As far as denim is concerned, it's definitely "back to black."
Not since the punked-out days of the '80s and early '90s, when club-goers dyed their jeans to get the properly sooty hue, has black denim seemed so with-it. With updated textiles and a darker overall fashion mood at play, the time's more than right for a revival.
"Black denim is definitely having a moment," says Benjamin Sturgill, an influential stylist and frequent contributor to Details magazine. "The last couple of years, black has been happening as a trend in all of fashion and that old 'Americana' aspect — the preppy, WASP-y denim look — feels a little tired."
Sturgill, who also publishes his own cutting-edge fashion magazine Everything, credits forward-leaning designers Rick Owens, Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and New York's Public School label for fashion's "dark vision" and influential hip-hop stars like Kanye West for popularizing it.
"People are embracing something new and harder in fashion, and it's trickling down to denim," Sturgill says.
For some, black jeans never went away but fashion denim in the last few years worked its way through raw indigo finishes, then faded blue treatments and the colored and patterned jeans that trended in recent seasons.
"After the craze for prints and all the wild colors, going back to black is like hitting the reset button," says Tracey Lomrantz Lester, senior director of editorial for online retailer Gilt Groupe.
Lester sees another reason for the turn to black denim for women. "Denim is so much more accepted — in the office, for dressing up," she says. "People wear jeans where they wouldn't have five or 10 years ago. And black jeans look polished and put-together."
On the men's side, black jeans summon images of music idols from the Ramones to the Rolling Stones. Hedi Slimane's rock 'n' roll reboot of Saint Laurent trades heavily on that legacy, using shrunken black stovepipe jeans as the foundation of almost every look in his Fall '14 men's collection, worn with tweed Teddy Boy coats and platform creepers.
"The icons who have worn black denim have a 'cool-guy' style that men want to emulate," Lester says.
Keeping that inky black denim vibe poses a different challenge for men's designers than heritage looks with their infinite gradations of indigo, say the creative directors of Simon Miller Jeans, recently named as finalists for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award.
"With black denim, it's not necessarily about how the denim wears in; black denim can look a little flat and generic," says Jake Sargent, who is co-creative director of the brand along with Daniel Corrigan. "So for us it was all about finding a denim with character and texture."
In their search for suitable authenticity, they didn't dive in for a while, leaving the field to other brands. But the discovery of a special small-mill Japanese fabric finally "spoke" to them.
"We had experimented with washed versions in the past but with this, it's the first time we are including a black unwashed treated jean," said Corrigan of the brand's Macon style, which is hitting stores now.
Similarly, men's premium brand Nudie Jeans brought out an organic black selvage denim this month in its slim Grim Tim style and in a black jeans jacket. Even the familiar denim shirt goes dark in Acne's version for fall.
New black denim fabrics and treatments are also giving women's denim collections an unprecedented range, says Peggi Jewell, vice president of product for 7 for All Mankind.
"It used to be we'd offer one or two black styles a season, and now we're able to come up with 20 different things and we wanted all of them," she says. "If we had to, we could have made an entire line with black."
Among other things the company's fall black denim styles include a knit-based legging, a pieced denim motorcycle jacket and a slim skirt with zipper detailing in a slick coated fabric.
"Every woman should own a pair of black denim," decrees Brooke Jaffe, Bloomingdale's fashion director for women's ready-to-wear. Black denim features prominently in the 100% Bloomingdale's collection of exclusives for fall, including black-on-black leopard and zebra patterns that are a new twist on print from Hudson Jeans.
For some women, black jeans may even outdo the little black dress.
"I was out somewhere and saw Kate Hudson in black jeans and top with lipstick red heels," Jewell says. "She looked so polished, yet cool. She was like the ultimate L.A. girl dressed that way."
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