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The dA-Zed guide to denim

As part of our #DIESELTRIBUTE takeover, we give you a 26-letter guide to all things denim

This week we're running a special #DIESELTRIBUTE takeover in celebration of Nicola Formichetti’s new role as artistic director and his newly launched Tribute collection. From exclusive mixtapes to behind the scenes footage from Nick Knight’s campaign shoot, we’re exploring all things Diesel, denim and DIY – rounding it off with an exclusive Dazed Diesel party this Thursday

Hardwearing, timeless and yet totally chameleon-like, denim is ingrained in the collective consciousness. The cotton twill textile has made an epic journey from workwear of the Wild West to high fashion, via seditious subcultures and hyped designer denim. In homage to the #DIESELTRIBUTE collection launching today, we round up some of denim’s biggest moments and defining traits, with special nods to the wild world of Diesel.

A is for Acid Wash

Before longhaired metal guys and roller disco girls picked up acid wash – also known as snow or stonewash – it was skinheads and punks who pioneered the marbled denim, using it to emulate camouflage with large, uneven bleach splotches. They probably hadn’t expected mainstream fashion to adopt the technique, but acid wash jeans eventually became the bastion of eighties DIY denim.

B is for Barbie Jeans Fashions

1988 was a seminal year for denim, which saw the arrival of Jeans Barbie (“She’s into jeans – and so are we!”), who came dressed in a light-blue fringed denim jacket and matching skater skirt with frosted pink lace. Mattel also released Barbie Jeans Fashions that same year: a collection of stonewashed looks for Ken and frilly denim outfits with matching hats and bags for Barbie with the tagline ‘Dressed-up denim blues!’ that may or may not have inspired item M on this list.

C is for Customisation 

As one of the cornerstones of denim history, customisation informs much of denim’s legacy and narrative. From iron-on patches to ripped holes, pins, badges, studs and buttons, customised details are unique signifiers used to denote group allegiance or individual tastes and values. Tapping into this is Nicola Formichetti’s #DIESELTRIBUTE collection. Reinterpreting key pieces from the Diesel archives, the hand-made fabric patches depicting moto club images like the Eagle are a nod to Diesel’s rebellious streak and decades of subculture denim DIY. The collage patches infuse the artisanal denim with a strong punk rock attitude, setting the scene for Nicola’s future Diesel gang.

D is for Double Ds

As in Double Denim. No longer a sign of dubious taste and the sartorially challenged, the Canadian tuxedo is back in fashion’s good books once more.

E is for Eco-Friendly 

Hardcore jeans fanatics swear by not washing their jeans as it messes with the aging process and colour. The eco-friendly idea isn’t actually that unhygienic: between September 2009 and December 2010, Canadian college student Josh Le wore the same pair of raw denim jeans 330 times without washing them once (only throwing them in the freezer a couple of times to eliminate smell) before conducting an experiment with his professor in Human Ecology. They did a swab before washing the jeans and letting Le wear them again for 13 days straight and found there was no difference between the amount of bacteria present in the fabric on the two different time frames.

F is for Fifties counter culture

While denim is pretty much the universal uniform of the masses today, it has also long represented something Other thanks to its status as the garment of choice for beat poets, hippies and punks. During the fifties, jeans were synonymous with dangerous loners and subversive counter culture. James Dean and Marlon Brando became the denim clad poster boys for teen rebels and juvenile delinquents in films like Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One, so much so that denim was banned in some American schools out of fear of its anti-authority message.

G is for Golden Age of Denim 

After exploding onto the fashion scene in the fifties with a subversive bang, denim’s next big moment came in the nineties, when designer denim took jeans from an everyday casual garment to a much loftier position. With their loud back pocket logos, tighter cut and elevated price tag, ‘status jeans’ became the new aspirational statement piece, turning the democratic garment into something altogether more elitist.

H is for Handmade  

As a response to mass-produced fashion and the seemingly easily recognisable construction of denim pieces, the #DIESELTRIBUTE collection is crafted and assembled entirely by hand in Italy. Elevating denim to something truly unique and special, the collection puts craftsmanship firmly back into the denim sphere.

I is for I Am Not What I Appear To Be

Part of the #DIESELREBOOT Tumblr project, Nicola Formichetti kicked off his rebellious Diesel adventures with a teaser campaign titled I Am Not What I Appear To Be. Featuring papal robes and army uniforms re-imagined in denim, the images cemented Diesel’s position as a brand that has never been afraid to court controversy. Case in point: the standout image of a tattooed woman wearing a customised gold-studded denim burqa. For some the thoughts behind the image, read Ameena Meer who consulted on the campaign here.

J is for Jeans Thong

As in Rihanna’s cut-up and customised denim thong from her twerk-tastic video for Pour It Up. #chafing

K is for Kicks

Translating the iconography of the Diesel moto club insignia into footwear, the #DIESELTRIBUTE collection includes a pair of Diesel denim trainers, covered in reversed patches and the instantly recognisable Diesel logo pocket.

L is for Light-Wash Denim, 90210-style

Light-washed nineties denim will forever carry with it images of the gang from Beverly Hills 90210. High-waisted mom jeans FTW. 

M is for Matching his and hers denim

Widely regarded as the finest moment in denim history, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake’s matching denim outfits at the 2001 American Music Awards are the stuff of legend. Extra points for the elegant Swarovski denim bag and denim Stetson accessorising.

N is for Nicola Formichetti

After being snapped up by Renzo Rosso to become Diesel’s first Artistic Director, Nicola Formichetti now brings his wildly imaginative and visionary eye to the denim brand. We have to wait until March 2014 to feel the full force of the fuel Nicola will be adding to Diesel, but in the meantime, the #DIESELTRIBUTE collection is more than enough to tie us over. “This collection is my homage to the DNA of Diesel,” Nicola said. “Visiting the Diesel factories in Italy was incredible.  The decision to use these found materials from the archive in a new way was immediate. These new, limited edition and artisanal explorations of denim and leather are two very important steps into designing the future of Diesel.”

O is for Oh No  

Strategically placed holes are all good. A full-blown crotch rip in your favourite and irreplaceable jeans not so much. New York’s legendary Denim Therapy will seamlessly patch up any rips and frays. Just post your jeans to them and wait for the magic to happen.

P is for Paul Gorman

If you haven’t already checked out Paul Gorman’s piece for Dazed Digital on the history and social significance of blue jeans, now is a good time.

Q is for Quotes on Denim

Denim inspires people to wax lyrical. Andy Warhol said “I want to die with my blue jeans on”, while Yves Saint Laurent famously remarked “I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant.” In 1980 Diana Vreeland noted “Blue jeans are the most beautiful things since the gondola” and last year, Grimes told T Magazine “I just can’t perform well unless I’m wearing jeans.”  

R is for Renzo Rosso

A self-professed rock ‘n’ roller, Renzo Rosso is the godfather of bold and fearless denim. The self-made Italian entrepreneur founded Diesel in 1978 and has built a denim empire on an unconventional and irreverent approach to business and marketing, complemented by his growing portfolio of brands: Maison Martin Margiela, Marni and Viktor & Rolf. In 2011, Rosso published Be Stupid: For Successful Living, a guide to his unorthodox and intrepid business beliefs. “Our intention was to, and always has been to make people think, to look at the irony of life and to take them on a journey, on that journey there is fun, there is humour, there is craziness and above all there is the possibility that anything can happen! It has been about communicating a message and letting the viewer interpret it in their own way,” Rosso told Dazed Digital when Diesel turned 30 in 2008.

S is for Studio 54

In 1979, Studio 54 launched its own denim line, stitched with orange 54 logos on the back pockets, obvz. The campaign – a profile shot of a nude man and a woman putting on a pair of jeans – read: “Now everybody can get into Studio 54.”

T is for TLC

Customised graffiti-painted denim shorts, oversize dungarees decorated with condom wrappers and baggies ripped and slashed up the length of the leg. Bow low to TLC’s nineties adventures in denim. 

U is for Unhurried Denim

Good things come to those who wait. The elaborate hand-stitched patches and manually applied studs in the #DIESELTRIBUTE collection limits production to three pieces completed per day.

V is for Virtual Reality

Denim also lives in the virtual world. One of last year’s Stuff packs for The Sims 3 included a Diesel pack with clothes, accessories and furniture after the brand won a poll on what players would like to see available next.

W is for Worn-In

Denim has come full circle. Today’s jeans are artfully distressed to emulate the kind of worked-in look that denim of the 1800s got from hours of hard labour in the mines. When Renzo Rosso first took his jeans to possible retailers in the seventies, shop buyers didn’t get why anyone would want to buy something that didn’t look brand new. Of course, Rosso had the last laugh on that matter, pioneering pre-faded whiskers and honeycombs to a denim-hungry audience.

Y is for Ye Olde Jeans

Denimheads swear by raw, the purest kind of denim: unwashed and untreated. A large part of the raw denim industry is based in Japan, where the fabric is manufactured using old-fashioned shuttle looms which create a denser, sturdier weave and an authentic, old-school look. Diesel have previously collaborated with family-owned manufacturers in the illustrious town of Okayama, today’s denim Mecca and a major player in the textile industry since the 17th century.

Z is for Zippers and Pliers

Last but not least, a shout-out to the pre-party montage scene in Dazed and Confused, where Shavonne’s friend helps her zip up her too-tight jeans with a pair of pliers. Dedication.