If there was a single item of apparel to define life, it would be the jean. Because practically all of humankind owns a pair - from the President of the United States, to the Calais-based migrants, from Alabama to Zimbabwe, fashion doesn't get more democratic then when its comes to denim. The stories my jeans could tell are like an analogy of life; a chronology of good and bad times, good and bad looks, of love, triumph, hurdles and heartache. Aren't we all wearing jeans during the highlights and low times of our lives?
My first 'real' pair of jeans, earned with the cash from my Saturday job at Emporio Armani in Knightsbridge, were in fact not Armani. They were Helmut Lang, a straight leg in a dark navy wash with not a hint of branding. It was 1996, and they cost 120 pounds at Selfridges, when I was earning 30 pounds per day. A month's wages well spent. They were my rockstar jeans. When I wore them with my Nike Air Max 95 I felt invincible. They were the start of a quest to find the perfect pair, a quest which to this day is ongoing. Because back in 1996, these jeans felt as if they were perfection. They mirrored the exciting times of youth, of which we are all nostalgic.
Jeans show the wear and tear of life
There was a time when I had at least twenty pairs of jeans in my wardrobe. Some that I would never wear, but couldn't part with, others, which slowly faded with daily usage, showing the wear and tear of every day life. How funny to think the fabric of our lives and the jeans we wear are woven so inextricably together. In the noughties I was partial to a faded pair of Gucci jeans. I bought them on sale in their Sloane Square shop at a steal. They lasted a good decade, before the thread count in the thigh got too thin. I had them patched up once, but they felt like they were no longer themselves, the original state had given way to something floppy. We all know when a pair of jeans has had its life, yet we still try to get the extra mileage.
Because it's hard to part with a pair of jeans. They are like a good friend, dependable and there when you need them. Once, I bought a pair of matching styles with my best friend Paul. It was as if to solidify our friendship. His were black, mine were navy. They were YSL, Italian-made during Yves' tenure, just before Tom Ford. The brown stitching of the logo on the pocket was subtle, but I loved it. The stiffness when you first wore them in, that quality, is rare these days. I've had these jeans for 15 years, and Paul and I are still friends. Perhaps that is why I never discarded the jeans when I felt the cut was out of date. Instead I decided to cut them off, reanimating them into shorts.
For aficionados, the quality of denim will be just as important as the cut. When the slimmer leg became popular I migrated to APC. I loved the selvedge Japanese raw denim and wore these in indigo, grey and black for nearly a decade. They were the staple of my wardrobe, perhaps even in life. I wore them smart with blazers and shirts, with t-shirts when I went clubbing, and they traveled the world with me, from New York to LA to Warsaw and back to London, with plenty of places in between.
Strange then, when I look at my wardrobe now, I have more jeans than I can count, but none which appears to fit like the original Helmut Lang. I see old Levi's, Jean Machine, John Rocha originals, Steve Miller, Gucci, YSL and a stack of APCs, but I'd be hard-pressed to find the perfect fit that would be perfect for today.
Jeans, of course mirror our lives. I took a year off between jobs and am slowly getting back into the game. Navigating through life is like finding the perfect pair of jeans. That's why it's high time to go shopping.
Photo credit: Helmut Lang Jeans