By  on February 18, 2008

LOS ANGELES — It only takes a few minutes of poking around Laundry Atelier to realize that a denim genius lurks within. Amid an industrial floor pulsing with myriad racket—pumice stones from Turkey banging inside washing machines, workers grinding and burning character into indigo-dyed fabric with metal spikes and blowtorches—there are telltale signs, from the rows of buckets containing mineral dyes with names like “Terra di Siena,” to the racks of samples with meticulous notes attached to each, written in pen onto masking tape.

The author behind these countless adhesive instructions is Adriano Goldschmied, denim’s most reliable rainmaker. Goldschmied, the founder of Diesel, Replay and AG Adriano Goldschmied, sold his latest premium denim incarnation, GoldSign, to Citizens of Humanity in September for an undisclosed sum. That acquisition also included Goldschmied himself, who is now a partner and executive vice-president of product development for Citizens; and the Vernon, Calif.–based Atelier, which Goldschmied founded in 2005. Atelier, originally a $1 million venture, now encompasses two buildings and employs about 45 workers.

Whereas Citizens’ existing laundry in neighboring Gardena handles upward of 150,000 units, Atelier is less of a production hub for the company (it produces about 20,000 units) and more of an experimental laboratory. Goldschmied is the company’s mad-scientist-in-residence, and typically begins his day at 7 a.m. at the laundry, not Citizens headquarters in Huntington Park. “The concept of Atelier is to be development oriented,” Goldschmied explains. “Let’s say that many mistakes can be made, especially in the wet process—dyeing, for instance. You can be lucky and get the right color in a few hours, or it can take days. This is where it happens.”

Atelier is exclusive to Citizens and GoldSign, though there are a few exceptions. Stacks of colored denim from Ralph Lauren’s RRL label awaited wash treatment on a recent visit. The laundry has also handled special orders for Marc Jacobs. Other competing L.A. brands know not to ask for access. “We’re not interested in doubling up with other luxury brands, only with people who are truly creative,” says Citizens of Humanity founder Jerome Dahan, who has worked with Goldschmied in the past on such lines as A. Gold E.

The tools of the trade at Atelier aren’t revolutionary, Goldschmied says: The laundry does use some proprietary vegetal dyes, but the abrading tools resemble a spiky hairbrush. The blowtorches that are used sparingly to distress jeans and the large ovens that subsequently cure them are not uncommon elsewhere. Rather, superlative jeans are largely a product of employees who train for months before mastering distressing techniques and applying rust-colored potassium permanganate, which creates a worn, bleached-out look. “If you don’t have a good hand, you’ll destroy the garment,” he says. “So we let them destroy a few until they get the hang of it.”

Simultaneously warm and taciturn, Goldschmied is most animated when showing what he’s been up to recently. There are the iconic pairs of painted jeans, of course, and the stretch denim melded with leather for a surprising and unforgettable hand. Then there are also the oddities, like a light-cream denim liberally stained with coffee. “This is what makes Atelier unique. If you went to any other laundry and asked for jeans washed with coffee, they’d probably call the police.”

If you’re looking for excessive denim embellishment, with Goldschmied, you’re out of luck. He leaves that to the amateurs. The singular look he strives to create, he explains, is pure vintage. “I like to think of it as this: You take a blue-collar worker and a white-collar worker and you give them a pair of jeans and tell them not to wash the jeans for a year. A year later you have two very different jeans, of course, because you have two very different people. The challenge is to make these dream jeans, and to be able to repeat it.”

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