For J.Crew, what’s new—premium denim made in L.A.—looks masterfully old.
Think about how your American-made jeans come into being, and your mind likely goes to a Jules Verne place: a factory in which an industrial-sized machine manifests cropped drainpipes at the touch of an LED button—spitting them out whole in the manner of a toaster presenting an Eggo waffle.
But visit J.Crew’s South L.A. sewing facility or Huntington Park washhouse and the reality is more lo-fi and decidedly hands-on: a finely orchestrated production line including stone-wash cycles with golf balls and porous pumice stones, and manual tasks by craftsmen trained in finessing 3-D resin-coated whiskers, sandpapering wear lines or wielding a dentist’s drill–sounding Dremel air tool to inflict the subtlest bit of fray on the edge of a pocket.
The New York–headquartered brand made its foray into premium denim relatively recently—opening its West Coast design studio in May 2013 and joining the ranks of Current/Elliott, J Brand, 7 For All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity, Paige Denim and others manufactured in Southern California, aka the mecca for high-fashion jeans. “Being in L.A. keeps us connected to the latest developments in the market,” says Tom Mora, J.Crew’s head of women’s design. “It’s a cool, creative hub with a concentration of resources, the best sewing and washing available, and a skilled workforce that understands the subtleties and nuances of fit and wash. We wanted to have immediate and constant access to it.”
The company produces its more affordable core denim in Mexico and China, but its premier labels originate here, including workwear-inspired men’s line Wallace & Barnes and the jewel in the crown: new women’s offering Point Sur—the brainchild of Palos Verdes-raised J.Crew President and Executive Creative Director Jenna Lyons. She created the range when she couldn’t find the perfect vintage-imbued pair for her own closet—the sort of effortless, second-skin jeans that work just as well with Carven as they do with a threadbare retro tee and, most crucially, look and feel like you’ve had them forever.
The collection—which launched in the spring and features silhouettes including a dramatically high-waisted skinny and a slouchy, cashmere-blended boyfriend jean (available in a spectrum of washes ranging from inky to ultra-faded and priced between $198 and $288)—is aimed at die-hards who appreciate details such as double belts, oxidized buttons and red thread-accented turnups.
“We start with the best quality of fabric and build from there,” says Head of Denim Design Mary Pierson, who sources bolts of cotton from Italy, selvedge from Japan and textiles from North Carolina heritage mill Cone. “Our development is a collective process—we’re a bicoastal team but we speak the same language,” she adds.
Spend an afternoon in J.Crew’s airy Arts District atelier, populated with rack upon rack of denim specimens hunted down on far-flung research trips, and indigo swatch samples named with aspirational wash monikers like Renegade, and one starts to get a feel for the dialect. A peek at the Fall 2015 samples reveals a trend toward a softer silhouette—skinny cuts lean in a more straight direction, while oversized shapes skew slightly narrower. It’s a less severe interpretation the tastemakers are betting you’ve been waiting for. Of course, you’ll have to wait a bit longer—given the behind-the-scenes workmanship that goes into nailing the line’s heritage aesthetic, the future jeans of your dreams still have a lot of living to do. jcrew.com.
By Melissa Goldstein.