Italy has long been a fertile ground for the denim industry. Though the past few years have seen a shift in several factors, Italy remains home to many of the best quality denim factories, and above all the most well-known denim factories, especially in terms of technology and the use of chemicals, creating a rich terrain for experimentation and innovation.
With its deeply rooted history, Italy continues to stand out in terms of quality and innovation and is still fueling creativity in fashion brands thanks to its well-established know-how and technological explorations.
The origins of Italian denim
Denim was originally produced in Nîmes, a city in France. The fabric was originally named “denim” as a way to indicate the textile’s provenance: “de Nîmes”. In addition to this French origin, the word ‘jeans’ is believed to derive from the city of Genova in Italy, where the fabric was primarily intended as an inexpensive product and worn by the Genoese navy. It was referred to as ‘Bleu de Genes’, or blue Jeans. Genoa had been famous since the 1500s for its indigo-colored cotton fabric, which was known for being inexpensive and durable.
But the rise of Italian denim came after World War II. Like many other countries, Italy was influenced by American culture. Blue jeans were popular in cinema and music, which led to the popularity of denim exploding in Italy, with blue jeans becoming a cultural trend.
In the ’60s, with the spread of overseas cultural influences, and a social upheaval that saw young students in revolt,jeans also became a symbol of the rejection of societal convention, a fabric symbolizing an embrace of democratic and egalitarian principals.
But it was not just a symbol of revolt, it also became a status symbol, and represented various cultural expressions in the years to come.
The 1980s saw the spread of a variety of subcultures which found their identity in music. Following the prior turbulent and politicized decade, the new phenomenon was characterized by the rejection of all forms of social and political expression, and an attachment to a pop and consumer-driven culture, inspired once again by the US, but also by music, including synth pop and new wave. Jeans, especially brand-label jeans, became a style and identity symbol of many of these groups.
In the ’90s, denim, no longer an unimportant consideration for fashion houses, became an integral part of many fashion lines and collections. From then on, leading entrepreneurs began developing denim collections, offering multiple basic product lines, even at luxury houses.
The rise of Italian denim
In the 1970s, and especially in the 1980s, several brands were born in Italy to produce denim, brands that created a strong and unique identity, a symbol of provocation and attraction, appealing to markets across the globe. The two main characteristics of Italian denim were founded in specific denim washes and the use of stretch fabrics, which led to the emergence of a strong, sexy, ever-trendy and tight-fitting image in the following years.
Grounded in this identity, a number of Italian brands saw a rise, like Fiorucci, Gas, Miss Sixties, Replay and two historical companies, Roy Rogers and Diesel, which have dominated the Italian denim scene from then till now.
First came the creation of Roy Rogers, the first denim blue jeans brand made in Italy, founded in 1949. It partnered with New York’s Cone Mills Corporation, among the largest suppliers of Made-in-U.S. denim, to create the first jeans ever produced in Italy. Starting out as a popular brand, the company then gained ground in the Italian market and managed to find a higher-end positioning, emerging as an historical label that has become an Italian denim classic.
Another well-known brand that is Diesel. Born in 1978 from the creative mind of Renzo Rosso, it immediately created a provocative and revolutionizing image, giving denim a clear direction and look. Unlike the simpler, ready-to-wear lines of fashion brands, Diesel has always experimented with vintage-looking washes, directly processing denim using an industrialized process.
The company is famous for developing “dirty” finishes, assisted by a creative and proactive industry with cutting-edge laundries and technologies. This has allowed it to create a strong and provocative identity.
Made in Italy: a creative driver
To understand the creative and innovative revolution that Italy has contributed to the denim industry, it’s important to understand the development and variety of industries in the textile, chemical and technological sectors.
In fact, Made-in-Italy denim, as it has become increasingly important, has in turn helped to develop a vast network of industries, some of which still account for the world’s production in the sector. Italian denim has a long denim tradition that, especially up until 15 years ago, included a substantial number of weaving and spinning factories, garment makers and finishing companies.
What really made the difference in terms of development were the laundries, the dyes and the finishes, some of which were invented and patented directly by the denim laundries themselves. In denim production, washing gives jeans a changing and dynamic image: the used, vintage look, or ripped and distressed denim, are some of the most common ways of working denim fabric, and since the 1980s, have remained a fertile field of experimentation.
Shading, the lightness/darkness of the whiskers, are all just some of the results obtained by skillfully mixing washes and rinses. Jeans, from a stiff canvas fabric, are washed, rinsed, and treated at different times and depending upon the process used, will always acquire a different look.
This has allowed historical brands to launch their products, enrich their collections, and experiment using a combination of know-how, creativity and technology. One such example is Luigi Martelli, a laundry founded in 1965, which contributed to the success of various brands – including Diesel, Levi’s and high-fashion brands – by drawing on both innovative techniques and age-old chemical recipes, to support and assist these jeans makers in their creative processes.
Experimentation today plays on aesthetics, in tandem with a combination of research, technology and sustainability. Today many processes are replaced by machinery that allows for less water consumption, or systems to reduce the use of chemicals. So, innovation is increasingly in step with requirements dictated by eco-responsibility.
Italian denim today
Today, though Italy boasts fewer denim mills than it once did, an exclusive number of them are internationally recognized leaders in their fields. These include Candiani Denim, Imatex, Berto and many other small factories producing denim. There are also some companies which are not denim producers, but continue to produce denim collections, including Bonotto, Canclini, and Nuova Tessilbrenta. There are also some important laundries in Italy today, including Everest, Elleti, Blue Jeans and ITAC.
There is also a strong demand for accessories such as rivets, labels, jacrons, etc., and there are many industries such as Cadica, Ribbontex and Olimpias Group that have specific lines for denim.
There are also many technological industries, especially in the field of chemical innovation, recognized wolrdwide, such as Tonello, Sei Laser, Nearchimica, Soko, Garmon.
Today, denim production and industries focus on quality, expertise, and sustainability research, concentrating creativity on other equally fertile research grounds.