Across the decades, denim has been ink and acid-dyed, stone-washed, distressed, waxed, patched and pinned, pleated and zippered. From its workwear origins to ready-to-wear, surely the possibilities of the humble denim fabric have reached exhaustion? Not if you are G-Star. The Dutch brand, dedicated to pushing the boundaries of the durable Wild West fabric, has moved beyond refining the fit and cut of a pair of jeans. Whilst remaining focussed on denim, they are growing innovation with unique ventures into the worlds of design,art and architecture.
Take Prouvé RAW, a special project to reinterpret classic designs from mid-century modernist Jean Prouvé. Dipping into vast archives from the acclaimed French designer, creative teams from G-Star and contemporary manufacturer, Vitra produced a series of limited edition products. There are17 in total, including chairs, a bed, tables,a sideboard and stools.
Over two years, the team sought to deliver products that preserved the integrity of the originators' creations whilst modernising them for a new generation. Jean Prouvé's work, with its attention to material, purity and engineering has long inspired G-Star,and shares the same ideals in their clothes. One of several ways in which G-Star is expanding the allure of their brand.
For the RAW Art Series, denim has been transformed in Amsterdam's creative ateliers into objects of art. The ancient sport of falconry is recontextualised for the street with a tough handmade denim glove and a small, carefully crafted hood for the bird. Sculptures of canine skeletons have been created with denim jackets. Another notable piece recreates a jockey's outfit in denim,with matching headpiece for the horse. The series is about to set off on a tour of selected stores where customers can admire the detailed craftsmanship.
These pieces of collectable art and product design might seem incongruous to pairs of jeans on the shop floor and G-Star's philosophy of "Just the Product". But exploring the construction of miniature outerwear feeds into educating the core product.
Head designer, Pierre Morisset, has been with G-Star for the last 20 years, is responsible for breaking with the traditional five-pocket jean style and pushing denim into the future. Unlike other brands, G-Star doesn't concern itself with the rivets of old cowboy's jeans or the colour washes that the miners would have worn. They're not looking for retro-inspiration. Morisset sees beyond heritage towards functionality, engineering and architecture that positions raw untreated denim as a wearable and desirable material.
The modern silhouette of their Elwood jean was inspired after observing a motorcyclist with rain-drenched trousers. The fabric had morphed around his leg and Morisset worked to give denim a stiff, sculptural dimension,fusing it with workwear and functional shapes. It is an approach that has informed their research ever since. He is passionate that there is still much to be done. Rebekka Bach, head of womenswear, has been equally determined to articulate what is achievable with denim, merging workwear with tailoring and injecting a tough yet feminine edge to classic styles. And presenting on the New York catwalk since 2008 has given G-Star further opportunities to develop beyond just the jeans concept.
To promote the work, a selection of personalities have been featured in seasonal campaigns by renowned creative director,Anton Corbijn. Actors Toby Kebbell andAlexandra Maria Lara from his filmControl, Liv Tyler, Gemma Arterton, indie-film icon Vincent Gallo, model Elettra Wiedemann and champion chess player Mangus Carlsen all constitute the alumni of past campaigns. The latest addition, is French actress, Clémence Poésy. The 29 year-old, best known for her role in the Harry Potter franchise, says she was drawn to G-Star through Corbijn.
"I always felt like his campaign images stood out when you flipped through the magazines, because they don't feel like fashion photography. They feel honest. There's a rock'n'roll feel to it that attracted me as well."
Poésy's arrival to the list of cool kids was announced at the opening of a new store in LA's Rodeo Drive last December. Conceptualised by G-Star's in-house design studio, the vast boutique marks the arrival of the first denim brand amongst a parade of luxury labels in one of the world's most coveted retail destinations.
The growth spurt continues into the Far East. Hong Kong is the next destination for G-Star in late February. And is first location for their RAW Art series to be displayed. With stores opening up and art shows on the road, G-Star is forging ahead as the radical pioneers of contemporary denim. §
This page,clockwise, from left: NY RAW spring/summer 2011. Object # 14: Denim Falconry. Prouvé, RAW wood stool (1942). Campaign photographer Anton Corbijn, courtesy of G-Star. RAW. Opposite, clockwise, from left: Prouvé RAW standard chair Metropole. Elettra Wiedemann autumn/winter 2009 campaign photographed by Anton Corbijn for G-Star RAW. G-Star handcrafted cement mixer.