While some septuagenarians might reach for golf clubs or paintbrushes throughout the day, Adriano Goldschmied possesses his trusty Rolex GMT-Master II.
This story first appeared in the October 19, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The watch designed for globetrotters is the ideal accessory for the 72-year-old Italian native, who refuses to conclude 45 years in the denim industry in bucolic retirement. Resting on his clean desk decorated with a silver laptop and succulents in Los Angeles’ Arts District, the timepiece proves its usefulness on his monthly journeys to China, visits to trade shows in Amsterdam and Las Vegas, and, most recently, a quick trip to San Francisco for a dinner with a Levi’s executive.
“I work a lot,” Goldschmied admitted.
His industriousness doesn’t surprise Erika King. “He is the godfather of denim,” said American Rag Cie’s denim buyer, echoing the sentiment of many in the $60 billion global denim market.
Goldschmied’s first link to the denim industry was a pair of jeans he bought from an American soldier for $15. He was 14 and living in Trieste, where his mother moved him from his birthplace in Turin after World War II, following his father’s death. In the Italian port city, Goldschmied was influenced by the mix of cultures from his homeland, as well as Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia and Austria.
“Trieste was open to the new,” he recalled. “This in some way had a certain influence on my culture and my way of thinking because always I had a very open mind. I still have it.”
The G.I.’s jeans foreboded the 1971 opening of The King Shop in Cortina d’Ampezzo, which Goldschmied, then an avid skier, dubbed “a winter Staint-Tropez.” Lacking experience, he broke into retail to appease his mother. He stocked the store with clothes purchased in London and hauled across borders in a Volkswagen van.
At the end of 1972, he decided to make his own jeans. After getting the runaround from Burlington Mills and a jobber in Brooklyn, he bought a roll of 200 yards or so of denim cloth from a vendor in Naples.
“I was so happy,” he recollected. He was also too inexperienced. “I found out that the roll was made of pieces that were maximum 1.5-yards long, all rolled up, basically impossible to cut a jean. I made only HotPants out of denim.”
The jet-setters in Cortina loved Goldschmied’s designs. Even better were the exclusive prices, going up to $700 for five-pocket jeans.
“As long as they had something that nobody had, they would pay,” he said. “At that time, it created the concept of premium denim.”
Goldschmied’s experimentation with washes started with a big bowl of bleach and water heated over a fire in his yard. He opened his first laundry facility in a desanctified church. Around 1974, he founded a label called Daily Blue. Later, he became instrumental in the formation of Diesel, A Gold E, Gap’s 1969, AG Adriano Goldschmied and GoldSign.
In 2013, he left Citizens of Humanity, which had acquired GoldSign six years earlier. He has a habit of staying at a brand for about five years before moving on.
“Financially, nothing is more stupid than this,” he said. “I’m good in researching and finding new things. I don’t think I’m a good manager of business.”
In 1980, Goldschmied transferred his entrepreneurial streak to Genius Group, a think tank he formed to nurture young creative talents, including designer Katharine Hamnett and illustrator Tony Viramontes. The brands that were borne from Genius Group included Replay, Bobo Kaminsky, Goldie, Evisu and Rivet. Goldschmied has served as a mentor for many in the industry, including Jason Denham. The Amsterdam-based founder of Denham the Jeanmaker works under a poster of Genius Group, which features Goldschmied in the center. “That’s a big inspiration for me every day,” he said.
Denham also was the recipient of sound advice two years after he started his business in 2008 with tricked-out jeans that had dropped yokes and elaborate back pockets. Goldschmied’s counsel was: “Just make a great five-pocket and you’ll have a fantastic business,” Denham recalled, adding, “It worked.”
Twenty-six years his junior, Denham goes toe to toe with Goldschmied when visiting mills and laundries in places like Shanghai, Beijing and Los Angeles. He’s stood by as denim aficionados in Tokyo paid their respects to the guru with the rust-colored beard speckled with white fuzz fading into his close-cropped hair.
“Everybody wants their picture with him. Everybody wants to shake his hand,” said Andrew Olah, chief executive officer of Olah Inc. “There are not a lot of celebrities in the denim industry.”
Olah also admires what Goldschmied does with his latest brand, Acynetic, launched this year with styles that meld the look of denim and the comfort of knits.
Once his non-compete clause with Citizens of Humanity expires at the end of the year, Goldschmied aims to groom the next generation of Genius Group. Goldschmied’s three-year non-compete covers woven denim fabric, which allows him to work with Acynetic, which uses knit fabric that looks like denim.
“My dream is to create a company that makes collaborations with designers to develop new denim projects,” he said. “I would like to create something that is using, on one side, my very long and deep experience, but mixing this experience with fresh ideas that, in my opinion, can only come from young designers.”