Natural selection is in the jeans

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2011, 12:00am


Bespoke clothing has a long, rich history. It's normally associated with high-end tailors like those in London's Savile Row and the made-to-measure suit makers of Hong Kong.

The concept is nothing new. But the rise of casual clothes in the workplace has meant that made-to-order wear has spread beyond the standard stiff suits and shoes. Any purveyor of contemporary fashion knows there is a clear distinction between the affordable off-the-rack items from Uniqlo and H&M and the bespoke offerings that designer labels embrace.

The latest trend to emerge in the world of tailor-made clothing is in denim. Considering that jeans were originally created in the mid-19th century as a durable form of clothing for mining communities, it's surprising how perception has changed over the years. Jeans are now as acceptable in the workplace as they are for a night on the town.

But the world of bespoke is hard to find your way around. A walk down Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, with its dozens of alleged tailors, is testament to that fact. What's more, every emerging fashion trend sees companies crawling out of the woodwork to get your patronage. That makes it hard to separate the true, tried-and-tested bespoke denim makers from the HK$400 'make-your-own-jeans' manufacturers.

One company making waves for its tailor-made jeans offerings is New York-based 3x1. Founded by Scott Morrison, who previously co-founded labels Earnest Sewn and Paper Denim & Cloth, the brand's 4,000 sq ft Soho store in New York looks more like a tailor's atelier than a jeans shop.

Starting at US$1,200 a pair, they cost a lot more than off-the-shelf jeans. But the possibilities are extensive. For those with a 'favourite pair' that's starting to fall apart, 3x1 will recreate the jeans as closely as possible. Fans of the brand's off-the-rack offerings who require slight 'refitting' can also request adjustments. And those who want to try their hand at fashion design can bring in their own sketches and guide the team into creating their dream pair of jeans.

Hong Kong has only recently started to embrace the bespoke denim trend. Moustache, a trendy bespoke tailoring shop located in Sheung Wan, has decided to expand beyond sleek suits for its autumn collection, through a collaboration with Japanese masters Betty Smith.

Betty Smith Jeans is located in Kurashiki, Japan, a town known to casual clothing aficionados as being the world's top producer of denim, and it's the country's first denim mill, factory and jeans brand.

'We are still making jeans in the same factory which we started half a century ago,' says Yasuhiro Oshima, president of Betty Smith. 'The people of Kurashiki have become denim masters. We're like the Detroit of denim. The entire supply chain is here. From pattern makers to stitchers to indigo dyers, our craftsmen are the best in the world.'

In the company's 60-year history, there has been only one other collaboration outside Japan, with tailor Timothy Everest in London. Through Moustache, Betty Smith hopes to bring things full circle with bespoke denim for other parts of Asia.

'In the past, tailors' shops did not carry jeans,' says Oshima. 'We used to knock on tailors' doors one by one. Denim has gone from being a staple for labourers, via being a wardrobe staple for teenagers, to a wardrobe staple for everyone. Now we work with 80 tailors' shops in Japan. Since Moustache has the highest sense of quality and aesthetic sensibility, it's the perfect match for us.'

The service starts at HK$2,900 for a pair of jeans, and takes about a month to complete. More than 100 denim fabrics are available, from standard indigo blues to modish varieties like a Prince of Wales check.

Fabric ranges from as soft as silk to as rough as rhino skin. Nearly everything is customisable: buttons, rivets, stitching colours, pocket embroidery, monogramming are all up for grabs. This ensures that your particular purchase will stand out from the endless sea of off-the-rack blue jeans.

'Obviously the materials are different from suit production, but the basic processes are quite similar: measurement, paper pattern, fabric cutting, sewing,' says Oshima. 'With more of the world's clothes being mass-produced, people want something special and interesting. Our specially developed fabrics and colours allow customers to express their individual desires.'