Ah, Amsterdam. For many of us, the city’s name conjures images of hazy, smoke-filled coffee shops, crimson-lit back alleys, and the occasional tulip bulb. And yes, those are certainly there, but for those of us with the willpower to flip past Eurotrip on Comedy Central, the Dutch city has become a bustling center of tech startups, international business, and, most relevant here, denim.
On the scale of world hubs, Amsterdam isn’t an enormous metropolis like Paris, New York, London, or Tokyo. With a population of around 800,000, it’s more on the order of Indianapolis or Seattle, and yet, the denim companies have come and come in waves. Amsterdam’s become home to Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Denham, their homegrown juggernaut G-Star, and until a few years ago, Levi’s Made & Crafted and Levi’s Vintage Clothing.
The city has hoped to parlay this talent concentration into something greater, expressing a desire to codify Amsterdam as the flag-bearing denim capital of the world. It’s not hard to imagine why—the global denim market is currently estimated at $60 billion annually and expected to grow to $80 billion in the next five years. Acting as the de facto marketplace for that money will have its benefits. I’ve been in this business for over five years, and I can’t definitively tell you where the “denim capital of the world” is (Kojima only has so much reach outside of the niche community). So why not Amsterdam?
Part of the city’s master plan was the launch of Amsterdam Denim Days in April of 2014, a weeklong festival that strings together an industry-only fabric tradeshow (Kingpins), a consumer-focused brand showcase (Blueprint), and a host of talks, concept pieces, and partnerships with local retailers. We were invited to take part in this year’s festivities (as we were in 2014 and 2015) and report how the events and Amsterdam’s relationship with denim are breaking in.
This was the question I was determined to answer but couldn’t–what was the nascent seed that started Amsterdam’s denim craze in the first place? I heard many different accounts, but no one could definitively tell me where it started.
Lucel van den Hoeven, a Denim Days partner, and the founder and CEO of the Modefabriek tradeshow pointed simply to denim fitting with the Dutch psyche. It’s hardwearing, it’s unassuming, it’s easy to wear and, since it was never really introduced until the 1970s, denim had none of the workwear identity baggage that came with it in America. It was a blank canvas they could imprint their own identity upon.
Denim Days partner and founder of fashion consultancy HTNK, Mariette Hoitink, pointed to a more specific moment in Amsterdam’s denim history, however. In the early 1980s, British brand Pepe Jeans relocated from London to Amsterdam. The name might inspire blank stares today, but they were one of the first fashion-oriented denim brands and helped trigger the wave of denimmigration to the Netherlands.
Whatever the reason, denim has taken root in Amsterdam and I was there to take in the current state of affairs.
Kingpins Textile Show
Kingpins, as you may know, is a denim-focussed international textile tradeshow for fabric mills and buyers. Dozens of fabric mills, fiber producers, and wash houses gather to buy and sell all the nearly everything needed to make jeans, jackets, shirting, and much more at an industrial scale. And I do mean industrial, this is where brands of all sizes do their shopping, from artisanal producers like Mats Andersson of Indigofera all the way up to the buyers making jeans for Old Navy and Target.
This show is almost exclusively industry-only, as the vast majority of what’s on view are fabric swatches and mockups of finished goods. That said, this is where you’ll spot old favorites like North Carolina’s Cone Mills, Japan Blue’s Collect Mills, as well as exhibits from washing facilities like Tonello, a trend section curated by our very own Amy Leverton, they even had a vintage exhibition from the people behind The Vintage Showroom in London.
The gorilla in the Amsterdam denim and fashion scene is G-Star. Since the late 1980s, their inventive product has found its way onto legs all over the world. Coming from North America, it’s difficult to understand the scale of their reach, at least it was until I visited their sprawling headquarters on the outskirts of Amsterdam.
Part airplane hanger, part apocalyptic bunker, the office is an incredibly impressive representation of the brand. The jewel of the place though is their vintage clothing archive, which is, bar none, the most well catalogued and thorough collection I have ever seen. Unlike brand specific archives, this one is purely for reference for their designers and they literally have it all–from every flight jacket produced by the US Air Force to every model produced by Samurai Jeans–in an environmentally sealed vault in the basement of the building.
Denham the Jeanmaker
When Jason Denham was 17, he bluffed his way into British designer Paul Smith’s office in London. Smith was apparently gracious enough to take the meeting and offer the young designer some advice, so Denham has spent the better part of his life trying to emulate the big man however he can.
Paul Smith has about a half dozen shops on a single street in Mayfair, Denham is catching up though with four on the same block in Amsterdam. There’s women’s, men’s, a repair studio, and a footwear outpost with a coffee bar. The concept seems a little ridiculous at first, but after seeing and smelling (each shop has its own scent) all of the locations, I couldn’t imagine laying it out any differently.
If Amsterdam Denim Days were to have a permanent location, it would be Denim City. The expansive hall in the De Hallen neighborhood houses a denim boutique with its own in house line, a full service atelier (complete with industrial laundry) for the Jean School, and a denim archive with dozens of faded and worn pairs.
The blue carpet of Denim Days rolled out for Blueprint, the part of Denim Days that’s open to the general public. There are multiple aspects of the show: lectures and talks from industry experts, a “denim of the future” exhibition with cutting edge denim findings, a marketplace for smaller brands, and a concept exhibition hall for the bigger ones.
Standouts included a new form of blue dye grown from bacteria, indigo-dyed Chuck Taylor’s with local denim shop Tenue de Nîmes, a variety of boro and embroidery, and a whole lot of faded denim.
New Amsterdam Denim Days
So what’s next for any budding empire but to expand it’s borders? One of the biggest points of excitement for this Denim Days was the signaling for another one, as the festival moves to New York City this fall for a new festival September 30 – October 1. Mark your calendars, American denimheads.