No one really blinks at the idea that jeans can be (and are) a luxury item. An entire industry has grown around this concept, from the founding fathers like Seven For All Mankind and Diesel to young upstarts like Naked And Famous. What constitutes a premium jean is a question with a multitude of answers. But for some designers, the best way forward is to look back.
Back when Levi's were the gold standard, they weren't just mall jeans. Since denim pants were originally the uniform of tradesmen, farmers and factory workers, they needed to be durable and long-lasting. Thus, the denim cloth that was used was built to take a pretty serious beating. The denim that was used to make old Levi's and other jeans came from a single piece of fabric, with the edges of the fabric sewn together along the outer side of the pant leg. These jeans are referred to as "selvedge", as both self-edges are sewn to each other; the fabric of non-selvedge has been cut at some point in the build process, making the fabric more susceptible to fraying. Hence, selvedge denim lasts longer and is also usually more rigid when first purchased.
Since the end of the denim fabric is marked with the red and white stripe seen here, you can easily tell jeans that have been made using this method. The red color sometimes varies, but the white is a constant.
Now, I've been craving a pair of real, high quality selvedge jeans for a while, but given that I'm also a cheapskate, I had to wait for a while for the right pair to make itself known. Finally, a gigantic sale at Barney's allowed me to grab a pair of Raleigh Denim jeans for a deep discount. They're a slim-straight cut, not skinny, and almost completely raw denim from Cone Mills, one of the few denim mills still operating in America. They've been rinsed once to gain some softness, but as you can tell from the picture at the top of the post, they're very dark still.
One of the things I was most looking forward to about raw denim was ability to wear them in yourself. Sure, you could go buy some pre-distressed, pre-faded jeans, but where's the fun in that? The "rules" that govern these sorts of things are pretty straight-forward: wear them for as long as you can without washing, wash them gently, and repeat.
With a pair of sorta raw, non-selvedge Levi's I bought in December, I was able to make it 3 months before the first wash. As of today, those jeans have been washed all of twice, and they're creasing and fading in line with my body; they're starting to get particularly light on the right rear pocket, where I keep my wallet.
Since the Raleigh's are designed to be washed (or not) like this, I expect the fading to be pretty fantastic. I'll post to this blog periodically with their progress. For now, here's a few photos of what they look like, and the contents they'll be carrying for the next few months.