Denim and jeans within the fashion industry hold a special place not only due to its natural product and process features which combines arts, technology and science but mostly because of a global connected community it has webbed. The product never repeats itself but reviews history, enhancing the intellectual and the design properties of previous learnings. When I started to work for the industry, the 1990's was an era where wearable classics and original genderless style enabled denim to become even more relevant and celebrities like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp popularized jeans even further.
As early as the 1970's Calvin Klein had launched the first expensive “designer” jeans, made of dark, unfaded denim fabric and the cut was the skin-tight style which would later on take the market in the next decade to come. Calvin Klein had not used a new denim but created a new way of finishing, marketing and branding the jeans. The traditional jeans were meant to be broken-in, taking on the wearer`s body shape after years of use and limited washing to arrive at the most desired aged look. The stonewash and many other forms of industrial finish developments which were co-created by the designers and engineers helped modern denim to grow. The market expansion become possible as both the high-street and luxury fashion brands embraced the use of denim and jeans appeared with price tags ranging from 15 USD to 1000 USD.
Today we are trying to construct the future of the troubled denim and jeans industry, which is due to multiple malpractices, false assumptions, green-washing, devaluation of environmental and social inputs. This week I want to talk about what has made working for the industry to be a joyous celebration for me rather than the downside. I could not agree more with Sue Barrett -the co-founder of Denim Forum and Address the Future as she says about her far-reaching body of denim work (which I had the honor of taking part in), The Lockdown Nostalgia Project:
“As we all know, denim is more than just a fabric. Denim is the much loved, unique canvas that captures marks and memories of good times and bad. ‘I wanted to connect with the currently housebound indigo hearts of the denim brotherhood I’ve had the privilege of knowing and invite them to revisit some of their denim highlights.”
It will sound romantic because it surely is; and it is the love for denim and for the community that bound the people in this industry. I remember denim moments, fabric names, creative ideas turning into real projects, co-creating heroes taking the denim to be at the core of a project, collection shoots and many more and all because we could build relationships and celebrated them. As we are headed into a re-design of the industry, I wanted to re-connect with the insight of the amazing collective human property that the industry has and share their valuable insight as I believe that our solutions lie in the minds and the hearts of the people who have given so much to denim. I remember the very day that I have met Monique for the first time in my bosses' office 25 years ago and she was talking about how much she loves to see the big indigo dyeing machines and the noisy looms in the factory J and I had thought that this was strangely surprising. Monique has never ceased to amaze me as a friend and professionally with her relentless, creative work as well as her one of a kind energetic, joyous beauty and she is as authentic and natural as her jeans.
Meet the person:
Monique Buzy Pucheu
an extraordinary denim-head with a global experience, based in NYC
IF:What is it that makes you love denim and jeans so much? Where is this love coming from?
Monique: My love for denim is actually a reverence. I love how a jean or any piece of denim goes through a very small but deliberate metamorphysis every time you wear it…The whisker becoming more pronounced, the back knee crunch becoming more 3D, that effortless swipe of your thigh that transferred a bit of dirt and sweat somehow deepens into a patina badge of honor. For jeans specifically my memories span from wearing tough skins and Levis tomboying around with my brother to the disco days of “chic le freak” designer denim wave…
IF: You behold a very unique blend of technical and design knowledge and experience in the denim industry. How come that you can be both technical and work as a designer?
Monique: My Grandmother who raised me was a designer and dressmaker. She would make dresses for the ladies in the neighborhood. I think it was more a passion than a financial necessity. She taught me basic pattern-making and sewing. I always wanted to be in the fashion business originally thinking Design but I always loved Math and Science so I went for Merchandising with a minor in Design and eventually got my Bachelors in Production Management and Engineering. This education served me well when I started at Ralph Lauren in production where I was responsible for the production of all men’s bottoms and jeans travelling to factories globally working on fit and finish and keeping production on schedule. It was a very small team back then and I had a lot of exposure to Ralph and Jerry his brother. They gave me vintage jeans to replicate in the factories and back then denim washing was very rudimentary… I spent countless weeks in factories sometimes out of NY for 200+ days a year. I didn’t come home until the job was done…. It was an amazing education. I spearheaded a garment dye program which Ralph swore he would never approve of and he loved it and added design to my resume where I designed and did all product development for “rough wear” and “dungarees”. After 4 ½ years I made a change to Diesel, an exciting Italian brand that was just making its mark in USA. It was a licence and I was Director of Product development. I first spent many weeks in Italy learning from the masters in pattern-making techniques and very advanced wash recipes to reproduce in Asia and USA/Mexico. A very tall task at this time as most factories were not used to this level of detail. Here the travel was grueling out of NY almost 280 days in a year! That license did not last and I was hired by Mr. Calvin Klein to start his new: “small boutique denim brand” CK Calvin Klein Jeans as Design Product Manager. After the first season it exploded and the brand grew to 68 million before he licensed it and charged me with Merchandising where I built that business to 480 million dollars and after 7 ½ years left as Executive Vice President of Merchandising and Product Development. I then started my consulting company Buckle Back Design Inc. in 1998.
IF: I also know that you love machines and especially the big ones :)) What latest machine development in denim excited you the most in the recent years? or which of the machine park in the denim/jean manufacturing you find to be interesting?
Monique: Last year I went to Kingpins Amsterdam and my good friend Giovanni Petrin introduced me to a lovely gentleman Ivan Blini the international Sales Director for SEI laser. The product was AWESOME. The machine can cut the garment out as well as make the most intricate, multi dimensional super vintage dry process pattern including incredibly authentic grinding in 90 seconds or so. It was so exciting!! With just a rinse you can have a super cool vintage “inspired” jean. Now I am not saying it is identical to a vintage or even a conventional reproduction without resin 3D etc. but maybe this is the NEW vintage. There is something cool and modern about that and let the consumer put his or her own 3D pattern to the jean. I was planning on contacting Ivan for a visit in the early fall but I guess that’s on hold now with the Pandemic…
IF: You have a gem of a denim achieve which I happened to have visited occasionally. How did you go about building this treasure? What is your most favorite piece?
Monique:Yes, I think I have an awesome collection 700+ and always collecting. It could be considered extreme for an individual but I think to be a consultant it is important to have this type of variety of denim and casual at your disposal for design inspiration, wash standards and bragging rights J. I don’t really have “A” favorite but I have a group of super rare 1890-s Stronghold buckle backs and Levis that I worship…
IF:How do you wear your denim?
Monique: I only wear vintage jeans or APC that I wore in. I really like a few of the fits of APC for something more modern. I wear my jeans loose and tomboyish to tight and straight and recently super high and tight Levis flares from the 70’s.
IF: Your high denim moment in the so many denim years you have had?
Monique: Wow soooo many.
1. When Ralph fell in love with my garment dye proposal and promoted me to Design.
2. When Renzo Rosso the owner of Diesel secretly came to the factory in China when we were shipping our first product and could not believe it was actually made there and called us F$#King Geniuses.
3. Being in Calvin’s office seeing him get so giddy as he stripped in front of us trying on the new fits for CK Jeans men’s.
4. The first Coterie Show I did with my line Buz Jones and Stephanie Greenfield the owner of Scoop called it the best denim collection out there.
5. When I consulted for Wrangler 47 and my designs were in the windows of Barneys and I got to work with Julie Gilhart the most brilliant merchant and Simon Doonan a creative genius.
IF: What does sustainability in denim mean to you?
Monique: I hate to say this…Wear vintage.
IF: Thank you Monique.
Biomimicry for Designers: Applying Nature's Processes and Materials in the Real World,