The return of the Y2K aesthetic, spurred by nostalgia for the decade’s youthful spirit, has shined the runway spotlight on denim once again — think Diesel’s denim galore for fall, but also the research that went into the fabric in the early days at Vetements.
But consumers never fell out of love with denim, from the vintage-looking, Americana-referencing styles and Japan’s selvedge indigo to the more comfort-oriented stretch styles, jeggings and skinny jeans and now the high-waisted, looser-fitting trend.
Most recently, consumers began looking back at the original cloth, raw and authentic, while demanding transparency and sustainable practices be embedded in manufacturing.
While several denim specialists successfully responded to the change in consumer tastes — cue J Brand’s shift to the direct-to-consumer business model — Italian players were losing market share even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
As Re/Done was growing out of the Los Angeles scene, ‘80s brand Rifle was filing for bankruptcy. While Citizens of Humanity opened its first physical outpost in Aspen, Colo., Gas Jeans, the youth-minded Italian denim brand, was being dragged out of bankruptcy by the Grotto group.
However, a number of Italian niche brands are reenergizing the category once again.
“I’ve got a passion for the denim cloth, which offers endless possibilities,” said Juan Piani, chief executive officer of the In Style showroom based in Milan, which since 2020 has had a production and distribution license with the 3×1 brand established by denim veteran Scott Morrison in 2011.
“Denim used to be associated with casual and sportswear for its hard resistance and raw texture…until stretch and bi-stretch options caressing the female body took over,” he said.
While the license signed in 2017 to distribute the brand in Europe stemmed from Morrison’s and Piani’s mutual love of raw denim, comfort couldn’t be overlooked.
When Instyle acquired the global license to take over 3X1’s operation, Piani repurposed the brand’s signature look and feel through Candiani fabrics and by relying on laundry Elleti, both known for their sustainable credentials.
The latter also has been integral from the beginning for Blue of a Kind, a brand launched by denim veteran Fabrizio Consoli, who has had previous stints at Diesel, Replay and Gas. The company has championed a radical approach.
“Denim is among the most polluting products in fashion and while it is indeed a mainstay of everyone’s wardrobe and spotlighted on the catwalks from time to time, I realized the most sustainable approach for such a timeless item is to exploit what’s in one’s closet,” Consoli explained.
The entrepreneur, who recently opened Blue of a Kind’s first brick-and-mortar shop in Milan, said denim “is a versatile and democratic piece of clothing, potentially the most democratic of them all.”
Which is why, he opined, it has percolated down to the commercial collections of potentially any brand from fast fashion to luxury. He believes this is testament to denim’s versatility and ability to transcend trends, allowing brands to deliver cool styles at a relatively low budget.
Blue of a Kind’s mission is to take sustainability very seriously. The brand collects vintage denim pieces and unsold stock and retools them for a contemporary look and fit.
“Our design process is reverse. Starting from existing goods, with their limits, features and qualities, and our goal is to find any solution needed to turn it into something new,” Consoli explained.
Further advancing its sustainable mission, a recent tie-in with Italian dyer Officina+39 has allowed the denim specialist to expand its offering of shades, overdyeing its vintage jeans with eco-friendly pigments derived from discarded denim pieces.
“Brands should always take a stance and gather around them a community of like-minded people,” Consoli said, noting how the high-end price point puts Blue of a Kind in the same league as luxury players. Consoli’s goal, however, is to tap into value-driven consumers, who represent a fast-growing niche.
These brands feel like outliers in the market, as 3×1’s Piani put it, in that they distance themselves from the cool-chasing edge of Los Angeles-based denim labels. At the same time, they conjure a more fashion-driven aesthetic than many of their established Italian competitors, save for those in the runway league.
“Denim has been so overtly used and experimented with, that I don’t see any real new trend emerging,” said Cristiano Caucci, brand manager at Tela Genova, a denim brand operated by the FG 1936 apparel company.
The label has been reprising the original selvedge denim cloth from Genoa, crafted using shuttle looms for a raw aesthetic that still attracts a number of consumers and denim enthusiasts looking for the ideal pair of carryover jeans.
“When sales volumes for the category were slim, denim lost its essence. Now that it’s high in demand and has rightfully become a lifestyle product, there’s more room for experimentation,” Consoli said.