Opening Jean SchoolJason DenhamA heavy-duty sewing machine for working with denim at the House of Denim Jean School.
“In Holland everyone owns a good pair of jeans,” said Lennaert Nijgh, an exhibitor and self-described denim-head. “But there’s also a strong economic climate for brands to have their headquarters here.”
Amsterdam is the center of the European jeans world. Pepe Jeans and Levi’s Vintage have development offices in the Netherlands. G-Star, Scotch & Soda, Hilfiger Denim, Kuyichi, Blueblood, Kings of Indigo and a gaggle of smaller denim ateliers are headquartered here.
But the best indication of Amsterdam’s role in the universe of jeans might be that it will soon be offering diplomas in denim. This September a group of students will start a three-year technical program in denim development at the Regional Community College of Amsterdam. They will graduate with the skills and connections to plug in to the European denim industry, said Mariette Hoitink, a well-known name in the Amsterdam fashion world and one of the school’s founders.
James Veenhoff, a co-founder of the school and a former director of the Amsterdam International Fashion Week, said his ambition was to train the next generation of denim developers and designers. The founders see the school at the crossroads of old fashioned craftsmanship and new concepts of sustainability in design. When students graduate they will know the conventional trade — skills like cutting, sewing, stitching, washing — and will also bring new elements to the business, Mr. Veenhoff said.
A major element of the House of Denim Jean School is teaching sustainability — green methods of producing and washing jeans — according to its founders, who created the motto: “Heading for a Brighter Blue.”
The class that starts in September will consist of 17 students (nearly 30 applied), from varying backgrounds. With an average age of 23, some have previous experience as freelance designers or in retail, but many do not. Because of government financing for this professional degree program, tuition for the Dutch students is free.
“They have to be very enthusiastic about denim,” Ms. Hoitink said.
Besides teaching the next generation of denim artisans, Ms. Hoitink and Mr. Veenhoff envision creating a professional network, and archive and a denim lab, all under the name of House of Denim.
Within Amsterdam, the connections to the jeans industry are already more or less in place. As was evident in the great hall of denim at the Modefabriek, the city’s denim elite know one another.
The House of Denim will probably provide a type of clubhouse for the ad-hoc network. Mr. Veenhoff is counting on denim experts to provide guest lectures, short stints of in-house training and internships for his students and said that Amsterdam with its regular flow of denim experts will help him bring the biggest names in denim to his students.
When denim luminaries like Adriano Goldschmied, a co-founder of Diesel, or François Girbaud, who with his wife founded the upscale denim boutique Marithé + François Girbaud, come to Amsterdam on business, he said, “I’ll just ask them to pop by for a lecture beforehand.”
Outside of the country the House of Denim network will be working to find new and cleaner sources and manufacturing houses. In October, a pop-up denim “embassy” to promote the school, the network and sustainable denim production in general will visit Delhi and Istanbul — sources of European denim.
International networking is done in conjunction with the Dutch Design Fashion Architecture program, a government-funded organization that supports Dutch industry abroad.
Most Dutch denim ateliers put an emphasis on the actual fabric, which can be completely raw — untreated and left to wrinkle while worn — or elaborately treated. The design of the clothes sometimes takes a back seat to how the actual denim is processed, washed and dyed.
“Denim is an industrial product rather than a design product,” said Shubhankar Ray, the global brand director at G-Star Raw, a player in the Netherlands denim world.
The founders envision a research and development lab at the House of Denim. There are also plans for an archivist who would collect historic pieces and catalog innovations — something most corporate jeans makers have in-house — that would benefit the House of Denim network.
A pioneering master class of 20 students went through a 10-week program in spring 2011.
In the first week each student used the heavy denim sewing machines to create a denim work apron, a task that both tested their newly learned craft, and produced a symbol of their status as denim apprentices.
Many aspects of the House of Denim are still on the drawing board, but the first regular students of the Jean School will be sewing their aprons in September. - NY Times