For some men, denim is a teenager’s game, a strange world of skinny fits, unflattering materials and ripped-and-faded affectation that’s best left to the kids.
And while the majority of mainstream brands do focus on the younger end of the market, artisanal denim has enjoyed a renaissance over the past few years thanks to a new generation of independent brands stitching jeans quite unlike their entry-level counterparts. That means world-class selvedge fabrics, roomier fits and superlative attention to detail.
Because of these indie makers, denim is also transcending its utilitarian roots. Take Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, located in a quiet corner of northeast London, which has spent the last four years making jeans smart enough to pair with tailoring.
“Jeans have been around for over 150 years, and every age group, from 15-year-olds to 100-year-olds, has worn denim,” says Blackhorse Lane founder Han Ates. “Over the past decade we’ve seen the perception of denim change from a workwear staple to an important part of a well-dressed man’s wardrobe. We make lots of high-rise jeans specifically to pair with blazers and tailored pieces.”
Blackhorse Lane’s NW1 Relaxed Straight fit, available in a variety of reassuringly solid raw denims, is a case in point, designed with a higher back rise and roomy legs that straighten from the knee down for a classic 1950s look. New York’s bastion of classic style, the Armoury, had a similar idea: Last summer, the shop collaborated with British designer Nigel Cabourn to create a sartorialist’s dream jeans, with a higher rise to sit beneath a sport coat and tapered but generously cut legs, so even those with adult-size frames can wear them comfortably.
Also in New York is Blue In Green, an independent men’s store specializing in imported artisanal denim. There you’ll find pairs from the likes of Resolute, Syoaiya and Fullcount & Co., three big names in Japanese Okayama denim, which is woven on the unique, midcentury shuttle looms sold off by Levi’s following WWII. In Los Angeles, brands like Freenote Cloth and Buck Mason have set out to modernize American wardrobe staples,
with denim at the center of both collections.
Crafted denim is a versatile investment, too. A big part of the pleasure of good jeans is the way the fabric improves with age, the weight and heft of the cloth softening and molding to your body with each wear. In terms of fit and feel, there’s practically no difference between quality high-rise jeans and a pair of flat-front navy chinos: Wear with an open-collar shirt and a plaid sport coat— or a merino turtleneck and suede bomber—finished with chunky, lace-up ankle boots.
This new denim scene, with its focus on quality over quantity and subtle details over brand names and distressed finishes, is reframing the discussion over what makes a cool pair of jeans. In fact, with so many elegant, high-quality (and decidedly grown-up) takes on the blue jean, there’s never been a better time to be a denim-head.