y’know, the important stuff).
What does the job of Denim Editor at WGSN entail?
As WGSN’s Senior Denim Editor, I spend my workdays traveling around the world, attending music festivals and scrolling through Instagram to find emerging brands and inspirational denim imagery. A lot of what my job involves is mix of traveling, photojournalism, reporting and editing. No week is ever the same. Since the start of the year I’ve been to London Fashion Week for the F/W 18 shows, Florence for Pitti Uomo, Paris, and Copenhagen. My main responsibilities are to delve into the lifestyles and shopping habits of denim consumers around the world, and keeping a close eye on denim trends, which includes everything from styling, key silhouettes, fabrics, wash and finish. Most people think of denim as just a pari of jeans but there is a whole blue world out there with a huge cultural following around it.
Where do denim trends come from?
I think one of the key characteristics of the trend forecasting role is we have eyes that take in so many more visuals than the average person. When we attend fashion weeks, music festivals, and events we are constantly scanning, reading and interpreting so many details, looks and items. For me that includes everything denim. You really have to be immersed in all aspects of culture to catch the next big thing. Its really about pattern recognition and connecting different elements, whether its coming from art, film, music or on the high street. I might see something that resonates with me at an exhibition and then notice the trend popping up on Instagram and then when you see if on the street you can really know its happening. They say 3 is the magic number for when a trend is confirmed.
What’s going to be big in denim for 2018?
Western is something that is embedded into denim culture. Part of why jeans shifted to popular culture was because wealthy men and women in East America in the 1920s and 30s would want to enjoy the Western experience and got on a ‘back to nature’ retreat called Dude Ranches where vacationers would get kitted out in western gear. Since then its been rolling in and out of fashion as trends do. But for 2018 this Western look is back, but is less rodeo cowboy and more rodeo drive. Raf Simons has lead the way in this fresh approach to Americana style with his most recent collections with Calvin Klein, and other labels like Coach too have put their own youthful spin on the trend. But the men’s A/W 18-19 runways have really taken it to another level with subverted takes that mix elements of punk and rave like Palm Angels and Astrid Anderson. Western style may sound intimidating, but broken into wardrobe components, it could be just the refresher your 2018 look needs.
What’s been the most enduring trend?
Since the whole normcore trend came about in 2014, the love of basics and neutral dressing has become an overriding trend for denim. The 90s obviously lends itself well to the trend which has been a big part of its enduring appeal. Its been interesting to see how the trend has evolved over there years though and I think the designs of Demna Gvasalia at Vetements and Balenciaga are really where it has almost come full circle. The whole idea of normcore was that it was a unisex fashion trend characterized by unpretentious, normal-looking clothing. Demna has taken this to a whole new level with his clumpy Triple-S dad shoes, DHL t-shirts, and his most recent Balenciaga campaign with awkward looking family photo shoots. It has a really wry, ironic tone that mocks the excess and the superficial triviality of the fashion world all while contributing to it. Everyone must’ve also seen the recent Y Project thigh-high Uggs too which broke the internet. Heinous is so hot right now.
What keeps you passionate about denim?
Denim is one of the most versatile, universal and democratic fabrics. There’s a Daniel Miller book where he stated that, in any major Western city, more than half of the people are wearing jeans at any moment. I think denim is such a personal product, everyone has their own favourite pair of jeans, whether it’s a fresh pair of raws, your mums hand-me-down 80s high-rise, a busted and broken pair that you just can’t let go of or just a regular go-to skinnies for comfort. The fabric has been around for over a century and its rich history makes it so interesting to explore, and its versatility has meant that you can do pretty much anything with it. Bleach it, destroy it, remake it, tailor it, whatever you want. In this sense it is both conventional and unconventional. This contradiction is what makes it a unique material for designers to experiment with and keeps it in popular culture.
What decade has been your favourite for denim?
Thats a tough one. For me personally I truly love the late 60s and 70s. The 50s and early 60s are when denim really took off for youth culture, but its at the tail end of the 60s and early 70s where you will find the most outrageous and unique denim designs. The “Summer of Love” in 1967 was an iconic time of fashion, music, art, and news ideas. The 100,000 free-spirited people that converged in San Fran’s Haight-Ashbury district celebrated a counter-culture movement that promoted civil rights, communal living and creativity. Music and the arts boomed. As well as the amazing music and art that came out at this time, this period broke the confines of the past and brought with it a new sartorial silhouette. Hair got longer, jeans got wider and the colour pallette took on a distinctly psychedelic feel as minds expanded and innocence was lost. These rebels really set the stage for iconic denim style and their spirit remains alive and well today.
What denim silhouette do you wear on a daily basis?
I have so many pairs of jeans in my closet that it really does change on a daily basis. I don’t quite have 365 pairs, but not far off. With my favourite era being from the 60s and 70s I’d have to say something from that era like a Levi’s 1967 ‘505’ fit. It was the jean that launched during the Summer of Love and became the uniform of graffiti artists, rock stars and beatniks, alike. If you’ve ever seen pictures of Debbie Harry or The Ramones in denim. They are most likely wearing this jean. You feel like a badass as soon as you slip them on.
If you had to wear one style of jeans for the rest of your life, what would it be?
If it was the end of the world and I could have one pair to get me through the apocalypse it would be my Levi’s 1947 501. It’s a classic. Straight, slim fit and durable Cone denim that will hold up just about anything you throw at it. Levi’s didn’t have the two horse tug-of-war motif on their branding for nothing! They would also need to be raw so that I can work on getting the best fade whilst roaming the earth alone.
What effect has celebrity and/or fashion influencers had on denim?
Celebs have a huge impact on denim. You only have to think back to some of life’s most iconic and epic failure moments. Whether good of bad, these have ultimately helped shaped denims status as a mainstay of any 21st century wardrobe. Here are some of my favourites in chronological order:
1954 – Marilyn’s high-waisted denim jeans in River of No Return instigated one of the more enduring denim trends of the 20th and 21st Century and also spurred women to get into 5-pocket jeans.
1955 James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause – he is the archetypal bad boy that stills lives on in the heart of the male millennial wardrobe.
1981 – Brooke Shields in the 1981 Calvin Klein campaign. Because “Nothing comes between me and my Calvin’s/Levi’s”
Forever – Princess Diana Proving that she needed little more than her statuesque frame to make an impression, Diana would have relaxed days strolling around in stonewashed jeans and casual separates setting the standard for Sloane Rangers for years to come. Iconic!
2001 – Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears at the American Music Awards. So bad its good. I wanted to wear this look for my wedding but my wife declined 🙁
Are there any new manufacturing methods or technologies that you are excited about?
Denim is one of the most polluting industries in the fashion world. The water consumption in a jeans lifecylcle from cotton growing, through to manufacturing, and also the end consumer use is enormous. Water waste is only part of the problem, but the industry is constantly working towards new technologies to improve the process for a more socially responsible world. If you’re a denim geek and want to know some of these technologies you can look up things like laser or ozone washing, which both considerably reduce the water, chemical and energy consumption in washing denim at the manufacturing stage. You can check out some cool videos to see how this works on youtube.
What are your tips to make sure our denim looks as fresh as possible for as long as possible?
Buy smart and wash your denim less frequently. Jeans were originally designed to withstand the rigors of the blue-collar workday. The fabric is robust and durable. So if the American miners and Goldiggers worked endlessly in theirs without washing them, you definitely don’t need to chuck yours in the machine after every wear. That being said, there is a lot of poor quality denim out in the market. Everyone must’ve had that pair of stretch denim that you wear for the day and it ends up sagging and you have to wash them to get them tight again. This is bad quality stretch denim. One way you can avoid this is that you can simply test it on the shop floor by stretching them out. If they don’t bounce back to shape before you get to the fitting room, the the fabric quality is likely to be bad. In my opinion its best to buy vintage and 100% cotton jeans. These are classic, timeless shapes that will never go out of fashion and you’ll feel have a better conscious for it.