T-shirts are not the only essentials to get the luxury treatment. Ultra premium denim for this season and the next is challenging perceptions of which items of clothing can be considered investment pieces.
Major fashion labels such as Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Balmain and Roberto Cavalli have created luxury jeans, some costing well over £1,000. Lesley Torson, founder of specialist denim boutique Trilogy, says: “The market for designer denim continues to grow and has no limits. For so many of the fashion collections, their most sought-after pieces are in the fabric.”
Couture is usually synonymous with elaborately embellished evening wear, destined to be worn at charity galas or on the red carpet but for spring/summer one basic garment made a surprising appearance at the Chanel couture show: jeans. In pale blue, pale pink or black denim, and in a slim cut with buttons at the ankle, they were worn under a pale grey, tweed skirt suit and teamed with a cream and black jacket. The features marking them out as something special were closed, trompe l’oeil pockets, which ensure a smooth silhouette, and jewelled buttons – a feature of almost all Chanel couture pieces. These were made by the Desrues atelier, where around 160 craftsmen channel 70 years of history into moulding, sculpting, gilding and chiselling button-shaped works of art.
You won’t find such attention to detail in Uniqlo or Gap but you will find well-fitting jeans for less than £40, so does the world really need couture denim? Karl Lagerfeld clearly thinks so. He believes that they show “how to wear couture today. Because jeans and simple white T-shirts are so much part of life that you have to find a way, even for couture, to make them right and perfect for our days.”
Given that couture is only bought by a small group of women anyway, perhaps Lagerfeld’s comments should be taken as a wider reflection on the modern wardrobe. Most of us wear jeans frequently, so maybe it makes sense to spend as much money on them as a cocktail dress that might see only a handful of outings. That’s why, as dressing becomes less formal, our collective threshold for how much jeans can cost has escalated.
Since Calvin Klein introduced the idea of designer denim in 1978, and the arrival of Los Angeles-based brands such as Earl and Seven For All Mankind in the 1990s and 2000s, jeans priced at more than £100 became commonplace. In 2009, Balmain’s ripped, bleached and generally mangled jeans, retailing at more than £1,000, attracted waiting lists. At Harrods, Helen David, women’s wear general merchandise manager, says: “We have a very strong denim business with Balmain, where we see jeans around the £1,500 price point selling very well. Each season, loyal Balmain customers return for the latest washes and colours.” Even for those who can’t afford Balmain, the psychological trickle-down effect says it’s OK to splash out on jeans.
An even bigger display of confidence in the appeal of luxury denim comes from Ralph Lauren, which will launch Ralph Lauren Collection Denim in the autumn. The stand-alone range, which will cost from £220 to £1,250, aims to reinvent the durable fabric with a “luxe, modern sensibility”. Alongside merino sweaters and men’s wear-inspired shirting, the jeans feature jodhpur and ultra-skinny shapes, and detailing made from hand-rubbed leather, studs and fringes.
But is this trend a modern definition of luxury or a ridiculous waste of money – the emperor’s new jeans? Susan Tabak, who organised high-end personal shopping trips in Paris before starting the luxury fashion website www.susantabak.com, thinks there will be a market for couture denim. “A customer with the means will absolutely indulge in some Chanel couture denim. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some of my readers ordered it,” she says.
Not everyone is convinced, however, and the backlash may be beginning. Johan Lindeberg, formerly head of Diesel and founder of eponymous label J Lindeberg, founded “contemporary luxury” label BLK DNM, focusing on men’s and women’s tailoring and denim in February. He doesn’t believe that jeans should cost more than $169, the price of his most expensive pair. He says: “I want to get back to where it used to be, not so precious, such a celebrity symbol. Jeans represent independence and rebellion, and it would be nice to make them more democratic again.”