FOR THE LOVE OF DENIM. A conversation with Maria Erixon, the founder and creative director of Nudie Jeans, can change your perception of denim—in a positive way
The relationship between Maria Erixon and denim go beyond that of a designer and a type of fabric—she has this closeness with the textile as she develops, gets inspired by, and pays attention to the smallest details of her denim creations. In 2001, after several design-related stints, Erixon and her partner Joakim Levin started Nudie Jeans, a brand that soon grew to become one of the most influential denim establishments. As founder and creative director, Erixon quickly developed her own signature design: the five-pocket model. She has also pushed for sustainable denim production, and has often encouraged people to repair their old denim pieces instead of throwing them away. Thanks to her edge, sensibility and charm, Nudie Jeans has become the epitome of cool craftsmanship for denim aficionados of any age and style.
DA MAN: You and Joakim Levin have built Nudie Jeans into one of the leading denim brands in the world. Have you ever envisioned this kind of growth when you just started the business?
Maria Erixon: Joakim and I started Nudie Jeans in 2001, from rather humble beginnings: our tiny one-room office in Gothenburg, Sweden. The mission and dream then—and still is today—was as much about establishing a foundation, an infrastructure based on our values, as it was about denim production. For us, being independent and building a responsible business was the main driving force. Profit and aggressive growth have never dictated myself or the brand in general. I don’t think I expected to be where we are today, maybe because I didn’t think that far ahead at first, or place “growth” as a goal.
DA MAN: How did you initially work on the design signatures of Nudie Jeans? Have they developed since the first time you launched the brand?
Maria Erixon: The initial design concept when I started Nudie Jeans stayed within a framework of the five-pocket jean. The capsule collection was small; it only comprised a handful of knits, a denim jacket, and four jeans fits. Other parts of our signature are the orange stitching—inspired by the orange industrial cranes of our hometown, Gothenburg—shape and pocket placement, and hand-drawn branding.
Despite the small size, the collection was also meant to deliver a message and encouragement to our customers to wear the jeans as a second skin. This is where the name “Nudie Jeans” actually came from! The detail signatures remain, but they have evolved and grown as we have as a company. I still work with denim in the same five-pocket model, but there is so much room in this tiny box for reinvention, development, creativity and innovation. Working with new techniques and fabrics pushes the boundaries and keeps our design contemporary, while staying true to our originality.
DA MAN: Is there somebody who became your source of inspiration when you were building up the brand?
Maria Erixon: Instead of a person, denim has and continues to be, a constant and main source of inspiration for me. When I look at denim, I see more than just a fabric, more than just fiber composition. Denim is a part of our culture and has been a significant fabric in so many eras, from being the standard for workwear to defining the style of punks as well as hippies. Looking at a beautifully broken-in pair of jeans, in it lies a story that instinctively ignites curiosity in me. At the same time, it is also important to be inspired from external sources such as places, movies or lyrics. This dichotomy of inspirations, between denim itself and external influences, keeps the balance between our original design aesthetic and a more contemporary direction.
DA MAN: Let’s talk about your fall/winter ’15/’16 collection. Can you tell us about the new denim silhouettes and the fabrics that you use?
Maria Erixon: This fall, we have introduced two new unisex fits, namely Pipe Led and Boot Ben. The former is a high-waisted cigarette leg design and the latter is a high-waisted, boot-cut fit.
Regarding the fabric, the palette of the dry selvage denim this fall ranges from traditional to darker steel indigos and jet black, in multiple weights from 12,5 oz. to 13,75 oz. My longtime favorite selvage fabric is a Japanese denim from Kaihara Mills.
There is also a denim collection called Replica that is truly exciting and romantic at the same time. The replicas are selvage denims for real, the original “inspirational” pieces that have been worn in by somebody else. This is what we call a fast-track solution to breaking in denim! The results are authentic, beautiful degrees of washed blues with handmade rips and repairs.
DA MAN: Back in the day it was family and friends who posed for Nudie Jeans’ photo shoots. Are you still involved in choosing models for the campaigns and lookbooks today?
Maria Erixon: We still work with family and friends for our campaigns! And I am still very much involved. When casting for our photo shoots, I like to interpret the collection through real life characters, those figures who are democratic, relatable and able to reflect our design philosophy and brand identity. We also have an in-house art department team who I collaborate with, for both campaigns and the web store.
DA MAN: How do you usually start a collection?
Maria Erixon: It usually starts with a patchwork of denim swatches in many layers of shades and structures. These fabrics are then translated into a mood board that comprises color schemes, silhouettes and actual product drawings. As the collection comes alive, it’s more of an organism that thrives by itself—the result can sometimes depart from the original concept. I think it’s important not to get caught up in the original design idea. It’s better to let the collection live and give birth to itself, resulting in a creative chaos.
DA MAN: Looking back, do you still remember the first denim trousers you owned? Why were you attracted to working with denim in the first place?
Maria Erixon: My first pair of jeans were a pair of Levi’s 501 Shrink To Fit jeans. Those jeans were all I wanted for Christmas this one year and I remember visiting the store every single day until I got a pair. The smell was what attracted me initially. I think even at that young age and living in a small town, I sensed an attachment to jeans. Later on, when I visited my sister at school in Stockholm in the ’70s she would bring me to the Gul & Blå jeans store. It was when I first fell in love with the rigid, dry denims I would later work with.
DA MAN: What is your favorite denim fit? In your opinion, how should a pair of denim trousers fit?
Maria Erixon: My favorite is the Long John, which I wear mostly in black. Denim is universal in the sense that it can be worn by everyone, regardless of their age, gender or lifestyle. Multiple denim fits can be worn differently, depending on the person. That is why our denims are unisex. We remove those traditional parameters of “what is men’s jeans?” or “what is women’s jeans?” We want to allow the wearer to find something that works specifically for them.
DA MAN: What is the most challenging or memorable piece you have designed so far?
Maria Erixon: When we started, I simply wanted to establish an independent denim brand that didn’t follow market needs. When I instructed my longtime friends in Italy about what jeans I wanted to create, there was a misunderstanding. The production of the first batch came to Sweden, and they were not at all as I expected them to be. It was a huge setback, but the jeans were still taken to the Copenhagen Fashion Fair in 2001 and were sold in a heartbeat, much to the
fascination of Scandinavian retailers.
DA MAN: What is your plan for Nudie Jeans’ future?
Maria Erixon: We want to stay true to our original idea and philosophy, and not get caught in the fact that today we are a recognized brand. We want to set a mark in the denim business by showing that denim production can be done in a sustainable and responsible way. In terms of design and quality, we want to continue creating products that stand the test of time. I would love to find our products—still in great condition—in vintage shops, and still relevant 15 years from now.
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