After seven years, the Dutch denim brand Denham is being sold in 22 countries, worn by international celebrities (including supermodel Cara Delevingne and One Direction band member Harry Styles), and will also be available at Barneys starting from this month.
Behind the brand is its founder and chief executive, Jason Denham. Born in the north of England, Jason was 17 years old when he went to London for the first time. Back then, he was an art student trying to decide between studying graphic design or fashion design.
He made up his mind during an impromptu chat with designer Paul Smith who had a studio above his shop on Floral Street. Jason walked into Smith’s store and said, “Hi, my name is Jason Denham, nice to meet you. I’m here to see Paul Smith.”’ He didn’t have an appointment, but the staff invited him upstairs where Smith gave him 15 minutes of his time. “He spoke about design and fashion, and I think it was a big inspiration for me that made me choose to be a fashion designer,” Jason recalls.
Fast forward to university graduation. Jason finished his studies on a Friday, and the following Monday he had his first job, designing jeans for U2. “It was a lucky break, and I was doing jeans for Bono and The Edge. It was very, very high-end and very exclusive stuff. It was an amazing experience to get at the beginning!”
Living in London, Jason improved his design skills working for Pepe Jeans. When the company relocated to Amsterdam, they offered to take him along. “I thought I would give Amsterdam six months,” remembers Jason, but he never left.
Eleven years later, in 2008, he launched his signature brand, Denham. It was a small company of four people, built on three key principles: people, product and presentation. “It’s nothing genius, but it’s something that we’ve really stuck to,” he explains.
Today, the Denham staff is made up of 150 people, including designers who specialize in all areas of fashion design such as knitwear, outerwear and tailoring. The company’s mantra is: “Worship tradition, destroy convention.”
“We love to respect the history of our industry, but we also love to break the rules and design new things and create new ideas. There’s no point in just copying what we’ve done before,” explains Jason.
With a passion for his industry’s history, it seems only right that Jason loves finding inspiration at vintage markets all over the world, like Rose Bowl in L.A., Spitalfields in London, and the markets in Japan.
The company’s dedication to detail is obvious in its products but also at its stores. Each store boasts a intricate presentation, from carefully designed fitting rooms complete with a 300-degree mirror, to the vintage taps on the walls and the collection of tailors’ scissors displayed throughout.
Every corner is relaxed and inviting. Beyond being inviting, each space tells a story; Jason explains that each of Denham’s six locations in Amsterdam alone is unique. For instance, one of the locations was once a coffee shop, and his staff has been trained as baristas, so that guests can enjoy the building’s history as well as a cup of the finest Italian coffee.
Another important detail that sets the brand apart is that their approach to creating men’s jeans is completely different from women’s. Jason explains that right now men’s jeans are about detail and vintage inspiration, whereas women’s are more about the shape and the fit. “The women’s [jeans are] much more modern, and we focus on the technology of fabrics and recovery because we don’t want baggy knees at three in the afternoon!”
He adds that the unwashed trend which has become hugely popular in the denim culture applies to men’s jeans only; women should always wash their jeans to maintain the shape and fit.
As for how long men can go without washing their jeans, he says, “I’ve not washed a jean and worn it for, probably, a year and a half till it’s had its first wash, but I do hang them out and spray them with freshener, which means my wife will go out with me.”
When the time does come to wash your jeans, Jason encourages customers to use soapnuts, a fruit harvested from the soapberry tree. Denham stores started carrying soapnuts this month, but the brand has worked to be sustainable since its beginning. For example, their fall/winter 2013 line included the Italian Laundry collection, a jean that promoted ozone washing, an eco-friendly technique that reduces the amount of water needed per wash. The denim industry is now “waking up to the fact that it needs to be more respectful to the environment and more sustainable,” says Jason, “and that’s a great thing.”
The brand continues to expand, and its owner is currently planning to open a Denham shop in Toronto. And as for long-term planning, why not stick to what works? Breaking the rules, innovating, expanding and waking up every day at 5:30 a.m., ready and wanting to create: “I think it’s important to wake up every day and be hungry and inspired, wanting to change things and make things happen, and that’s what we try to do every day.”
Feature image credit: Reinier RVDA.
Looks from the spring/summer 2015 men’s collection, Byzantine
Looks from the spring/summer 2015 women’s collection, Byzantine