Five years ago, denim-on-denim defied all of the dire warnings in the “Undateable” handbook: Instead of evoking John Denver or Britney Spears in her misstyled youth, chambray shirts paired with darker blue jeans became as cool as actor Johnny Depp and street-style heroine Alexa Chung.
Those trendsetters helped free double denim of its “Canadian tuxedo” image. And now, head-to-toe denim looks as chic as the fabric’s birthplace (France) and yet as carefree as its adoptive home (America).
It’s a winning combination this spring, as designers and premium denim brands triple-dog-dare women to not only double up on denim, but to do it in one piece or a matching two-piece ensemble.
“Denim is having a major moment this season when anything goes – from shredded to dark-wash, low-slung, or high-waisted, and even patched or bedazzled,” said Net-A-Porter.com’s buying manager Sasha Sarokin. “Designers are finding ways for denim to fit with any occasion whether it be a super clean, luxe skinny jean or a laid-back cropped wide-leg jean.”
Leading the charge are denim dresses, ranging from embellished and evening-worthy at Bottega Veneta to office-ready at Victoria Beckham to weekend-playful at AG Adriano Goldschmied, in its collaboration with the aforementioned Alexa Chung.
Two-piece denim pant suits and jumpsuits surfaced at Stella McCartney and Fendi. Denim overalls distance themselves from plumbers, ranging from open-backed and sexy at Sonia Rykiel (yes, sexy overalls) to skinny-leg and youthful at J. Crew sibling Madewell, to flares at Frame Denim. Short versions abound too, including from unlikely sources such as Michael Kors.
“I think a lot more designers and brands that you wouldn’t think of when talking about denim have gone in that direction because they are seeing how transitional denim is,” said celebrity stylist Rachel Wirkus, citing the growing number of people who wear denim 24/7.
Some denim-centric brands are thriving too. Madewell is opening 15 stores through the end of the year, bringing its total to 100, and just started wholesaling with Net-A-Porter.com for global reach. Its own e-commerce site, Madewell.com, will soon offer shipping to 170 countries.
“There’s definitely an appetite for denim dressing right now, which has helped us do well,” said Madewell head of design Somsack Sikhounmuong. “This whole idea of, ‘I know we can do jeans with denim, but what else can we do?’ – the whole idea of denim wardrobing – feels really cool and new.”
The 1970s vibe running through spring collections fortifies denim’s standing, reintroducing flared jeans with a high rise from Louis Vuitton to DL 1961 to H&M. The same high rise is applied to denim shorts for a rock festival look.
For men, chambray shirts have graduated to denim blazers from Burberry and John Varvatos. For the daring, “jorts” are back – jean shorts for men – at H&M.
On the runways, there’s a denim dress to suit every body type and lifestyle, from boxy to fitted. Chloe’s anorak-inspired denim dress was worn with gladiator heels. Gucci’s two-tone denim dress sported western accents reminiscent of Roy Rogers, with high-heeled sandals replacing cowboy boots. More minimalist are Kenzo’s zippered tunic and L’Agence’s sleeveless dress with a nautical-white-rope belt.
Denim skirts range from mini (Balmain) to midi (Marni and Saint Laurent) to maxi (Kenzo). Some come with coordinating tops in the same wash, which until recently would have been fashion poison.
More than ever denim invites experimentation. Just don’t overthink it, warns Sarah Ahmed, DL1961’s creative director.
“Denim is that one garment in your closet that should never be contrived,” Ahmed said. “The more you add to it, the more it takes away from its true appeal.”