I remember they were Wrangler drainpipes, but I have no idea where they were bought or made. I liked the Ws stitched on to the back pockets — maybe it was a latent appreciation of typography which was to kick in properly a few years later. But the point is, I truly loved them, and they were always with me whatever I happened to be doing.
I tended to wear them with a selection of band T-shirts and an old suede jacket of my father’s. The more worn in (or out) they were, the better. So it was a sad morning indeed when they literally fell apart in my hands as I tried to put them on.
Back then, that’s what you did. You wore something to death. And then you bought another. Just like you had five or six vinyl records which you played over and over. You chose carefully. You felt strongly about these things. They were your badge. And let’s face it, you just can’t feel the same way about an MP3 file.
It’s this kind of ‘till-the-end’ relationship we have with our jeans that Hiut Denim is trying to tap into. It’s the brainchild of David Hieatt, the man who quit advertising to set up Howies with his wife Clare back in the 1990s.
You can buy a Hiut Denim Yearbook for a fiver, which sets out the company philosophy beautifully. (In case you’re wondering, that’s a former teddy bear on the cover). It’s all about doing one thing and doing it well. Mastering your craft absolutely. Hieatt is a great writer who instinctively seems to know when enough is enough. He can write about doing the right thing without sounding preachy. He can explain complex ideas clearly and with com/passion. He never sounds too pally or pleased with himself. If you got the impressive early Howies catalogues, the themes will be familiar — work/life balance, nature, local produce, ecology, following your dreams, feeding your mind, quality over quantity. All admirable stuff which gently feeds into the warm fuzzy feeling around the brand.
Of course, these are no ordinary jeans. Everything about them has been extremely carefully thought through. Super-tough ecru pockets; copper rivets; chain-stitched hems; a coin pocket that fits an iPhone. They’re made from organic, Japanese denim by hand-picked craftspeople that Hieatt calls ‘Grand Masters’. Cardigan Bay in Wales where they’re made was apparently once the jeans-manufacturing capital of the UK, so the troops have certainly done their time. Like choosing a puppy, you’re encouraged to get acquainted with your jeans and the Grand Master who made them before they even leave the factory. They’re about the nearest thing to bespoke you can get.
Back in the day it was simple — Levi’s, Lee or Wrangler. In dark blue. My cousins in Holland favoured Lois. Now it’s chaos out there. You can go traditional American (Levi’s, Carhartt); uber-cool Japanese (Edwin, Evisu); or Euro chic (Diesel, G-Star). Designer or mainstream, baggy or skinny, bootcut or elasticated, pristine indigo or pre-distressed. The semiotics and nuances are a minefield. Hiut Denim’s message is easy enough to understand though — the best pair of jeans that time and skill will allow.
Naturally, they don’t come cheap. The raw denim version is £130, the selvedge denim £230. But, if they become permanently attached to your legs, maybe you can justify this by price per wear. Hieatt has also dreamed up something called the HistoryTag, a website where you can upload photos of your adventures in denim. So eventually each pair will have its own documented storyline and Hiut Denim will have a rich archive of real-life heritage, a legacy on legs.
I wish the venture well. And I sincerely hope people love their jeans as deeply and faithfully as I loved my old Wranglers. I just wonder if we think like that any more. We seem to be far more impatient than we were… always looking for the next thing, skipping to the next track, switching the channel, slaves to a whim. I’d buy a pair myself, only I have so many pairs of jeans already, that it would be impossible for me to wear them all out in my lifetime. And that seems to defeat the object.
Remember, jeans are for life, not just for a season.