JEANS REVIVAL AT DEJA BLUE
Byline: Jennifer Owens
WASHINGTON — At Deja Blue, Georgetown’s hip used-jeans boutique, owner Ned Fuller has three rules: The jeans must be used, they must be Levi’s and they must be men’s.
“I won’t stock women’s jeans,” Fuller said. “Nobody wants them. And I can’t give them away. I’ve tried.”
Yet Fuller estimates that at least 75 percent of his customers at his two stores — an 800-square-foot unit in Georgetown and a new 2,000-square-foot site in Bethesda, Md. — are women.
They want vintage, said Fuller, such as old 501s, 505s, 517s and 550s. Most of the stock sells for about $25, but among the more than 3,000 used jeans he stocks between his two stores there are some items with considerably higher price tags. Thirty-year-old bell-bottoms are a hot item right now, despite the $150 price tag, and Fuller on occasion will also sell even pricier goods — up to $2,000 per pair to denim connoisseurs, such as Japanese tourists who come to his store seeking decades-old denim. Fuller advertises the store in Japanese travel guides.
These tourists, he said, are looking for a slice of Americana. “Levi’s production is so uniform that you can date precisely when they changed something,” Fuller said. Coveted styles include pairs from the Forties whose rusty rivets show they were made before Levi’s began to varnish its copper and a Red Tab style known as “capital E,” whose label indicates it was made before 1971.
A former career army officer and civil engineer, Fuller started his business as a vintage-jeans wholesaler about seven years ago and has since become familiar with the nuances of vintage denim. He estimates the stores will generate a combined $500,000 in sales this year, with much of that coming from business with the area’s many students.
Fuller has also had celebrity clients, including Madonna, Chelsea Clinton and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, who once brought the whole band into the Georgetown store for a two-hour spree.
To keep his stores filled, Fuller has a network of individual suppliers. He has a source in San Francisco with a bevy of Levi’s bell-bottoms, and he also carries some official Navy surplus jeans sold to him by a woman in Jacksonville, Fla. In addition to jeans, Fuller sells vintage Hawaiian shirts and old work shirts he buys from a source in El Paso, Tex.
“They find me from all over the country,” said Fuller, who hand-picks each item he sells. In jeans, Fuller looks for no stains or holes, although he will send special pairs, including those of his customers, out for repairs. Fuller also remains intent on teaching his staff about his product and helping them fit the customer.
“If it doesn’t look good, you tactfully tell them it looks like hell,” Fuller said. “Because if we don’t tell them, someone eventually will.”