Mad For Mud

PRPS Barracuda jeans

Unless you live in a cave that nature miraculously made free of dirt, you’d know that the dirtier the jeans, the more desirable they are. Despite the scarcity of cave dwellers, people are still amazed that dirty-looking—and actually dirty—jeans are available to buy. And expensive to boot.

Nordstrom, the American department store that dropped Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, was thrown into the filthy path of Twitter ridicule yesterday when shoppers spotted a pair of USD450 muddy ‘Barracuda’ jeans at shop.nordstrom.com and could not believe what they saw, particularly the accompanying price tag. A Twitter storm broke out (although the jeans have been on sale for quite a while), with one Tweet describing the five-pocket “perfect jeans for men who work corporate office jobs but still haven’t given up on their dreams of being a cowboy”.

Even news channels weighed in, with CNN declaring “dirty denim is the new black” and The Washington Post stating that “a few people with jobs that involve getting ‘down and dirty’ are pretty miffed”. They’re even joining the fun across the Atlantic, with the BBC informing us that Nordstrom was “castigated” for peddling those “mud-coated jeans”.

But making what we wear look like they have survived BMT field camp during the rainy season is not really new. Back in 2014, Adidas tried something dirty when they released a pair of sneakers—the ZX 750—with Japanese graphic/fashion designer Kazuki Kuraishi (under the label KZK ZX 750 RG 84-Lab) simply called “Mud”.

Adidas ZX 750 MudTo make the soiling really obvious, Adidas had the effect created on an all-white ZX 750. While no wet earthy matter was used, the effect was rather realistic and jokey enough that, for many sneakerheads, justified the asking price of USD175. Here is a pair of shoes you would not wear into anybody’s house without incurring the displeasure of the host. But those who bought a pair consider the sneakers a terrific joke. Let them think you’ve been running through a Kranji farm when, in fact, you have been cruising on your moped.

The humour and the tease are terrific—fashion is not always a lover of wit (and you didn’t think the Japanese have a funny side). But on the Barracuda jeans, by the New York denim label PRPS—founded by former Nike designer Donwan Harrell, the muddy stains seem too serious, too desirous to mimic what Nordstrom calls “Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action”. If you check PRPS’s offerings, they’ve made dirty and immensely soiled jeans a signature, closely reflecting their marketing tag “Bruised, Never Broken”—torn is equally favoured as muddy.

That Nordstrom got the flak rather than PRPS is a reflection of social media’s disposition for knee-jerk reactions: I see; I can’t stand it; I shoot. The Adidas ZX 750 ‘Mud’ did not get such a reception. In fact, by most reports, the soil-stuck soles were a hit and were sold out in no time. The Barracuda was criticised because most see it as an insincere attempt at replicating worn, bespattered clothes the result of much toil and grime for wealthy consumers who have never had to slog and be dirtied their entire life. This is clean, manufactured muck. Both sneaker and jeans are not coated with real mud; they’re all bluff.

Photos: Nordstrom and Adidas respectively

It’s Paint!

Dior Homme hand-painted jeans aw 2017Skinny jeans have been enjoying a good, extended run: for more than a decade. Its popularity simply won’t fade. But these days, skinny isn’t quite enough; they’d have to be snug as leggings. Spend an afternoon anywhere along Orchard Road, and you’ll see guys (and girls) in jeans so limb-clinging, they could have been shrink-wrapped on the legs. Indeed, so tight are the fit of them jeans that they are sometimes called “paint on”. What if that’s applied literally?

At Dior Homme, someone is really doing the painting, by hand no less. But we do not think it’s Kris Van Assche getting his hands dirty. His latest jeans for Dior Homme, in very limited quantities, the staff at the store will remind you, looks like a pair left behind by an especially industrious house painter who has only one pair of work pants. The more imaginative among you may think it’s made from a sheet of overused work-site tarpaulin!

These are standard Dior Homme slim-fit, five-pocket jeans on which a surface treatment is applied. As a product of the house of Dior, there is art to the painterly finish. Firstly, it is monochromatic (with shades of grey between black and white), rather like grisaille. Secondly, the informal brush strokes on the cotton twill are applied to form a check effect. Thirdly, the paint has a tactile quality about it—roughness like those of oils or acrylics after they’ve dried naturally.

Dior Homme jeans AW 2016 look 36The hand-painted jeans first seen on the Dior Homme catwalk in January 2016

It’s not clear what paints are used. We can assume it’s not gouache or Dulux water-based. And it doesn’t look varnished. The salesperson wasn’t able to enlighten either, which points to only one way to care for them: do not wash. Never subjecting them to a spin cycle is probably the sensible way to treat this pair of four-figure pants that, on the surface at least, is art.

Caress this frameless, wearable painting and the hand senses the hardness of the top coat. Lifting the jeans up, the uncommon heft is immediately discernible. You are tempted to try them on and you do. These are very stiff jeans, and they’re not easy to put on, especially when they’re skinny too. Once, they’re on, you realise that you may not easily move in them. Climbing up a flight of stairs, you immediately feel, will be tricky. Squatting, you can’t imagine!

This pair of jeans clearly needs time for the wearer to break into, but the process maybe long-drawn since you are not likely going to wear it often or wash it regularly. Still, for the fashionista, it is likely the ultimate pair of jeans, possibly more desirable than Maison Martin Margiela’s low-top sneakers with Jackson Pollock-ish paint splatter.

“Monsieur Dior gone skater boy” was how Mr Van Assche described the mood of the collection to the media back in January after the autumn/winter show. While that is hard to imagine (Monsieur Dior was, after all, rather rotund, and communicated a sartorial sense that can be described as proper), it is not difficult to see that the future in surface treatments of jeans could be thick brush strokes rather than random tears and shreds.

Dior Homme hand-painted cotton twill jeans, SGD2,600, out now at Dior Homme, Ion Orchard. Photos: (top) Jim Sim, (bottom) Dior Homme