Luxist Visits the Denim-meisters at London's MQT Jeans
Luxist had been hanging out in London for a while when the men's-only denim brand MQT was brought to our attention. The denim business on the 'sceptered isle is just as intense as it is in NYC and every VIP section in LA, probably because the English take their various senses of style so... gravely... and because jeans are bloody expensive. That $250 pair of True Religion jeans scored at Fred Segal is £250 when you drive on the other side of the road. Which is $390. An inexpensive pair of jeans is $100. And that's real money.
We dropped in on MQT's central command hoping for a lesson in denim and a look at what are being called not the next big thing, but simply a big thing, period. What we got was not only a good lesson and a brilliant look, but a pair of loose fit jeans and the certitude that we'll be back buying more...
Gallery: London's MQT Jeans
Jeans are not only huge business, they are enormous cultural markers. On the one hand we're only talking about lumps of cotton spun into threads and woven into apparel, worn by anyone who can get to Sears with $20 for a pair of Wranglers. (Oh, and even with those massively priced Japanese selvedge and True Religion offerings, the average price of jeans in America is still $20.) On the other we're talking about rivets, stitching and low-risers that have carried The American Way in their back pockets to points distant, ambassadors of a couture about which Vreeland said "jeans are the most beautiful thing since the gondola," Armani said "jeans represent democracy in fashion," and Saint-Laurent said "I wish I had invented blue jeans."
As is usual in these cases, America didn't invent denim; we made it better, branded it, mass produced it and sent it back out to the world with "USA! USA! USA!" written all over it. The word "jean" is said to be from the French word for Genoa, Italy, Gênes, where Italian sailors were the first ones to wear sturdy cotton trousers made from a cotton/linen blend. One so-far-unproved theory about the word "denim" is that it's a shortening of 'serge de Nîmes,' which identified a pure cotton serge, made in Nîmes, France. Even if that isn't the etymology, the word's usage dates back centuries, to just after the coining of the word "jean."
So what did Levi Strauss do? He didn't invent denim and he didn't invent jeans. Nor did he get the idea to use rivets to hold them together. That "Eureka!" moment was had by Jacob Davis, the actual inventor of what we consider Levi's. A Latvian immigrant who was using rivets to hold horse blankets together, when asked by a woman to make a pair of pants whose pockets wouldn't come apart he transposed his rivet idea from the blankets and voilà, a pair of jeans that wouldn't self-destruct.
After all that is where Levi Strauss came in. A German immigrant who owned a dry-goods store in San Francisco, he supplied Davis with fabric. When Davis saw other tailors copying his rivet idea, he wrote to Strauss to help him apply for the patent, because Strauss had the money. Strauss then asked Davis to come and oversee the mass manufacture of jeans made by Levi Strauss & Co., and Davis became the quality control officer over his own invention and someone else's legacy. The lesson here: if your choice is either to invent it or pay for it, take the money option.
Levi Strauss & Co. also oversaw the union of the words "jean" and "denim." From their origins centuries ago, jeans and denim were two different fabrics. Jeans were woven with two colored threads, while denim was woven with one colored thread and one white one. Denim was stronger, more expensive, and more popular. They were even worn by different groups of people for different purposes. But – and things get murky here – it was when young Levis wearers in the 1950s started calling them "jeans," the term being understandably more popular than "waist overalls," which is what they had been called before, that it became the lingua franca. By the 1960s, Levi Strauss & Co. caught up to its own reputation and began calling its wares "Levi's Jeans."
Now those little cotton threads hold together an industry worth nearly $15 billion dollars.
That number not only has to do with the resurgence of denim, but with the $800 to $2,500 pairs of jeans the Japanese are creating. The full-circle-with-a-premium aspect is realized in the fact that everyone admits that Levis created the standard, and the vintage Japanese denims are the ones living up to it. Japanese companies bought the shuttle looms that Levis was using to make its selvedge (the term refers to the "self edge" that comes from the looming process) jeans after World War II, and some even find vintage Scoville zippers to complement. Now a pair of premium Japanese denim makes True Religion look like a bargain, even though the heart of what they're doing is what Levis was doing – and inventing – fifty years ago.
And all of that brings us to MQT. Described as "a premium menswear brand offering rustic denims and pure indigo classics," the brand was started two years ago by ex-Levis higher-ups (hence all of our new insider knowledge). Although selling premium jeans to men is more difficult than for the fairer sex, their hook was intended to redress that issue: make fantastic jeans, make them cooler, make them sooner, and sell them at a fair price. Now they're sold in numerous boutique shops across England – you're unlikely to find them in mass-market stores – next to Seven and True Religion with all the quality but a a portion of the price.
David, one of the two principles, took us through the whys and wherefores of the brand's offerings. The facts: all of the cotton is sourced from European mills in places like Italy and Spain – the Italians make selvedge denim, too – and the ultimate finishing of jeans is centered on attention to detail as well as little details such as battered rivets, reversed belt loops, deep-vee pockets. The stats: there are six fits (carrot, slim, regular, relaxed, loose, twisted), nine designs (Rio, Yorgo, Karat, Razor, Viceroy, Hawk, Matrix, Raw Selvedge Slim and Raw Selvedge Loose), and ten finishes (Manhattan, Bogota, Hawk, Hawai, Zanzibar, Marrakesh, Multi, Coco Resin, Trinity, Raw (red selvedge)).
To those in the know that won't sound like a lot of offerings, and frankly it isn't. MQT isn't a huge brand. But mixing and matching among designs, fits and finishes still gives them plenty of selection for men who want their denim a little different.
The real benefit of the small size of the company, though, is in what it can do and how it can do it. The little room in a corner of London full of edgy designers is nothing less than a lab for coming up with new denim creations. Since they only do denim and they only do it for men, they have but one thing to focus on: make men look good in jeans.
This is cotton cloth at its end, the same thing everyone else is making denim out of, so you if you want to really do something different you have to go beyond ornament to design. MQT has put a lot of thought into that as well: it's where you get obvious details like the leather back pocket detail on the Razor, the leather tab and single flap back pocket on the Hawk, and the deep-vee back pocket of the Matrix. It's where you get touches that require a little more attention, like the the deep, L-cut front pockets on the Rio, the double side-cinches on the Yorgo, the single rear-cinch and mid-leg oblique seam on the loose fit, and the flap on the zippo pocket in the Karat. It's where you get details that might require an intimate look, like the crossed and reversed belt loops on the Viceroy. And then there are details for which you need to own a pair to fully understand: the double-stitching throughout, the pressed rivets, the printed waistbands. The founders did, after all, come from Levis, and in spite of what you might think of Levis now there is no better pedigree.
The small size pays one more dividend: new designs are quick-to-market. If the creative minds happen upon a style that gets a boutique – or fashion leaders – revved up, they can have it in stock on shelves in just 90 days. In the world of fashion, you can barely get a canape and glass of champagne that quickly. But the gents at MQT didn't start the label to play around. They live to make men look good in denim. And ideally, they don't want that to be six months from now.
The twisted seam Yorgo style has been a huge hit, and as such comes in probably one of the widest selections of fits, finishes and weights. Behind it are probably the carrot fit (calling all rockers, bohemians and emos...) and then the Matrix. And while there might not be something for absolutely everyone, if you're a guy and you dig your denim with personality there's a good chance something will at least get your attention.
Or if not, there's always this: you are not likely to find the same combination of style, detail and alacrity at the price: when a pair of Levis in London cost us £124, MQT can be had from about £90 to about £110 – and that's at retail. Who knows what you'll find it for online.
And that is why we ended up leaving with a pair of loose fit. And why we'll be going back for a pair of Matrix. And why we're going to have to work out a regularly updated supply once we return to the U.S. For the time being, see, MQT is only available in England...
Before we left we asked David for a few things to know about denim. His words:
Denim is an ages old fabric made of warp and weft yarns..the warp yarn is dyed before the fabric is woven hence the sturdy feel of denim. And the indigo dyestuff never permeates the core cells of the yarn, so by washing, or even when exposed to sun for a long time, or when worn for a long time, it fades off gradually from the outer lines creating the lived in look we all know and love.
To get the best wash/lived in effect always hang dry, don't tumble.
Denim comes in a variety of weights from very lightweight fabrics of 4-4.5 oz up to 15-16 oz.But the most commonly used weights in proper mens denim bottoms are btw 11-13 oz.
Due to the make up of the fabric, denim is available in an infinite number of looks, wash your jeans every day, or wash them every 3+months, where them how YOU prefer them, and over time they will develop their own characteristics and look (due to everything from the way you wash them to the way you walk) and you really will have your own, personal pair of jeans.
There you have it. Men in jeans, go forth and be cool.