Saturday, July 15, 2006

Designer Originals

When I was in ninth grade, my friend Alyssa told me about a local biker gang called the Hell's Outcasts. We were at a downtown St. Paul headshop buying our trademark black t-shirts (Megadeth, Overkill, etc.) when we ran into the man Alyssa told me was the gang's current leader. He was a slight man of about thirty. He wore a leather jacket and jeans, and I don't remember much else about his looks. I don't know how my friend Alyssa knew this guy, but he seemed friendly enough.

Later, Alyssa told me gang's policy on clothes, which she may have just taken from Hunter Thompson's book Hell's Angels. For all I knew, the Hell's Outcasts got it from Thompson's book. The idea was this: new recruits have a pair of jeans that are called his originals. He can't take them off until they fall off, even after the rest of the gang's shit, piss, and puke are installed on said dungarees. There are variations on this, of course, but that's the gist of it.

Before you quibble with the practicalities of wearing jeans soaked in feces to work (even bikers have jobs, right?), think about how much a pair of originals would sell for in a Soho boutique. That's right, take the jeans after, say, a month of rough wear (all human fluids included, plus the inevitable motorcycle fluid stains, road rash, and cigarette burns) and wash them. Wash them again. Get the smell out. Then have the biker who wore them scrawl his name on the back with a marker and put a $1,000 price tag on them. I guarantee this will sell.

This is what I was thinking about when I read the article "Yeah, They Torture Jeans. But It’s All for the Sake of Fashion." in the business section of the Times last week. There we learn about "Italian industrialist" Giovanni Petrin and his disastrous first attempt to stone wash jeans the way the Japanese do. The stones shreded his jeans and mangled his industrial washing machines. "The stone is actually pumice," he later learned. Petrin's company Martelli is making a fortune off rich hispters who want to wear clothes that make them look as if they work for a living:
Martelli posted $140 million of revenue in 2005 not by making any of these jeans, but by providing the skills and technology to transform them from new to old-looking. It was largely thanks to those like Mr. Petrin, who helped build the new “old” look by combining fresh styling with innovative manufacturing skills (he has a small secret here), that weathered jeans became the object of desire in America’s $15 billion jeans market.
Petrin uses cheap Chinese labor ("We tried Romanians, and we tried Africans. None were as good as the Chinese.") to "stylize" jeans made in Morocco and Turkey for "Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, but also mass-market brands like Levi Strauss, the world’s biggest jeans maker, the Lee and Wrangler brands of the VP Corporation, Gap and Zara." Their methods are actually quite fascinating:
In their main factory, with 900 workers, huge washing machines tumble jeans with pumice gravel; workers in face masks slip jeans legs over inflated balloons, which then move robotlike between sets of abrasive plastic brushes that scrub the denim to give it a worn look. Other workers brush creases into the jeans that, because they fan out from the fly, are called whiskers.

The work elsewhere is more labor-intensive. Here, workers apply discoloring chemicals with brushes; there, they use hand-held guns to blast jets of quartz sand. Assembly line workers hold the edges and cuffs of jeans to spinning abrasive pegs that wear them down or make holes in them.

Some apply embroidered designs, others rhinestones, still others stitch patches over holes they have just cut. Even though most of the jeans look thoroughly ruined by the time they leave his factory, Mr. Petrin says: “If they ruin a pair, they pay for them.”
So let me return to my original idea. Distressed jeans with a record. A little more verity. Wouldn't people pay more for clothes that were damaged by individuals instead of a factory collective? That seemed to be the idea behind these wallets I found at Takashimaya last weekend. The card in the display case says the designer is Martin Margiela, and that the wallets "are a blend of high fashion and irony." The clincher: "these 'grafitti' wallets were decorated by cub scouts in Paris." I don't know quite what to do with that. Maybe that's just the verity I'm looking for with my "originals" concept jeans. Cub scouts, bikers, the possibilities are endless.

I've got my own designer wallet: a duct tape wallet hand-made by Sarah Dawson, a thirteen year-old Brooklyn student. She's my boss's daughter, actually. I've been using this high-fashion wallet for about a month now, and I just love it. It was free, and I kind of feel guilty about that. She used to sell them for around $10 to her classmates, but she stopped when she ran out of classmates. I got one free as an example. If you want one, I can one for you. But I have to warn you, my markup is 300%.



Anonymous Samantha Catlin said...

lol... My father was president of the Hells Outcasts for several years... sorry; but your friend is completely wrong. The marketing idea you have however, is great! (smiles) Samantha Catlin St.Paul, MN

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my uncles the treasurer of hells outcast... KING

11:34 PM  

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