Distressed jeans are making a comeback. But we're not talking 80s-tastic, Bananarama bleached double denim here – it’s subtle fraying and artisan embellishments that have been dominating the catwalks since SS15. Whether it’s a minimalist 90s ripped jeans revival that you’re channelling or a maximalist arts-and-crafts aesthetic that has you hot under the collar, you’ll find a pair of torn jeans to enhance your look. The autumn/winter 2016 Fashion Weeks were awash with distressed denim – we even saw the perennially preppy Michael Kors opt for fringed and feathered jeans.
Rock ’n’ roll rips
Distressed jeans goes hand in hand with rock 'n' roll. And punk. And grunge (the music scenes are happy to share, it seems). Black ripped jeans are the trappings of a rebellious soul in any decade, but luckily they’ve moved on from the metal-embellished days of Billy Idol. Since the leadership of Hedi Slimane, Saint Laurent denim has taken on a markedly rock ’n’ roll attitude. Drawing on counter-culture aesthetics, Slimane’s SS16 collection had a grungy tone – his models showcased glittering camisoles worn with wellington boots and torn jeans, reminiscent of Courtney Love or Kate Moss at Glastonbury.
Christophe Decarnin, Creative Director of Faith Connexion, takes his lead from Slimane – both in his approach to marketing (or lack of) and rock ’n’ roll aesthetic. For AW16, Faith Connexion denim celebrated Seattle in the 90s – think paint-splattered boyfriend jeans, dip-dyed skinnies and overly long flares, all generously ripped and torn.
At Milan Fashion Week, Dondup has turned denim on its head. Creative Director Manuela Mariotti transformed the label from a small-scale denim producer in the Italian sticks to a celebrated brand with a vast Instagram following. Dondup denim for AW16 was an homage to punk rock – Mariotti herself called the collection 'Cosmic Punk'. The standout piece was a denim-on-denim jacket and trousers, with more holes and chains than anything else. This look epitomises how designers are recasting denim from an everyday essential to a player on the main stage.
While sporting a Ramones-style pair of destroyed jeans suits some, others may prefer to give just a hint of this rebellious persona with subtly frayed hems and sleek, structured silhouettes. Marques’Almeida produced just that for AW16 – its dark indigo jeans featured artfully frayed edges with a 90s flavour. With everyone from Solange Knowles to Edie Campbell stepping out in the label’s designs, it’s easy to see why its distinctive raw jeans have been reproduced for the high street too. J Brand denim took a similar route for SS17, offering 3/4 length wide-legged jeans with contrast frayed hems. While boxy shapes and a pastel palette dominated, it was the whitewash crops that really stood out.
Frayed stepped hems were the denim style du jour for SS16, with everyone from Emma Roberts to Naomi Watts embracing the holey jeans look. All starting with of-the-moment label Vetements, this trend rapidly spread with J Brand and Mother adopting the effortlessly cool finish. Mother Denim, in particular, has cropped up (sorry, we couldn’t resist) on a number of best-dressed lists since, offering endless — and seasonless — styling tips. Roberts paired hers with scarlet loafers and an oversized shirt, while Watts opted for a pair of black ankle boots and cream cocoon coat. Sartorial up-and-comer Dakota Fanning added an athleisurewear twist with a pair of Adidas Originals shoes.
There were many interpretations on the ripped jeans trend on the AW16 catwalks. Michael Kors was just one designer to embrace this maximalist look, despite his usual penchant for all things minimal. The first look out for his NYC show featured his signature nautical palette and Americana styling on top, but the model's bottom half was a different story. Embellished raw-hemmed flared jeans with ostrich feathers would be almost expected from an avant-garde label like Alexander McQueen, but from traditionalist Kors, it was outside-the-box thinking.
The Roberto Cavalli show for Milan AW16 Fashion Week was another unexpected arena for distressed jeans. Peter Dundas, the label’s Creative Director, offered up a louche interpretation of 70s rock. He sent his models out in flared jeans so wide they deserved the 'bell bottoms' moniker, but whether they were stonewashed, two-tone or embellished with floral appliqué, they all had an artfully placed raw, fringed edge. A season earlier at LFW, French designer Faustine Steinmetz gave torn jeans a new meaning. Steinmetz took thrift-store denim and transformed it into couture-like pieces: sculptural ripping, floor-skimming fringing and micro-pleating dominated her SS16 catwalk.
The genius of distressed jeans is the variety of weathering you can choose. Torn jeans are no longer the preserve of rock singers and their fans – instead, they’re worn by everyone from busy fashion eds to ever-so-slightly prim FROWers (yes Olivia Palermo, that’s you). This trend doesn’t expect you to put away your trusty 90s-style jeans or favourite pair of grey skinnies – it works with your staple style to add a hint of rebellion. The fact that Man Repeller has little to say on the matter just strengthens the conviction that distressed jeans are a wardrobe essential.