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Denim has served as a second skin for musicians from The Beatles to The Boss.
Denim is as much part of rock ’n’ roll as guitars and cigarettes. From the early Sixties, when a promoter convinced the Beatles to change from jeans into suits so as not to shock unsuspecting television viewers with a flash of rebel denim, through the iconic cover of Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.,” which featured a rear view of the artist in a pair of Levi 501s, to Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ launch of the Sean John $100 million apparel line, jeans and music have gone hand-in-hand.
“It’s a part of the American culture,” said Gene Montesano, president of Los Angeles-based Lucky Brand Dungarees. “I was at Woodstock and I saw a half a million people wearing blue jeans. It was a great place for me to be.”
The connection between jeans and rock ’n’ roll is one that grew up naturally in the years following World War II. Even during their formative years, the children of the baby boom had to go their own way in music and fashion. Youngsters in the Fifties startled their parents by turning up their record players to the loud new rock ’n’ roll music and dancing in jeans. Jeans companies were quick to realize that teenagers were becoming passionate about music, and that it could be a powerful aid in attracting their attention. Levi’s jumped on the hippie bandwagon in 1967 with its “White Levi’s” ad, a play on Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic anthem “White Rabbit.”
A spokesman for San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. said music-driven promotion “definitely fits our target demographic. Everyone loves jeans, but young adults tend to be the trend-setters, the rebellious ones. And they tend to be passionate about music.”
For years, advertisers have used popular tunes to sell their wares, on the logic that a consumer can get a brand name stuck in her head along with a tune. (Sasson did just that in the early Eighties, with a TV campaign featuring Elton John singing his hit “Sad Songs” with the title replaced by the brand name.)
Today, as part of their effort to be seen as hip, jeans companies are also working to promote little-known groups to their customers, in hopes that will raise the brand’s esteem in shoppers’ eyes.
Diesel USA Inc. is attempting that through its upcoming Diesel U.S. Music project. In October, it will begin a competition for unsigned musical artists in five categories: rock, dance, urban, electronica and cutting edge. The culmination of the contest will end in a battle of the bands in New York in April 2003.
Polo Jeans Co. tries to introduce customers to new artists through its Web site — it’s currently promoting the up-and-coming Austin, Tex.-based Spoon, whose influences include Prince and Elvis Costello. “It has to have a sense of uniqueness and discovery,” said Ross Klein, senior vice president at Polo Jeans.
Jeans companies are also quick to jump on the trends popularized by recording stars. Most major jeans trends of the last decade can be traced back to musical movements, from the torn-up grunge look popularized by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and other Seattle bands of the early Nineties, to the over-sized urban looks inspired by hip-hop artists like Puffy himself, to the low-rise style, which traces its look to Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera and other Latin divas.
For jeans designers looking for the next new trend, it might be worthwhile to spend more time watching what’s rising up the charts than what’s coming down the runways.