From humble beginnings as durable clothing for workers in the mining towns of the Wild West, jeans have evolved into a cultural icon. The attire of a cowboy, a hero, a rock star and an ex-convict, jeans have played a part in antiestablishment movements and mainstream fashion alike. The journey of the jean, a road-movie which leads it from its beginnings to a life as a political symbol and, in our days, an icon ruling a global empire, the documentary looks at the blue-jean phenomenon from a wacky new angle, observing its impact on our lives and civilization.
In 2000, a vintage 1880 Levi’s jeans is discovered in an abandoned mine. Auctioned on eBay, the pants, which originally sold for 99 cents, reached a price of $46,532! This amazing story sums up the whole blue jeans phenomenon in a nutshell: a legendary garment, mass-produced, which witnessed the Industrial Revolution and clad cowboys on the western frontier, is now a fashion statement worldwide, for men and women, young and old: an icon of modernity which has lasted for 150 years. With flying colors, the jeans have sailed through early marketing, the Internet, the world of collectors, the end of the Cold War, and now globalization. Their eternal popularity begs a question: Why?
From San Francisco, cradle of the Levi, to Osaka, where the world’s most beautiful blue-jean fabrics are now made, with stops in Africa and Northern Europe, the documentary tells the saga of the blue jean: the appearance or disappearance of certain elements (rivets, threads, cloth), the fabric (the weight and quality of the cotton), changes in cut (vagaries of fashion or wartime shortages) and shape (the expanding girth of the population, the conversion to ladies’ wear).
Changes in rivet, stitch and pocket placement trace the history of jeans that collectors treasure and pay for handsomely. Traditional dyeing techniques and hand-made denim live on in a few workshops, primarily in Japan, dedicated to maintaining the highest quality of fabric and control of every step in the process of making tailored jeans. On the other end of the spectrum, even the fading of jeans to give them a worn look is done on an industrial scale.
Through interviews with fashion designers, jean tailors, historians and aficionados, Jeans traces the dissemination of denim and its cultural myths from America to the rest of the world and the formation of a global industry. All in a quest to find the reason why jeans have been so successful.
A Film by Thierry Aguila ; ARTE France, RTBF, Les Films du Tambour de Soie and Ancora Films