This isn’t supposed to be here. But my GPS confirms I’ve got the right address: west Pico Boulevard, just a bit west of downtown LA. “You have arrived at your destination,” says my car, in its plummy accent. My destination is, apparently, a stout, low-slung warehouse in the heart of LA’s garment district. There’s no real signage — just a well-worn intercom buzzer and a keypad.
With trepidation, I dial the phone number I was given. A young woman with merlot-colored hair appears. She leads me up a steel staircase and into Gap’s 1969 design studio. Inside, it appears that a rebellious crew of designers, wash specialists and beautiful dreamers has turned the top floor of a former cigar factory into their own personal denim Valhalla.
This vast open-plan loft is crammed with art books, mood boards, vintage buttons, Japanese workwear catalogues and back issues of surfer magazines. Sunlight floods in through the huge bay windows. Crystal-beaded chandeliers cast a glittery glow. Somewhere, a dog snores softly. This feels like the personal atelier of a Silver Lake design collective, not the headquarters of a five-pocket conglomerate.
There are jeans on tables and jeans on the floor. There are jeans that aren’t jeans at all, but leggings, and stretch Bedfords, and pinwale cords in saturated colors. Rosella, the studio’s petite, saucer-eyed Creative Director shows me a pair of cocoa-colored pants. they feel soft, like kittens and marshmal- lows. “It’s taking denim beyond actual indigo,” Nicole, the 1969 women’s Designer, tells me. “That’s the whole idea behind fall.”
The men’s designers huddle in soulful conversation, debating the best way to wear the popular Slouchy Slim fit. “You can wear it with flip-flops, because it goes down to a skinny leg,” argues Cale, the 1969 men’s merchant. “Or you can dress it up.” “Yeah, but don’t go nerdy,” warns Jason, 1969 men’s Designer. “You can’t, like, belt it and tuck in a shirt.” “Right, but you can definitely wear a dress shoe and a blazer,” says Cale.
“Oh, totally,” replies Jason, slurping cherry vanilla soda. “All I’m saying is, don’t tuck in a shirt. It’s really not that kind of a jean.”
Each hang tag here tells a story. I see some jeans labeled “PILOT.” These are apparently prototypes. “Needs 120 minute enzyme STONE WASH,” reads a tag on a pair of crops. “Plus laser. Plus 3-D whisk- ers. Plus shirring.” Others will never see the light of day. “FIT OFF,” their tags blare. “TRIM WRONG.” “BAD CREASE LINE.” “Not approved,” an assistant whispers sorrowfully.
Rosella and her team have now been in the LA studio for a full year. It’s not just a workspace but the epicenter of a battle to democratize premium denim. “We’re using the same fabrics as the other top denim labels,” says Jason. “So it makes me crazy that people feel the need to shell out two hundred bucks, when they can get the same jeans from us for way less.
But perhaps the richest source of inspiration has been LA itself — the birthplace of the premium-denim craze. “If you come to LA, everyone’s wearing denim,” says Nicole. “They could all start by wearing the same jean, but then style it differently. So a girl in Hollywood could wear a jean very sexy. Then there’s a girl in Los Feliz who’s going to wear it with Converse and a cute little men’s shirt. We love that.”
Please, just no crease lines. And for God’s sake, don’t tuck in that shirt. It’s just not that kind of jean.