August 20, 2019

“Y’all still wearing jeans?” tweeted international It boy Luka Sabbat last November. The comment acted at the time as an official death knell for denim in the world of high-end fashion. Within hours, Sabbat’s offhand statement had been covered with fury by the fashion press, touted as a signal that the cool kids, to whom Sabbat is a straight-up style god, had moved on. While it might be true that in the front rows of Fashion Week today, you’re more likely to see cargo pants, tailored trousers, or even Dickies, jeans still remain a staple of the American wardrobe and our chief style export—even if the craze for kick flares and shredded hems stayed firmly in 2015. The truth is that the average person is stepping into a pair of jeans most mornings.

Ben Taverniti, the creative director of Unravel, has a new gig that aims at both dressing the masses and rehabbing jeans’ reputation in the luxury sphere. Eight months ago he returned to Hudson jeans, where he had worked as a designer from 2007 to 2014, as its creative director with the goal of re-establishing the premium denim market. “I do believe that denim is coming back,” he says firmly. “I highly, highly believe it. That was one of the reasons I went back to Hudson. Because Hudson is a pioneer in premium denim.”

Taverniti’s project at the American label is not just stylistic, but also business-minded. Yes, it’s about making a great five-pocket style, but to do that successfully, he says, you need to work from design to bottom line. “Being a denim designer means you’re a producer—you produce things. It’s not like you design and do a beautiful mood board,” he says. “At the end of the day, a jean is a jean. It’s so technical that if you do not understand how a jean is made from A to Z—that includes the design, the washes, the cutting, the sewing, the shipping, the merchandising for stores—most likely, you will not succeed in the denim world.”

Success also requires a bit of philosophizing, or at least assessing how to restore denim’s reputation as a luxury good. “I feel like where the denim market is questionable is because I think a lot of brands try to become what they’re not. You know, the so-called ‘lifestyle brand,’ ” Taverniti says. “To me, denim is fantastic because it’s a mono-product. I always compare working in denim to Apple—for me, it’s no different. Apple has basically three things: an iPhone, an iPad, and a computer. They are able to evolve and create a movement around it. A jean, for me, is the same thing. When a girl or a guy wants a jean, they want a jean! They don’t want something fashion, per se.”

It’s a bold statement for someone who, with his own brand, has established some serious capital-F fashion cred, but the designer is firm on the difference between Unravel and Hudson. “I don’t want Hudson to become a high-end fashion brand that does a runway in Paris. That’s not the point,” he declares. “We can focus on what Hudson is best at, and that’s doing amazing fitting jeans with beautiful washes, amazing fabric, fantastic quality. That’s what really attracted me to coming back.”

The craftsmanship that established Hudson as a chief purveyor of luxe denim in the early aughts remains, with Taverniti refurbishing the brand’s core offering. But declarations about not becoming too fashion-y aside, he will in fact introduce seasonal collections that showcase some of his more conceptual design signatures, like screen printing and deconstruction. “My hand is my hand, so whatever I can develop in my other world is going to influence what is happening in Hudson,” he offers. Denim corsets, a mainstay at Unravel, have morphed into a floral multilayered minidress here, while his Unravel trucker jackets have been reimagined in fire chief red. “We do have what a denim company needs to be, that’s the basics, and we are able to build on top of it,” he says.

Will this combination of essentials and exceptional fashion pieces be enough to make denim trendy again? “That’s where the idea of a trend becomes dangerous because when something is trendy it won’t be popular forever,” Taverniti warns. “But a jean shouldn’t be a trend—it should be a foundation into a closet… I’ll do anything I can to do it!”

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