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Wendy Donahue, Chicago Tribune, Published May 13 2012

Denim carries a universal status, fitting presidents and paupers

Neon and pastel jeans brightening the concrete this spring might lead one to conclude that denim today carries all the gravitas of marshmallow Peeps.

But there’s always a dark side to denim. In 2012, it’s hiding out in the freezer in a gallon zip-close bag.

“There are some people now who will get a pair of jeans and never, ever wash them. It’s water that leads to indigo loss, and people are trying to preserve the color,” explains Jon Patrick, whose blog The Selvedge Yard (http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com/) has chronicled the nostalgic resurgence of raw, midnight-blue denim – often woven on vintage looms in Japan, which confer a coveted nonfraying selvage edge. “It’s kind of gross, but they’ll wrap their jeans and put them in the freezer for a while because cold will kill the bacteria and the smell.”

These days, those rough and rigid artisanal jeans from brands like A.P.C., Tellason and Prps regularly cross paths with soft and stretchy, candy-colored commodity jeans bought at the Gap. That the extremes can lead parallel lives in fashion points to denim’s unique universality.

Jeans can be all things to all people, and yet still display each individual’s DNA like nothing else.

“What else can be worn by presidents and construction workers, supermodels and soccer moms?” said Andy Knight, creator of the hybrid blog/store Denimology.com. “Denim is a second skin and like your body it ages with time and tells a story about who you are.”

“For women there definitely is more of a focus on who is wearing what,” said Patrick, who previously worked in corporate merchandising for Ralph Lauren. “Also, with women’s body types and curves, they find a designer brand that fits them really well and they pay a premium for it, and they’re very loyal because for lots of women finding a perfect fit is tough.”

Earning a cult following, labels such as Prps and Evisu (a play on Levi’s, dropping the “L” and tacking on a “U”) have reincarnated American heritage styling in Japan, which salvaged the old-fashioned shuttle looms but applied modern tweaks. The denim is made to patina with wear, revealing the owner’s signature.

Influenced by Americana sites such as A Continuous Lean, other denim aficionados are reviving domestic brands that date to the late 19th century, such as Stronghold of Los Angeles and Cone Denim of Greensboro, N.C.

Patrick identifies with both the Japanese and American denim camps. He collaborated with Prps on a limited edition Selvedge Yard jean, which hits stores in April and is priced around $500. But he still fondly remembers his first pair of Levi’s 501s from his youth in Phoenix.

“When I was in fifth grade or so, I got a weekend job busing tables at a restaurant working for a couple bucks an hour. The first thing I bought were my very own Levi’s 501 shrink-to-fit jeans, still my favorite to this day.”

The colorful jeans of spring may never achieve that iconic immortality, said Chris Laverty, who has paid homage to vintage denim on his Clothes on Film blog. “The ’50s rebel in his thick selvage Levi’s careering about town on a motorbike and scaring the elderly is long gone,” Laverty said.

But transitory styles also deserve a page in the denim record books, he said.

“Right or wrong, such jeans capture the zeitgeist of an era – that is denim’s heritage.”

It speaks any language, said Valerie Steele, chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

She points to her book “50 Years of Fashion: New Look to Now.” She chose a Dior dress for the cover of the American edition. “I was delighted but surprised by what they did in the French edition,” she said. The cover replaced the Dior image with a pair of blue jeans.