04.08.2015

The Denim Maven

A men’s designer at G-Star Raw, Cameron Foden, shares his denim knowledge

 

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg

After studying Fashion at the Royal Academy of Fashion at Antwerp, Cameron Foden worked at Raf Simons and is now a designer at G-Star Raw.

Lets just say the guy knows his weft from his warp. While living in Antwerp he lucked upon a left over roll of 12oz Sanforized Japanese Denim from the Nihon Mills in the Okayama Prefecture, which he used to hand-stitch a denim jacket. A life changing, hand deforming process that the designer spent 155 hours on. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Cameron followed this up with a pair of jeans that required 105 hours and more bleeding finger stubs.

Now Cameron is an artist and wasn’t simply making a pretty double denim uniform. No, he called his pants The Trousers of Tom Robinson, The Clothing of The Guilty, and in an interview that I did with him for GQ magazine at the time, said: “I think most of my work explores the hubris of those in positions of power who abuse their power and I felt that to start the series with the symbiotic nature of a pair of workwear trousers was more than fitting.”

Those jeans were made with the intent that they could not be replicated commercially. Oak buttons, a quote printed on the inside pocket, and an adjustable seam. "I wanted to make a pair of jeans that would be the only jeans I would need, a pair that I would sooner adjust and repair than replace."

Dude’s such a mensch that when my son was born, Cameron made some baby clothes for him that used mother-of-pearl buttons that were plucked from a shirt that preceded the First World War. He’s very crafty, Cameron is, but this month is all about denim – and not why an international fashion designer is partly to blame for why my son hates sports and has a burn book to rival Suri Cruise’s. Allow the jeans genius to school you in all things denim. 

I’m currently a designer within the men’s team at G-Star. We design four collections a year and my focus there is within my tailoring skillset of formalwear and outerwear. It’s a very big company – close to 1000 people work in the Amsterdam offices alone. By contrast Raf Simons was only about 10 people, and while you learn a great deal across a wider spectrum of responsibilities at such a company, you don’t get the opportunity or time, with the focus and depth, that working in a specialised field within a larger organisation allows.

In terms of a ‘denim journey’, I’ve learnt a great deal about the mass production side in India, Bangladesh, and China, and about lead times, minimums, working around the Chinese New Year, individual market needs, individual product drops, ideal margins, things like that. All very useful stuff in this career. At Raf it was more about artistic broad strokes and a deserved faith in the Italian factories, while at G-Star I’ve learnt to be accountable for every single millimetre in every one of my designs, which really just forces you to be an absolute perfectionist, and in this career, that’s not the worst thing to be.

When you live in Amsterdam you spend quite a bit of time on your bike. Just to work and home is 25kms. And it makes sense that you want to do it quickly as possible, so road bikes become your go-to. And as with most things, the more you do it, the more you enjoy it. And then the more you enjoy it gets to the point where, wham, you’re lycra clad, 160kms into a Sunday ride, and you catch yourself actually wondering what a difference shaved legs will make. It’s a slippery slope.

Living in such a bike-friendly part of the world and riding road bikes means I mostly end up just wearing slim fitted jeans with stretch (so your legs can move) and slim-fitted jacket and/or shirts (so you’re not flapping all over the place and fighting the wind). With denim I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I love the fabric itself. That’s a little too much like an architect saying they love bricks or something, but I do think it is a very good fabric for making clothes that you want to last a bit longer than others.

Amsterdam is considered something of a ‘denim capital’ as it is home to companies like G-Star, Denham, Tommy Hilfiger Denim, Calven Klein Jeans, Levi’s LVC and Made and Crafted, and just nearby outside Brussels is VF Corporation, with Wrangler and Lee. It’s also the country that buys most jeans per capita in Europe. What this means is that there are a lot of guys who all look and dress the same: slicked Nazi Youth cut hair, tat sleeves, selvedge jeans, shit dangling off their belt-loops, Red Wing boots, some feathers somewhere, leather strappy bracelets, wife beaters, silver rings, lots of beard game. It’s like living in a Tumblr page that hasn’t been updated since about 2011. The whole city is actually only made up of canals, cutthroat barbers with twirly mustaches, cafés with industrial lighting, exposed brick walls, raw wood, fern leaves drawn on flat-whites, overpriced charcuterie boards and wooded chardonnays, leather aprons, windows with gold lettered logos with Xs in them, furniture and dressier trinkets that have been made to look antique, and stoned tourists walking in the bike lanes.

I think the most important thing should always be to wear what you feel most comfortable and confident in because it should never look like your clothes are wearing you. Yes, outside the shows you’ll see snapped extra-loose fits on both men and women and cut hems and cut knees and flood-length hems and huge turn-ups and faded-fraying-hem-downs – but just try and remember that for most of these people it’s their job to be seen as aesthetically relevant and trend-setting – or at the very least a fairly early adopter. If you’re Instagram style selfie obsessed and/or care about these things, then yeah, go for it – whatever is trending. But if you’re not, then don’t.

Classic 5 pocket in a slim fit. You probably can’t say it will never go out of fashion, but more than likely it wont go anywhere for about the next 75 years. Like the formal suit, or the pencil, or guns.

I don’t think there are many denim crimes, as most of what we see as a crime is just in retrospect. But I personally do not like jeggings: leggings that have been printed to look like a pair of jeans. No, I do not like jeggings. Not at all.

Stop buying new jeans and learn how to do your own repairs. If you’re too lazy to do that, then first learn how to stop being lazy.

Denim icons? Oh that’s easy: Martin Sheen in Badlands. Check out the scene on youtube where he does the denim jacket flip thing. Pretty damn sexy.    

Other people can explain it more eloquently but it’s because we’re still dealing with the consumer reaction against the 2008 recession by ‘buying less but spending more’ – or in other words, ‘investing in investment pieces’. Denim is like the poster boy for this – it’s considered one of the few pieces of clothing that ‘gets better as it gets older’. Add to this the pressure of designers that need to be seen as innovative and relevant and you get this mess of perspectives with an outdated fabric that fundamentally should be uncomplicated and most probably just served raw.

Denim is responsible for making the workplace more casual, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. This is part of the whole ‘Worker-Wear’ vs. ‘Owner-Wear’ discussion. Jeans are more of a hand-me-down from the post-war baby-boomers, who were the first, I’d say, major speeder-uppers of the process of de-dressing the world. But it goes back further, where men went off to serve in to World Wars and trouser-wearing women took their place, and hats losing favour, enlisted men keeping their chinos and flight jackets after ’45, and the rise of everyday sportswear and leisurewear in Europe and America. It’s too big to describe fully here but it’s probably easier to explain it as a more general decline in the importance placed on formal dressing. To be honest, historically black-tie dress is considered ‘informal’ next to white-tie dress but to 99.9% of people today they are both just ‘very formal’. Black-tie, in the rules of menswear is actually considered ‘casual’. Who knows, probably the way things are going, in two decades jeans will be thought of as formal.

Morally corrupt corporations will continue to wrangle profits for their shareholders, quarter after quarter, out of the world’s impoverished labour and desperate landowners willing to poison their own land for a quick buck. There will be more green-washing rhetoric in relation to increased public outrage, but to be honest, for the most part, people don’t care: they know what goes into sausage.

I might go so far as to say there won’t be a next big trend, insofar as the way in which trends are consumed has sped up so that just in the last year – what did I read? – that there are more images uploaded to the web than there have ever been taken in the history of man. We are so visually overexposed and inundated. Trends are now flickers. But I don’t know, if I had to give an answer, and probably with my luck, jeggings again.