I’ve always loved embellished denim. No, wait. Make that, I’ve loved embellished denim since 1973 when my sister bought a pair of shrink-to-fit Levi’s. After wearing them in the bath for several hours they emerged a perfect fit, if rather damp, and she proceeded to add studs. For 13-year-old me, that was the ultimate in cool.
Fast forward through decades of my own customisation projects until we arrive at September 1998. This was when sales of Levi’s were tanking and commentators were pronouncing the death of jeans (based on those Levi’s problems and the fact that Tony Blair and Jeremy Clarkson were very fond of jeans, thereby rendering them terminally naff).
But, like Mark Twain, reports of their death were greatly exaggerated as nobody factored-in Tom Ford. In September 1998, he unveiled Gucci’s SS99 collection, a real OMG moment in the history of 20th century fashion.
The embellished denim he offered turned the sector on its head and helped kick-start a trend that was enthusiastically taken up by the high street. I think I’ve still got the pair of Warehouse jeans somewhere that I carefully customised with beaded trimmings from John Lewis and Berwick Street Market.
Denim has ebbed and flowed since then with embellished denim making regular comebacks. Tu Es Mon Tresor and Ashish have both made spectacular embellished jeans (albeit priced for oligarchs-only and yes, my customisation kit has come in very handy making passable copies).
My biggest regret on the embellished jeans front is that I didn’t buy the Ashish sequinned jeans from Net a Porter’s sale (see picture two in the board above) when they’d were at 70%-off. They were so OTT I wasn’t sure I’d wear them.
Plus the denim editors at the trend forecasting product I worked for at the time looked decidedly unimpressed when I tried them on in the office (I think they were just too OTT for their basics-focused purist sensibilities).
At least I did buy some Dolce & Gabbana embellished jeans from the Outnet and a gem-studded Miu Miu jacket from Yoox a few months ago. I think both of them must have been priced wrong as they were way cheaper than the other similar pieces in their respective ranges (or maybe nobody else but me wanted them).
All of which brings me to the point of this piece. Embellished jeans – well, embellished denim generally – are having a moment now. Once again, we’ve largely got Gucci to thank. Alessandro Michele’s folk-influenced floral embroidery and snake beading for both men and women are making a huge impact. They mean that the off-duty look of choice for celebs these days is less often a pair of scruffy distressed jeans. They’re also giving athleisure leggings a run for their money when it comes to celebs landing at LAX or strolling around NYC.
Pay a visit to Browns, Net-a-Porter, and Farfetch and you’ll find embellished denim by the big labels as well as denim specialists. Or look around for smaller labels, such as the one my ex-colleague Anne Bernecker launched, offering up more affordable (but still-high-end) and much more individual embellished denim.
Surprisingly though, the high street hasn’t (yet) jumped all over this trend. Topshop is, as always, on top of it with floral, sequinned and metallic coated denim. But the offer generally from the mass and middle markets is still built around distressed and skinny unembellished jeans.
Maybe brands and retailers are still grappling with the devastation athleisure is wreaking on their sales. And I’m told by those who work in the denim sector at high street level that the disconnection between runway and street is more of a gaping chasm than it ever was. Yet unlike elaborate beading that really does come at a cost, the sequin panels, metallic coating and Gucci-style embroidery can be brought in at the right price. Decorated denim has been the denim sector’s saviour before now. Perhaps it could be again.