Aside from reconstruction and reimagining, designers are also using terms such as repurposing, retelling, reworking and re-creating. As a result, an umbrella moniker has emerged to describe this trend: Denim Architecture.
For South Korea-born designer Ji Oh, that means reconstructing and repurposing vintage denim through her own “specialized methods” for her namesake label Ji Oh, a luxury women’s wear brand. In her new capsule collection, Another by Ji Oh, the designer offers androgynous, exquisitely tailored denim pieces alongside asymmetric-cut tops, dresses and oversize, cropped denim jackets.
Ji Oh’s collections — carried at stores such as Barneys New York and Harvey Nichols — are created with handpicked pieces and are hand-cut, hand-sewn and one-of-a-kind, all produced in New York City’s garment district. Oh is a 2016 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Finalist and current CFDA Incubator 4.0 awardee.
Ji Oh, founder and designer of Ji Oh, told WWD, “Every season, I source inspiration for my collections at thrift stores. There’s always a ton of denim at most secondhand stores, so I said to myself, ‘Why not create a capsule collection in denim!’ I found myself in love with all the worn-in denim and the stories they carried; so by repurposing them, I was able to retell their stories and give them another life.” She added, “For me, repurposing denim was a way to not only create a new capsule collection, but allowed me to develop pieces that were sustainable for both the consumer and the environment.”
Or take Cie Denim’s signature upside-down concept that literally turns a pair of jeans on its head: Its “upside-down jean” features belt loops that wrap around the ankle and back pockets that crawl up the calf, paired with thin, frayed waistlines. The entirety of Cie Denim’s selection is made of hand-selected vintage jeans found in New York City; the jeans are then sorted, sized, and individually deconstructed.
Kelcie Schofield of Cie Denim told WWD, “The denim market is really saturated so I knew I had to create something I hadn’t seen yet and was super wearable for everyday life. I wanted the upside-down jean to have the familiar feeling of classic denim but with a modern twist. Keeping it simple and clean was extremely important during the design process — being effortless is something that never goes out of style.”
She added, “As a designer, it’s exciting to me that so many companies are trying to make denim different. The challenge is making something that can be worn season after season. It’s awesome that designers are pushing the envelope and creating new silhouettes and really evolving the denim industry.”
And like Oh, Schofield thinks of reworked denim as a functional, flourishing form of sustainability. Schofield continued, “Reworked denim is definitely a growing trend in the industry. There are a few companies that focus on sustainability through repurposing, but it would be amazing to see other brands be more environmentally friendly. There are also a lot of companies trying to achieve the look of repurposed denim but mass producing at a fraction of the cost with new fabrics and traditional denim washing techniques, which are bad for the environment.”
Also of note is Ukraine-born designer duo Ksenia and Anton Schnaider of Ksenia Schnaider, who deconstruct traditional jean silhouettes and layer denim-on-denim to re-create entirely new contours, curves and shapes. The brand’s “demi-denim” jeans, asymmetric, fringe denim skirts and reworked denim coats and blazers are standout items in their current collection. Ksenia Schnaider told WWD, “Denim, being such a staple fabric, is becoming a stage for experiments within the fashion industry.”
She added, “When Ksenia Schnaider started reworking denim, there wasn’t a lot of affordable denim factories available. But the urge to work with denim persisted, so [we] went to vintage markets for the fabric. With time, [our] attention was drawn to the fact that, having been reworked, the designs are not only unique but also very ecologically responsible. Having identified that, it never left [our] minds.”
Schnaider continued, “The topic [of sustainability] is hugely important. And not only in the denim industry but in the clothing industry in general. Fashion is one of the most harmful industries to the environment and it’s a shame that not a lot of companies choose to be sustainable rather than purely profitable.”
Ms. Schnaider’s penchant for denim inspires much of her playful aesthetic. Most recently, the designer created a “denim fur coat,” which was “inspired by the luxury of having a pair of jeans in my childhood. I remember my parents having to share one pair, for example. It was in the juxtaposition to the common symbol of luxury — fur coat and so the denim fur was born.”
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