Where the runway meets the street

With a surge in indigo styles in menswear lately, our London correspondent Jason Dike observes the who’s, why’s and how’s of the trend that will inevitably pass.

Every so often in menswear, an old technique or method becomes a new signifier of quality. A signifier of quality is a single technique, method or, at a push, design quirk, that makes an item worthy of purchase.

Let’s be clear here: A signifier of quality is only barely related to actual quality. A signifier of quality is, at its core, an excuse for someone to like something. These aren’t just dark navy jeans, they’re raw selvedge denim. We’ve all used these excuses when purchasing something before – whether it’s provenance of an item, thread count or pixel size, it’s just an excuse for us to say something other than, “Look, it’s just really cool, okay?”

Any brand worth its salt knows that people need these excuses. Without them, you’re just spending a lot of money on something you think looks nice. And that’s not good enough. We have the signifier of quality to help push us over the edge from frivolous consumer to connoisseur of elegance.

Signifiers happen because while quality is paramount, fit is even more important — and that’s a much tougher sell for brands. After all, sizing is a complicated and imprecise science. Getting it right is tough; getting it right for everyone is near impossible. So, despite the fact that fit should be trumped over all, it’s much easier to talk about a signifier instead.

In the world of tailoring, working buttonholes on the sleeve ruled the signifier roost for a while. Working sleeve buttonholes were a display of how much your chosen suit label really cared about the product and, by extension, the customer. If they didn’t have working buttonholes then this was a sign of how little the brand cared about the product as a whole. It didn’t matter that making working buttonholes was a cheap procedure. In fact, that made it worse. Any company could afford to make working buttonholes, but they just didn’t care to do so. The callous dickheads.

Simultaneously, there was once a time, long, long, long ago when selvedge meant something. Some of our favorite bloggers used to write about how they wished their partners knew about the greatness of selvedge. Brands talked about selvedge with the same reverence usually reserved for historical figures. These were crazy times. You had to be there (or be able to use the search function on this site).

Then something happened. The world caught on. Those brands you hate because you’ve outgrown them caught on. They discovered working buttonholes. They made (awful) selvedge jeans. The dream was over and everyone had to move on, find new ways to make their clothing stand out.

Now it looks like they’ve found the next thing to latch onto: indigo. Like most things, this started with Japanese brands. Take a look at the MR PORTER and visvim video for starters, essentially a love letter to indigo. Hiroki Nakamura can do a lot of things – wear shades for no reason, charge an insane amount for his clothing, sell his clothing amazingly well so people actually pay the insane amount for the clothing. But loving indigo appears to be the thing Nakamura does the most.

Because visvim are so good at selling their manufacture techniques, they’re sure to soon be at the forefront of indigo in many people’s minds. But let’s not forget the host of other Japanese brands who also love indigo. Remi Relief, Blue Blue Japan and Kapital are just a small subsection of brands who all love Indigo just as much as visvim. They probably don’t wear shades to tell us about it though, which is a shame.

And that’s before we start mentioning brands such as Han Kjobenhavn, who’ve also had a long-standing appreciation for indigo. Then there’s the likes of Tender and Sunspel. The former uses a Woad dyeing processes while the latter has a small selection of products in indigo and Woad.

The why of the indigo boom is simple: It’s essentially the interesting part of denim being woven into another clothing story, if you excuse the pun. After all, there’s only so many techniques in menswear that could inspire someone to take pictures of themselves in their fading clothes, or compare their year-old denim to a renaissance painting.

Right now, we’re currently in the sweet spot of the trend, just before it becomes an almost meaningless term. And before long, it will become worn by the kind of guy you work hard to avoid looking like. It is already starting to trickle down to the brands who get all their ideas via other brands.

Although it’s only happened in small doses — a Jack & Jones indigo sweatshirt here, a Pepe indigo top there — this is usually just the start of the wave. In a season or two, indigo will be trumpeted by the brands who live it, by brands who’d like to live it and brands who look at the former two types of brands and think, “Everyone else is doing it, so let’s hop on the bandwagon.” That brand will ruin it for everyone. Then everyone will find a new signifier of quality. The cycle continues.

Words by Jason Dike
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