Faustine Steinmetz’s first denim icon was her grandmother, who would wear her Levi’s with a Burberry trench, a cashmere turtleneck and Chanel ballerinas. How chic. But it was also edgy, Steinmetz is keen to point out, in a Parisian arrondissement more accustomed to bouclé skirt suits and pearls. “What was incredible about her, and every woman I find attractive, is that she looked amazing – but didn’t look like she was trying to,” she says.
Steinmetz’s own early forays with denim were, she admits, less successful; remembering the first pair of jeans she bought, a bootcut style, is met with a resounding “ewww!” But, it was denim that awoke a creative streak in the young designer. “As soon as I started cutting up my clothes it was always denim,” she says. The back pockets were made into bags, waistbands shorn off and worn on her head, the crotch cut out of jeans to transform them into jackets. “I looked awful!” she laughs.
Thankfully, as her aesthetic has developed, neither Steinmetz’s love affair with denim, nor her ingenious treatment of it have abated. Playing around with the sartorial archetype and the inbuilt language of the fabric as the great fashion equalizer, crossing gender, age, taste and budget boundaries, she has made her name conjuring up often mind-boggling, couture-grade concoctions. “As soon as you modify jeans it becomes really interesting, because there is a recognisability you don’t have with other clothes,” she says.
What makes this season’s lavish diamanté bedazzled suits or shibori-dyed jackets all the more impressive isn’t their toying with taste so much as her commitment to doing everything as ethically and sustainably as she can. She's now teamed up with a women’s craft collective in Burkina Faso. “You just have to do it,” she says. “When you go to make something you are responsible for a lot of people.” No wonder Steinmetz is elevating from one-to-watch to one-to-wear with impressive velocity; she was awarded the 2017 Swarovski Collective Award and recently produced a capsule collection for denim behemoth Diesel’s Denim Lab. Big things are guaranteed; and whatever’s next, she’ll be doing it in jeans. Here Steinmetz picks the pop culture denim moments that made her.
1. Cindy Crawford for Pepsi, 1992
“For me that’s the biggest denim moment of my life,” says Steinmetz of the 1992 commercial, which saw Cindy Crawford accessorise her cut-offs with nothing but a white tank top, big hair and a can of Pepsi, naturally. The apparently fuss-free styling of the all-American super shows the understated, earthy sexiness of denim. Or, as Steinmetz puts it simply, “She looked amazing”.
2. Beverly Hills 90210
“When I was a kid every night I would come home and watch Beverly Hills with my brother and mum,” says Steinmetz. If the storylines were all drama, the denim was pretty consistent. “For me it represents a moment when everyone wore the same style. It wasn’t very flattering, and made every girl look like she had a massive arse, but at the time it was fine. Nobody was questioning it!” As for her favourite character? “I was definitely Kelly.”
3. Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein, 1980
In 1980, when a 15-year-old Brooke Shields appeared in a series of Richard Avedon-shot Calvin Klein print ads and commercials asking, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing...” the stiff-upper-lip brigade balked. Everyone else bought the jeans. This, and the Kate Moss adverts of the 90s, were big moments for Steinmetz. “Denim was very sexy then!” she says.
4. L’effrontée, 1985
A teenage Charlotte Gainsbourg in 1985’s L’effrontée is the epitome of the effortless French style the rest of the world fetishises. In high-waisted blue jeans, white plimsolls, a Bréton and zero make-up she is, says Steinmetz, “A very typical French woman who looks very natural and does not need anything artificial to be beautiful and unique.”
5. Kids, 1995
Larry Clark’s provocative 1995 masterpiece also introduced the world to Chloë Sevigny, AKA “the coolest girl in the world,” according to Jay McInerney’s New Yorker profile of the actress. It’s Sevigny’s thrifted wardrobe and don’t-need-your-approval attitude that Steinmetz admires. “She looks so effortless and cool and like she really does not care.”