Evisu Denim Profile : The Future of Making History

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In the last decade, denim-ist Scott Morrison has made history and defined the present. As the new Creative Director and CEO of esteemed Evisu Jeans, he’s going back to the future. TRENDLAND sat down with him for a look at the seams of the industry – yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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Not So Long Ago in Southern California, Scott Morrison Was Playing Golf:

“I was always trying to reinvent golf clothes in new, more modern ways,” said Morrison, but he knew that there was not too much evolution on that path. Thankfully he was also drawn to denim, where he saw greater potential to innovate and when a mid-90s jeans movement introduced new wash technologies to the industry, Morrison moved to New York to lead Mudd jeans’ march into premium denim – before the term “premium denim” even existed.

With more inspiration than the room to realize it, Morrison was compelled to create his own company. With Mudd owner Dick Gilbert’s blessing and investment, Morrison launched Paper, denim & cloth in 1999. He was the only employee:

“It was me and three pairs of jeans selling to Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, Barney’s and Henri Bendel.” Eight months later, he hired a second employee and within four years, Paper denim & cloth was a 40 million dollar business. And his timing wasn’t bad either. The late 1990s saw an explosion in luxury denim. Prior to Paper denim & cloth, the only related companies in the market were Earl (who wasn’t doing washes) and Frankie B.. Soon there were hundreds of companies – start-ups and establishments alike – selling premium jeans. It was a revolution reminiscent of the one that occurred ten years earlier in Osaka, Japan.

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Late 1980s: Japan: The Osaka 5 Are Born

Comprised of denim companies Denime, Fullcount, Warehouse, Studio D’artisan and Evisu, The Osaka 5 led the hundreds of brands that emerged to produce replica denim during Japan’s “Replica Movement ”. The period saw a wave of mania via avid collectors pursuing and paying thousands of dollars for vintage jeans. After WWII, U.S. acts to rebuild Japanese economy included donating outdated industrial equipment. Among the imports were original shuttle looms from the 50s. At least one of which still remains at Evisu and facilitated founder Hidehiko Yamane’s fixation with reproducing the Levi’s 1944 501xx. The original pair was made for only nine months.

During wartime, the American government prohibited nonessential production (restricting the use of metals, rubber, paper and plastics ). Temporarily, Levi’s turned to painting on their logo – a technique that Yamane hyper-stylized, hand-painting the Evisu seagull on every pair (about 14 a day as was the max output of the old looms). This attention to detail was exemplary of Evisu production. Fans’ obsession was matched by the designers’ (artisans’) diligence in building each pair. Yamane saw denim as aspirational and Evisu constructed pieces for the connoisseur – to be coveted and collected as luxuries.

Their selectiveness about materials so particular that the replicas were as close to the originals as one could get. In the early 2000s, Evisu boomed internationally. Different pop-culture groups, particularly in Asia, Italy and the UK embraced the cartoonish logo; however Yamane’s focus was (and remains) maintaining the Japanese image, which left the brand quite open to interpretation elsewhere. Says Morrison: “One of the things that’s really complicated about Evisu is that it represents different things in each country.” In the U.S., Evisu became and urban staple brand, “very street” – as well as the most counterfeited denim product in the world. The first denim brand to sell for more than $100 a pair, and the one that spearheaded a worldwide want for premium denim lost its way a few years later.

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Modern Day: Enter Scott Morrison:

From Paper Denim & Cloth, Morrison moved on to create Earnest Sewn (“I wanted to do something more authentic – something steeped in American history and tradition.”) and just when his apparently persistent innovation-craving hit again, Evisu approached him about “turning this thing around. So, that’s what we’re doing.” Sentimental, sure maybe (Evisu was one of the brands that initially inspired Morrison to enter the denim business; “It tugs at my heartstrings,” he says) but more so Morrison is motivated by the sincerity – the Yamane-infused ethic of the company. And its potential to return to recreating authenticity.

So, Morrison recruited some denim-business heavyweights and began returning the brand to what it could have been had it continued its previous path. The refocus is on the altruism – Yamane’s love and obsession for the detail in replicating history via those 1944 Levi’s XX’s now applied sportswear: a pea-coat or a dress.

“Evisu is a great brand, with a great concept that they just deviated from a bit lately. The best thing we can do is go back to making great products. We’re rewriting history for the last seven years.” Autumn/Winter 09/10 marks the official re-launch of the brand which will include three divisions:

Evisu: A mainline collection comprised of timeless staples worth investment. As well as jeans, a reference series features items – each with an historical association. For example, a sack jacket, originally made in Rio de Janeiro in 1942 is redone as seen through Evisu eyes.

“Taking this approach brought back perspective for everything we were working on,” said Morrison.

Evisu Genes: More accessible, “faster fashion” that Morrison says is “more about today than looking back.”

Private Stock: Replica quality, one-of-a-kind pieces with the hand painted logo. And, for the first time, Evisu will do womenswear. With fashion industry darling Catherine Holstein designing, there promises to be just the right amount of soft form and sturdy function. Morrison explained that into womenswear, they will proceed as designers, building in denim thereafter rather than the typical denim-first method that might result in collections looking/feeling like afterthoughts.

Consistent remains the maintenance of a perspective that’s unique and relevant: a Japanese approach to contemporary clothes that are universally wearable:

“From a design perspective, we didn’t want it to feel uniquely Japanese,” said Morrison. “We want it to feel international, but there’s still that attention to detail that you can find on Japanese garmentry that you can’t find anywhere else.”

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TrendLand Exclusive – article by Rachelle Robinett, photos by Patricia Thompson