Denim is breaking away from its casual image to play a new role in this spring's fashion scene, appearing frequently in elegant dresses and suits.
Many top Western fashion brands have included denim in their spring and summer items, its popularity bolstered in part by the advanced technologies of Japanese textile manufacturers, who have turned out such products as soft, flexible denim.
Denim abounds at the stores of these elite brands right now, and has been the subject of many feature stories in fashion magazines this spring.
Gucci used bleached denim for a military-style jacket accentuated with gold buttons and wide-leg pants with turned-up bottoms, while Fendi presented a three-piece suit using denim. A blouson with a stand-up collar was worn on a shirt, combined with loose pants.
Michael Kors combined a short jacket with creased pants, both using navy denim in a fetching combination. Leather patches that doubled as pockets of the jacket also added to the look.
So why is denim in fashion now?
Thick cotton denim will immediately remind many people of jeans. Jeans became popular work clothing in the 19th century as the Gold Rush swept through the United States. Around 1970, jeans became a symbol of freedom and resistance among young people.
The history of denim is being featured in an exhibition titled "250 Years of European Mode" currently at the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum in Tokyo until May 13.
"Today, designers are turning out sophisticated denim fashions that overturn the fabric's casual image. Underlying this trend is the development of new technologies and materials," said museum curator Kayo Murakami.
The denim used for luxury brand clothing is the fruit of advanced technologies, which have led to soft, flexible denim textiles. They are comfortable to wear and create a flattering silhouette. These technologies have also added subtle hues and delicate textures to denim, making it possible to meet the increasingly diverse requests of designers.
For example, a new long dress by Bottega Veneta used a soft denim manufactured in Japan, impressing observers with its elegant drapes. A jacket by Etro used a thin denim that looked splendid decorated with geometric motifs.
The denim used for a pair of pants by Dolce & Gabbana has been processed to look well-worn despite being new. Ornaments themed on flowers and heart shapes were stitched on.
Burberry Prorsum presented a jacket using a flexible denim manufactured in Japan. The waist was cinched and its lower part was decorated with wool ornaments.
Christopher Bailey, chief executive officer and designer at Burberry Prorsum, said the jacket was meant to surprise people by giving a denim cloth a feminine silhouette.
Denim is being used for many shoes and bags, too. Christian Louboutin has produced wedge sole sandals using denim, and a bag by Stella McCartney features impressive appliques on its denim base.
Clothes are getting more and more casual lately, as consumers don't want to look overly fashion conscious. Denim is an indispensable material for designers, therefore, with its free, relaxed feel. Why not incorporate elegant denim style into your look?
Hot Japanese denim
Many denim textiles used by luxurious brands are products of Japanese textile manufacturers.
Kaihara Co. based in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, has manufactured 2.8 million meters of denim each year - enough to make about 2.5 million pairs of jeans - since it introduced computer-controlled spinning and weaving machinery. About one-third of its products are exported to Western countries.
Elastic types are particularly popular.
The company's outstanding dyeing techniques can also create delicate colors, enabling the firm to manufacture more than 100 "blue" denim textiles, each a different hue.
Some denim textiles are valuable for their rarity, as they can only be manufactured on old-fashioned weaving machinery that needs to be delicately adjusted by craftspeople.
Today Japanese denim has become a product that represents Cool Japan, along with anime and washoku Japanese cuisine, attracting the attention of Western luxury brands.