This is a guest post from Daniel Primack. I met him for dinner recently, but before we ate we popped into one of his favourite shops, Rivet and Hide. Here I had a quick chat with the owner, Danny Hodgson. It struck me how similar what he was doing – curating a shop with fine denim for a high-end niche market – was to what top wine shops are doing. So I asked Daniel to write about this comparison.
Regular readers of Wineanorak will be all too familiar with terms such as biodynamic, new oak, natural fermentation and minerality. How many readers recognise the meaning of slubby, selvedge, unsanforised, warp and weft?
These words are commonly used by purveyors and purchasers of high quality, Japanese or American denim, whose artisan ways have much in common with wine enthusiasm. Just as the wine enthusiast likes to know the story behind the bottle and understands the quality to price ratio, the denim enthusiast knows that cheap is expensive and that there is artistry in trousers.
At the time of writing, a pair of men’s jeans from M&S costs between £25-£40, and the most expensive pair from Gap costs £69.
Rivet & Hide (rivetandhide.com) on Windmill Street in Fitzrovia, London, W1 is probably the best place in the UK to buy a pair of very fine jeans with the average spend on one pair being three times the cost of Gap’s most expensive. They stock hard-to-find, eagerly sought-after brands such as Pure Blue Japan, Railcar, The Flat Head, 3Sixteen and Steel Feather. Visiting them feels the same as a visit to any of the world’s finest wine shops, assuming the product is of interest.
‘Over £200 for a pair of jeans? you may ask incredulously, while sipping on a glass of Grand Cru Chambolle-Musigny. Very few wine enthusiasts will question the wisdom of spending £20 on a bottle of wine in an independent wine merchant (3x the national average spend on a bottle from the supermarket)—and bear in mind that jeans will be worn hundreds of times.
What are you buying when you’re purchasing the finest denim on Earth? The magic word is ‘selvedge’, the term used to describe small-batch production, from the finest cotton, woven on small shuttle looms (an older, smaller, slower type of loom). These vintage machines, which are no longer manufactured, will usually be operated by one experienced craftsman working for a family owned business, producing a far higher quality roll of fabric than the large, industrial scale, automated, shuttleless looms. Secondly, the finished garment will always be sold untreated. Natural jeans! This means it will be evenly coloured, usually indigo, as opposed to the washed, faded, sand blasted, treated (weakened) mass market product. The cloth will be extremely durable and permits the wearer to allow natural fades to appear with wear, leading each pair to become unique.
Denim is available in various weights, the lightest around 11oz (the weight of a square yard of fabric), most commonly around 15oz, all the way up to the extremely unusual, very heavy 32oz from the heavyweight masters, Iron Heart (www.ironheart.co.uk). The shade of the indigo will vary according to how the cloth is dyed and the construction of each pair will be a painstaking labour of love producing some very tough, strong seams. Inside the trouser, on the outside edge, selvedge denim will always show the finished edges from the loom. The care that goes into the cut and fit means that these products fit far better.
Denim enthusiasts will revel in the differences between each producer, with talk of rise and taper, texture (slubbiness), weave direction or weft colour (the usually, but not always, white thread).
As with wine, price does not always guarantee quality, with some very expensive mass market (fashion) brands being available. A good rule of thumb is, if they advertise in the glossy spreads, avoid.
A more detailed explanation of denim can be found on the Rawrdenim.com website (the denim equivalent of Wineanorak.com).