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Blue Monday #4: Denim couture

How this everyday fabric slipped into the couture world

Couturier Yves Saint Laurent once said that he'd like to have been the one to invent jeans. "They're expressive and discreet, they have sex appeal and simplicity, everything I want for the clothes I design." In the early '70s, he was one of the first couturiers to use denim in his collections. 

The '80s saw the rise of the designer jeans phenomenon, set in motion by Calvin Klein. Other old-guard American brands like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger have had jeans at their foundation from the very beginning. Italian Giorgio Armani didn’t want to be left behind – Italy is a key player on the global denim market and home to several of the most important denim mills – so he launched Armani Jeans, one of his many sub-lines. His colleague, the late Gianni Versace, had the same idea and came out with his own Versace Jeans. Back then, French label Marithé & François Girbaud was the brand most associated with denim as prêt-a-porter at the ever-conservative Paris Fashion Week. 

One of the first Calvin Klein designer jeans © Vfiles
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One of the first Calvin Klein designer jeans © Vfiles

Jean-Paul Gaultier’s denim couture

Jean-Paul Gaultier is the denim pioneer of the haute couture world. His rebel nature was surpassed only by his craftsmanship, which meant that he took what was once a working-class material and gave it a platform as couture wear. Denim figured into his very first haute couture show in 1997 in the form of an embellished pair of jeans, a jacket and a long skirt. But even before that, denim details and pieces had found their way into his prêt-a-porter collections, like in 1994. In fact, that show featured men (in skirts) and cemented his position as a pioneer in the field.

In 2007, a strapless denim gown that flowed into a marabou-feather mermaid's tail proved to be a showstopper. In 2009, Gaultier used denim in his prêt-a-porter collection entitled The G-Spot, inspired by street culture and Rihanna and co. The spring/summer 2010 couture show built on his earlier efforts, and we again spotted denim in his spring/summer 2013 prêt-a-porter collection. In 2014, he gladly got in on the embellished denim trend. He's worked his denim magic yet again for the upcoming summer season with a few gorgeous denim pieces in the couture collection, topped off by the denim-overall-clad 'groom' in the collection's final look.

A long list of contemporaries followed Gaultier's example at the turn of this century, incorporating denim into their prêt-a-porter collections, including Junya Watanabe, Roberto Cavalli, Gianfranco Ferré and Gucci, then under the guidance of Tom Ford, who decked out his denim with feathers. As a dyed-in-the-wool Texan at heart, denim is Ford's go-to material, and in his autumn/winter 2015 collection, he paired it with patchwork and fur

A look by Jean Paul Gaultier from 1997 © Vfiles
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A look by Jean Paul Gaultier from 1997 © Vfiles
A look by Jean Paul Gaultier from 1997 © Vfiles
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A look by Jean Paul Gaultier from 1997 © Vfiles

More denim on the runway

We saw even more denim hit the runway in 2014 and 2015, leading to an exhibition at the FIT in New York entitled Denim: Fashion's Frontier. The show, which ran from December 2015 to May 2016, highlighted the versatile history of denim and its relationship with high fashion from the 19th century to today

However, the most distinctive denim statement from the last few fashion weeks came from Maria Grazia Churi, new creative director for Dior. Her second show at the helm of the French fashion house was bathed in blue, so denim was inevitably part of the lineup, ranging from tailored jackets to overalls. 

Maria Grazia Churi, Dior’s new creative director showed her interpretation of the material © Dior
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Maria Grazia Churi, Dior’s new creative director showed her interpretation of the material © Dior
The runway of Dior turned blue © Dior
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The runway of Dior turned blue © Dior

Dutch denim couture

And let's not forget to take a quick look at our own fashion talents. Anbasja Blanken won the third edition of the Global Denim Awards with her Denim Couture collection, but she's not the only Dutch designer drawn to the higher end denim offerings. Ronald van der Kemp (fresh off his victory in the competition for the Modestipendum) uses the material in his unique designs, which include a kimono made from vintage jeans and a denim suit from fabric woven specially in Burkina Faso. His latest couture collection featured a wide array of jeans, from tapered to flared to patchwork. 

Dutch designer Ronald van der Kemp also proves that denim can be very haute couture © RVD
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Dutch designer Ronald van der Kemp also proves that denim can be very haute couture © RVD
Another denim look by RVDK © RVDK
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Another denim look by RVDK © RVDK
Another denim look by RVDK © RVDK
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Another denim look by RVDK © RVDK
The collection of Anbasja Blanken that made her win the Global Denim Days
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The collection of Anbasja Blanken that made her win the Global Denim Days
Backstage at the Global Denim Awards © Anbasja Blanken
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Backstage at the Global Denim Awards © Anbasja Blanken
A look by Anbasja Blanken © Anbasja Blanken
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A look by Anbasja Blanken © Anbasja Blanken
A look by Anbasja Blanken © Anbasja Blanken
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A look by Anbasja Blanken © Anbasja Blanken

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