D E N I M
S T Y L E
HORST A. FRIEDRICHS
DE NIM STYLE
by Kelly Dawson
Denim, the most ubiquitous of fabrics, yet its history is often a mystery masked in the veil of its own success. Who
hasn’t owned a pair of jeans?
The purveyor of this look is known as the “Denimhead”. This curious character is often spotted in real ale pubs,
at the weekend they are nose deep in vintage clothing markets and almost always tinkering with some old motorbike, car or scooter. This book is in pursuit of a special variant of the Denimhead, for this is the British Denimhead.
Often heard talking of fabric in ounces, red line selvedge, type 1 or type 2 cinches and asking how many dips?
We start the journey in the dye houses of Japan at least a thousand years ago. Here the art of aizome, or indigo
dyeing with the fermented leaves of the Japanese indigo plant (Polygonum tinctorium), is well respected and holds
status. In Japanese culture the colour blue is significant; it represents the ocean, which in turn means food (fish). It
was around six hundred years ago that Japan learned to grow cotton from their Chinese neighbour. Weaving at this
time was done by hand.
It would be the Industrial Revolution in Britain that would kick-start the manufacturing of denim, specifically the
invention of the flying shuttle by John Kay in 1733. The Roberts power loom in 1830 would make mass manufacture
possible. Weavers would perfect a fabric called serge, a twill-like fabric; it was this weave that produced worsted,
silk and eventually denim. During the Industrial Revolution us Brits would send our staples to mills in London or to
France for the production of durable workwear fabrics. At this time we would have been dyeing yarns with woad, a
similar technique to dyeing with indigo but not as deep in colour.
It was in 2004 that a seventeenth-century portrait by an unknown Italian artist confirmed the final piece in the
denim puzzle. This painting of a lady and a boy are clearly wearing denim; this would be the world’s oldest example
of denim being worn. From here we can finally piece together the rest of the journey.
In 1677 a gentleman called David André, a landowner and dyer, moved to a north Italian town known for its
port. The town was called Genoa, and David? Well he was from a town in the south of France called Nîmes. In this
town, and with David’s investment, a cotton twill fabric called serge de Nîmes (“denim”) was developed. Over the
next hundred years David and his children Guillaume I and Jean III would start producing this fabric in great quantities, importing it to Genoa where the Genoese tailors would make strong durable work trousers (jeans) for the
sailors. Eventually these sailors would travel as far as America in search of their fortune and in 1849 would join the
Gold Rush. The skills learned from Nîmes and Genoa were adopted by American mercantile stores who would make
their own version of these overalls, the five-pocket western.
Some British Denimheads, like me, get into denim through music and subcultures. My dad was a Mod, well a
Ted then a Mod in London, in the late 1950s/early 1960s. At this time denim would become a fashion item; we are
aware that jeans were hard to get hold of, some were unsanforized, which Levi’s branded “shrink to fit”. They would
all be selvedge denim woven on narrow looms like the Toyoda (Japan) or Draper (US); all came in one length: a 34.
One way you could tell a Rocker from a Mod was by the length of their turn-ups. The mods would get theirs tailored
to a half-inch, the Rockers or Bikers like the Ton-Up Boys wouldn’t bother, instead they would leave them, which
depending on how tall you were could result in quite a substantial turn-up. We are still this person, we still ride our
vintage British motorbikes and our Lambrettas, we still drink coffee at Bar Italia and tea at the Ace Café, we still
stay up all night listening to vinyl and live music. It’s this heritage that I think makes British denim style different
from that of American or Japanese. By the 1970s and the development of wide looms for mass manufacture the
additions of elastane and polyester meant you could pretty much buy jeans in all high street shops. But why want
what everyone else has got?
Of course there are also those who get into denim in search of the most durable workwear; whilst the work itself
has changed since the 1800s we are still fascinated in finding the most durable trousers, the jeans that will last us
a lifetime. This is where function prevails over fashion. We look to history for lessons in fit and fabric; the original
jeans of the Gold Rush were around nine ounces; we now wear up to thirty-ounce jeans. Denim is dyed in ropes,
a rope is twenty yarns; the indigo dye used today is a Nobel Prize-winning chemical version of the original plant;
the rope must be dipped in and out of an indigo bath, oxidising each time to create the depth of colour. The rope
doesn’t dye all the way through, which means that whilst the colour is durable it isn’t totally fixed, so as the jeans
age they fade in colour. Becoming a Denimhead doesn’t happen overnight; we are in pursuit of the best fades and
to achieve this we must wash our jeans sparingly; this takes patience, to maintain the depth of the indigo and the
extreme rub to get the best effects, which can take years. Our jeans become a family friend telling stories of their
own with each stain, rip or repair. This is the rite of passage for the Denimhead.
We find the handmade aspirational, the small production runs of rare denim fabric our prize, the fades our
trophies. We are Britain’s workers; we are makers, tattoo artists, baristas, photographers, market traders, chefs,
musicians, tailors, shopkeepers and mechanics.
Most of all: We Are Denimheads.
Horst A. Friedrichs
Paperback, Flexobroschur, 176 Seiten, 19,3x27
160 farbige Abbildungen
Erscheinungstermin: April 2014
Arbeiter, Jugendliche, Millionäre, Punks und Angestellte im Freizeit-Look. Alle tragen
Denim. Designer schätzen den begehrten Stoff für seine extreme Haltbarkeit und die vielen
Variationsmöglichkeiten. Schon deshalb ist das ursprünglich nur für Arbeitsbekleidung
verwendete robuste Gewebe in den letzten 300 Jahren nicht aus der Mode gekommen – und so
trendig wie nie zuvor. Der Fotograf und Spezialist für Subkulturen, Horst A. Friedrichs, hat sich
in den Straßen Londons auf die Suche gemacht. Aufgespürt hat er alle Aspekte dieses sozialen
und kulturellen Phänomens: „Blue-blooded“ nennen sich die leidenschaftlichen Anhänger der
Denim-Kultur, die sich schon fast obsessiv mit der Kunst und der Technik des Webens bis
ins Detail beschäftigen. Horst A. Friedrichs zeigt auch stilbewusste Trendsetter, die sich von
klassisch bis außergewöhnlich in Denim einkleiden. Entstanden sind ausdruckstarke Porträts
von Individualisten, für die Denim mehr ist als nur Bekleidung – in einem wunderschönen
Fotokunstband über einen Stoff, der jeden berührt.