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Jason Denham’s Denim Destiny

Amsterdam-based Briton is ready for his U.S. close-up.

Jason Denham

Denham the Jeanmaker doesn’t yet wholesale in the U.S., but the buzz about the brand is so strong that merchants from the San Francisco store Revolve and the Miami store Lulu flew to its Amsterdam headquarters and packed their suitcases full of its jeans to bring back to their customers.

This story first appeared in the May 18, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

If that behavior seems obsessive, it aligns well with that of the brand’s founder, Jason Denham. Aware that many in the audience at last week’s WWD Denim Summit had no idea who he was, he filled them in on the pertinent details: “I’m British. I’m 41 years old. I’m living in Holland, in Amsterdam. I’ve been living there for 15 years, and I’ve got a little thing about denim.”

After starting denim consultancy Clinic+ and the premium denim label Blue Blood, that “little thing” has turned into an effort to build an authentic, unique denim brand called Denham the Jeanmaker based on the design mantra “the truth is in the details” and a mission conveyed by the slogan, “Worship tradition. Destroy convention.”

“We love history,” Denham said of the first part of the slogan. Of the second, he said, “It’s truly important that you get to do your own thing.”

To develop Denham the Jeanmaker, which is three-and-a-half years old, Denham thought carefully about what makes a genuine denim brand worthy of consumer interest and money. First, he said, a brand needs a great name. His last name was an easy choice. “I was meant to be in this industry,” he said, referring to his family name. Second, the brand needs a great logo. Denham the Jeanmaker’s logo comes from scissors Denham has owned for two decades and that he used on jeans designs for clients as diverse as Bono and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

A brand also needs a home. “It was always a dream of mine to put everything under one roof,” said Denham. He has opened what he describes as “houses” in creative districts of Amsterdam, Tokyo and London that incorporate several elements of the jeans business from retailing to design to public relations in multistory buildings. “When you come, you really get the full experience of the brand,” he said. Paris is probably the next city that will get a Denham house, and Antwerp and Berlin are on Denham’s wish list for future locations.

All components of the brand communicate the Denham the Jeanmaker message. At the trade shows Pitti Uomo and Bread & Butter, Denham said, “We don’t just give people free drinks. What we do is we concentrate purely on product and presentation.” The brand also releases books every season to inform wholesale customers of its story. A bigger “Mother of Book” covers the brand’s complete history. “We love that the buyers in these times today love to come on that journey with us and see what the whole product is about,” said Denham.

At stores, Denham the Jeanmaker pieces hang on scissors bolted to the walls. Denham avoids piling up the entrance with products — he despises the “sell, sell, sell” vibe those mountains of products foster — and, instead, has television screens that show customers how Denham the Jeanmaker products are made. At the back, there’s glass that customers can peer through to see designers doing their jobs. “It’s good to be transparent and show what it is all about,” said Denham.

Aspiring to make the highest quality merchandise is critical to Denham the Jeanmaker’s DNA. Denham pointed out that he works with wool from Fox Brothers & Co., denim fabric from Japan and zippers from Talon International. At the location in Amsterdam, there are five sewing machines on-site to customize jeans. The brand also has its own factory, although it is producing small runs of 20,000 pieces a season.

“Product is our big investment. We don’t do advertising campaigns,” said Denham.

Denham — who admitted to lying his way into an appointment with one of his idols, Paul Smith, to get advice when he was just starting out — isn’t anxious to blanket the retail universe. He’s chosen to place Denham the Jeanmaker at key specialty and department stores in select cities, including Colette in Paris, Fourteen Ounce in Berlin, and Selfridges in London.

And he’s going slowly in the U.S. as he seeks the right American partner to launch the brand properly, even as his collection was pursued at the forum by another American retail fan, Ted Greve of Loop Jean Co. in Tucson.

“We deliberately held back from the U.S. because we know how difficult this market is,” said Denham. “Now, we are ready.”