Marco (Papa) Bonzanni & The Denim Revolution - Part II
This is part II of our interview with Tenue de Nîmes denim mentor Marco Bonzanni. Read part 1 here.
(TdN) If you had to give consumers one piece of advice for what to look for in the fabric when they buy jeans, what would it be?
It is very difficult to judge a fabric with your eyes closed. My perception is always about the balance of a garment. In my opinion denim should always be between 12 oz [weight per square yard] and up. Whatever is below that is yarn-dyed indigo to me, not denim. There is a lot of confusion about you may call denim or not. You have to know when denim was first developed it was a work material which was heavy by nature, mainly 14 oz fabrics. It had to last, it had to be strong. You can not make an 11 oz jean and expect the same kind of performance of a heavier jean. I believe that well made jeans like you sell at Tenue de Nîmes are all solid five pocket jeans. Because that is what will make them last longer!
Though honestly, that is where the tricky part starts: everything from the weight, the origin of the yarn, the quality, the shape of the yarn and the way the yarn is dyed determine the quality of denim eventually. In my opinion, people overestimate the weaving and finishing of denim. I really believe the quality is in the yarn, or the base of the fabric, rather than what you do with it eventually! Consumers are often misled by the brand aspect of clothing — but the idea is that if I buy a good jean, I buy it forever. It’s something I get never tired of. Invest in something good. Proper jeans will last such a long time!
(TdN) Are there any new developments in denim, or another fabric you love, that you are excited about?
As I said before, denim is a product that is made out of cotton. I consider stretch, for instance, as a variation of the basic. To a certain extent, it can be considered progress. If I go back to the question ‘What is denim and what is yarn-dyed indigo?’, I believe that denim is traditionally something else. Stretch denim is a modern variation that I believe is represents something contemporary. On the other hand: Who knows what would have happened if we would have given a stretch jean to a cowboy? They just might have liked it! But is it denim? No.
(TdN) Is there anything currently being lost, or something that you’re seeing less and less, that you’re sad about?
It is sad that the word “denim” is misinterpreted on such a large scale. Brands refer to anything as ‘denim’. It is very misleading. It felt like denim became a commodity. In the 1970s denim was a rebel story. I think that the biggest change came around 2004- 2005. Until then brands were working with a few items, there was a lot of knowledge inside these companies and every brand had a very clear DNA. People don’t know but retailers like ZARA were already there! But the strong DNA of the brands was built around the philosophy of the owner and his team. In this way a brand was almost impossible to replicate. Designers were leading the brands creatively and they decided what was good for the brand and what was not. They had the knowledge, they had the vision and the imagination it required to be unique. But then a lot of brands moved the decision-making process from designer to bookkeeper. Please understand that when design is the centre and the soul of the company, a brand is able to be progressive. Top-leading brands in 2004 and 2005 had a very clear core business and all the big denim companies like Diesel, Replay and G-star were successful because of their uniqueness and ability to change and inspire. They defended their territory in a very simple but effective way: They were doing it the best! In the years that followed most brands decided to do it all: open retail, large collections, become lifestyle brands. And they maybe forgot about what brought them their initial success. It’s like playing RISK. You abandon your strongest countries to conquer the rest of the world, but often you lose sight of the countries that initially brought all the success. A side effect of all of this is that this whole movement killed the jeans shop in my home country. It’s simply not there anymore in Italy. I am sad about that because the denim store to me is the backbone of our industry.
(TdN) What do you personally look for in a fabric? What’s your favourite texture / feel in a fabric, and why?
The fabric that I love the most without a doubt is the one you bought for your upcoming Tenue de Nîmes jeans [Tenue de Nîmes Pablo 'True Blue’]. It’s the most simple and true denim fabric out there. It is what denim is meant to be! I could do everything with that fabric.
(TdN) What is your advice for the 21st century denim company?
My suggestion would be to focus on a few things and make those the very best. In my opinion, inspiring brands will become the next luxury brands. In the last three years I have met some very passionate people who have really set a new standard. One is Livid from Norway, one is Hiut from the UK and the third is you guys at Tenue de Nîmes. I help you because I feel inspired by the love you put into your product. You are trying to rebuild this industry and not doing so by over-bargaining a fabric price. Livid jeans are also likeminded. This part of my work is about passion and satisfaction. But I’ve come to an age where, if I see a beautiful flower in the woods, it is nice to enjoy that view for as long as I can.
(TdN) Which country, in your opinion, makes the world’s most exquisite denim fabric?
I have been involved in denim fabrics since the 1980s. I have always been told that Japanese fabrics were the best. Whether that concerned cotton, outerwear of denim - Japanese fabric was considered to be the 'Real McCoy’. When I started working for Kurabo I realised the secret is their passion. What Japanese people are willing to do is unbelievable. They sometimes appear to be slow, they give you a hard time understanding their emotion. But everything they do they strive for the best. Japanese producers don’t compromise. That’s also the challenge in the current market I must admit. Distance influences lead times and the quality comes at a certain price. These two aspects influence the amount you pay for a fabric. But you can never expect a company like Kurabo to compromise and that is sometimes not really the easiest thing to do. They refuse to step away from quality. They stick to the plan.
(TdN) What did you enjoy most about the fashion industry?
When I started working at Kurabo, the mill was an expensive alternative. But the brands were appreciating the quality and brands were looking at jeans without barriers. The product was leading, not cost. That, for me, was the most amazing time to work in denim. Brands were not limiting themselves. Right now people talk in price segments and if you don’t fit the segment the conversation is over. Start-ups like Tenue den Nîmes give me the most satisfaction because they have no limits and quality always comes first. On top of that, most luxury brands are much more interested in real denim than ever before. During the 1980s the denim were also a heavier weight — no stretch at all. I think luxury brands are looking to get back to the ‘true’ product of those days. And although globalization creates a world view on fashion I see a lot of differences between countries in the way they look at denim.
(TdN) Do you collect fabrics? What are they? Do you have a most treasured/most cherished piece of fabric?
Yes. I have an archive of fabrics from the past 15 years I worked in the denim industry. All Japanese fabrics. I have around 10,000 swatch cards of denim, cotton, yarn-dyed indigo, checks and other Japanese fabrics. I was often asked to sell my archive but at this point I can not let go of it yet. Even if you take, for instance, a Japanese yarn-dyed check fabric — they are able to make a color combination and construct a fabric in a way that makes you want to keep on looking and touching.
(TdN) Do you have any other passions? Are there any parallels between that and fabric?
Besides my work in the textile industry I love to spend time with my family. When I have to clear my head I like to take my motorcycle and drive around the lakes in the north of Italy near my hometown. I used to do a lot of diving too but unfortunately due to too much hard work I had to give that up.