A Fabric for all seasons

April 06, 2016


Here’s what the incredibly talented and world-renowned fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, said about denim. “I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes.”

This quote appeared in a three-fold brochure that I picked up at the denim exhibit in The Museum at FIT on a sunny day in early March. This exhibit is beautifully presented and really gives visitors a terrific overview of this versatile fabric that was introduced by a 24-year-old German immigrant, Levi Strauss, at the time of the California gold rush in 1853. For more information please take a look at The Versatility of Denim -- Part 1.

A tour group of about 15 young people, who may have been students at the Fashion Institute of Technology, was present when I was there. The leader was very informative and I wanted to join them, but I simply could not take the time, so I moved on. All exhibits at The Museum at FIT are free. Hours are Tuesday to Friday, noon to 8 pm, Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, closed Sunday and Monday.


The outfits that are shown are from many years back and extend right up to the present. One gets a real good sense of the history of denim and all its possibilities. For example: you’ll find long-and-short dresses, blouses, shirts, pants and great-looking jackets for both men and women.  


Everything is great, but one ensemble, created by fashion designer, Gianfranco Ferré, really blew my mind. I thought it was a beautifully tailored woman’s coat made of – what I thought was – denim. Then I read the descriptive copy on the sign in front of it and this is what it said.

“This coat from Gianfranco Ferré, mimics the look of denim BUT it is made entirely from a luxurious dark blue silk. Ferré created this illusion by using a silk that blends dark blue and white threads.

He also included orange-yellow top-stitching and copper-finished buttons – these creative touches reflect the same features that Levi Strauss pioneered on its riveted jeans in the late 19th century.” Translation: great ideas stay around forever.

The dramatic evening gown entirely constructed from pre-worn jeans by Junya Watanabe is another mind-blowing creation. You’ll find yourself just standing and staring at it. 


Junya Watanabe, dress, repurposed blue denim jeans, spring 2002, Japan

Photo: William Palmer  Courtesy: The Museum at FIT

Other fashion names that are displayed include Claire McCardell, Elsa Schiaparelli, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Tom Ford.


All sexes and ages worldwide wear denim in one form or another – everyone from two-year-olds to great grandmothers. For more about the cut, fit, rise and wash of jeans and who wears them take a look at The Versatility of Denim -- Part 2.

A couple of other creative uses of denim we liked were: a great-looking denim jacket lined in shearling for wearing in cooler weather and a to-the-floor denim dress with puffed sleeves and a 30-inch zipper down the front that ended with a daring split at the bottom.

Like we said: something for everyone. 

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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