With the dizzying plethora of jean options out there from painted on skinnys to baggy harem styles, all in every color and wash imaginable, it would seem there’s nothing new you could possibly do with denim. Certainly Scott Morrison has gone through his share of transformations. He started Paper Denim and Cloth in 1999 at the age of 26, long before the likes of Seven and Citizens of Humanity were around. And by 2004, he’d moved onto Earnest Sewn, where he helped usher in the advent of “heritage,” before he left two years ago.
“At the end of that period, I felt there were some things missing in the way people viewed denim and the cultivation of denim itself: there were a lot of people making denim, charging a lot of money for it, and I didn’t really feel like the customer was getting the value they deserved,” he said.
You’d think if anyone would be tired of denim, it would be Morrison, but perhaps reinventing the wheel—sartorially—is not as impossible as it sounds: about three months ago, Morrison set up 3×1 just north of Chinatown, a self-contained 3,200 square foot store-cum-laboratory, where all pieces are made on site (the name comes from the standard denim weaving construction).
“What I always enjoyed about denim and the process I saw was just highlighting the factory and fabric experience. And I thought it would be pretty brilliant if we could show some transparency to the process,” he explained.
He’s done so quite literally: upon entering you are faced with reams of denim, organized by weight from “light” to “novelty” (7-18 oz, respectively) and venturing further in, you find three glass enclosed areas, labeled (1) Cut and Sew, (2) Pre-finishing and (3) Finishing, where you can watch workers literally make your chosen jeans from scratch.
But first comes the selection process. 3×1 offers three different options: Limited Edition jeans that come in runs of 8, 12, 16 or 24 and which can be hemmed and finished with your choice of buttons and rivets; Custom Made, wherein you choose your back pockets, thread theory and fabric, and Bespoke, which allows you to work with a team to design a pair from scratch (the service starts at $1200).
I went with the Limited Edition process, partially because it allows for instant gratification: once you’ve made your selections, the in house workers can finish your jeans for you in about 15 to 20 minutes flat. And fortunately, I was guided by the helpful—and considerate—sales person, Anna. After making a sweep of the various editions available, I was ushered into a dressing room with stacks of jeans to find the best fit.
A high-waisted, Wrangler style with white stitching had a nice retro look, but I wasn’t sure I could pull it off and the lo-rise skinny and mid-rise legging, while supremely comfortable and flattering, seemed a little too close to pairs I already owned. I was drawn to a new mid-rise, straight selvedge style, a women’s take on a more traditionally men’s jean. But when I tried it on the lack of stretch had me panicking.
“Umm, I need one size up,” I told Anna, a phrase whose uttering evokes the deepest of chest pains.
“Our fit model just lost weight,” she said (God bless her, reason enough to visit the store, I think). “I told her she’s not allowed to lose anymore weight, it’s throwing off our sizes.”
The one size up fit perfectly, tight in the hips, with room to stretch, and slightly baggier in the leg, exactly the boyfriend-like look I wanted. After forgoing rivets and asking for a cool matte black button, I waited for my jeans to be hemmed and finished as Morrison approved my choice.
“I do think as we’ve started to evolve our design, I don’t think we want to do a super stretch or a super, super skinny legging for fall. I think we’ll let the other great brands like J Brand do that,” he said, adding of his operation, “I think this all adds up to stripping down the bullshit and focusing on what you really need to make a great product and trying to do it in a way that’s different and beautiful.”
Photos: Ian Allen