From the outside, this concrete fortress, punctuated with row upon column of uninspired warehouse-style windows, more closely resembles a seven-story shoe box than the pulsing, churning nerve center of five-pocket fashion.
FOR THE RECORD:
Levi's jeans: An article in the May 6 Image section said that Levi Strauss used tent canvas before switching to denim, and that gold selvage fabric was used in the Levi's XX style. According to the company's archivist, Lynne Downey, the first jeans were made from denim, and the gold selvage was used in Lady Levi's women's jeans. —
A casual observer would have no way of knowing about the lush outdoor garden on the third floor, or about a roof packed with cabanas, barbecue grills and a pool that overlooks the city, or about the converted shipping container in the lobby that serves as a mail room.
But once inside, it's a swirling indigo whirlwind that has drawn up Adriano Goldschmied, "the godfather of denim"; Stefano Aldighieri, the former creative director for 7 for All Mankind; Rohan Marley, who has launched a denim-focused line inspired by his dad, the late reggae star Bob Marley; and Chad Hilton, founder and designer for Crate Denim, a clothing line that for two years has captured the attention of hard-core denim fiends.
Explaining how the former Ace Novelty Factory came to be the Kevin Bacon of the high-end blues is not as easy. But the story starts, as so many aspects of the denim business have over the last four decades, with a now-63-year-old bear of a man whose name and creative output have graced millions of backsides around the globe: Adriano Goldschmied.
"I took two units expecting to eventually move to some place more industrial," Goldschmied said, describing his move to L.A. in 2004. "But I love this location. I can do everything I need to do in one place. If you're based in New York, nothing really happens. You create something and e-mail it to somebody in China or India, but you never actually touch it. This is something you need very much to touch, you need to feel it week after week."
WHO could have charted the fantastic voyage of the humble blue jean from the moment a Bavarian immigrant made his first pair? In the late 1800s, dry goods merchant Levi Strauss first used tent canvas for the britches of gold prospectors until he was smitten with indigo denim, which was softer and didn't show dirt as easily. From there it became America's uniform.
In the 1950s, jeans became a symbol of rebellion; in the '60s, the garb of the anti-establishment. And in the '70s, denim became the palette for self-expression. In the '80s and '90s, European designers began to treat denim like an artist's canvas, and by the start of the new millennium, hundred-dollar denim was commonplace. Today, the most expensive labels are symbols of conspicuous consumption.
Today denim is an international juggernaut in fashion. In the U.S. alone, it is a nearly $16-billion business, of which $480 million come from jeans priced at $100 or more. L.A.'s slice of that high-end pie is nearly 85%, or about $408 million annually.
Los Angeles is a hotbed of denim prospecting. The city's rise to dominance in the designer-denim arena came as a changing global economy forced low-end jeans production across the border and overseas, and high-end denim filled the void. Today there are more than 110 labels made in and around the city, including half of Gen Y's top 10. And at 1855 Industrial St., the heart beats loudest.
Goldschmied's ground-floor suites are crammed with rows of industrial sewing machines, rolls of denim and walls covered with sketches, torn-out magazine pages and scraps of fabric that make the space feel like an organic extension of his mad-scientist brain, siphoning inspiration out of the ether and giving it shape in fabric and leather.
Goldschmied decamped to the Toy Factory Lofts on a temporary basis in late 2004, just as Linear City had finished developing the building. The timing was just right. He was preparing for the summer 2005 launch of his most recent project, a denim-based, high-fashion-meets-contemporary-casual line called GoldSign. Today he has expanded from two units to five.
Considered the godfather of denim, Goldschmied is an industry legend. He began his career in 1970, when he opened a shop in the Italian resort town of Cortina D'Ampezzo, where he launched his first jeans line. Since then he has been owner or designer for 52 denim lines, including mega brands Diesel and Replay and the eponymous AG Adriano Goldschmied, which first launched in Italy but is now made locally. (He has since sold his interest in the namesake line to a former business partner.)
He was also an influential early pioneer of stone-washing and acid-washing techniques.
Focusing on fabric
IN the not-so-recent past, denim's stylings were so florid that they would make a glam rocker blush. Jeans were bleached, hand-sanded, whiskered, tea-stained, torn, shot at with guns, dragged behind cars, whip-stitched and crystal-studded to the point that denim itself seemed like an afterthought.