Blue Jean Missing Link Discovered!

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground.

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground.

This just in…

So it seems that it sometimes takes a number of arty types to explain something as fundamentally proletariat as  humble, timeless blue jeans.

I’d love to go off on this subject, but I couldn’t do a better job than The Vancouver Sun:

Workaday staple and fashion favourite, blue jeans have conquered the planet. But were they born in the textile mills of New Hampshire, on France’s southern coast or the looms of north Italy?

Art historians believe they have found a piece of the centuries-old puzzle in the work of a newly discovered 17th-century north Italian artist, dubbed the “Master of the Blue Jeans”, whose paintings went on show in Paris this week.

"Nothing comes between me and my...oh well...you know..."

Nothing comes between me and my...oh well...you know...

Running through his works like a leitmotif is an indigo blue fabric threaded with white, with rips revealing its structure, in the skirts of a peasant woman or the jacket of a beggar boy.

“The works are very attached to the detail of clothing – it was very rare for a painter to characterise the poor with such detail,” said curator Gerlinde Gruber, who helped to identify the anonymous artist’s works.

“And there is blue jean in every painting except one,” she said.

Other details in his work, such as a knotted white kerchief in a painting entitled “Mother Sewing”, enabled curators to locate the scenes in northern Italy, in the region of Venice.

Historians have long traced jeans’ ancestry to two sources outside the United States: a sturdy fabric from the French city of Nimes – “de Nimes”, hence “denim” – on the one hand, and a cotton fustian from Genoa in Italy – “Genes” in French, becoming “Jeans” in English – on the other.

But unlike the finery worn by the upper classes, the clothes of the peasant classes were used until shredded through, leaving no trace.

Until now there were only fragmented written records to rely on to document the shipments of low-cost fabric that flooded from Genoa into northern Europe – and especially England – in the mid-17th century.

It's not easy wearing jeans...

It's not easy wearing jeans...

“We have accounts from an English tailor saying that his fabric came from Genoa, and that is the origin of jeans,” said Gruber. “But this gives us new documentary proof of a historical reality that has been forgotten.”

In a further quirk, the blue tint of the fabric was painted with the exact same indigo as that used to dye today’s denim, according to curators.

Centuries later, husband and wife design team Francois and Marithe Girbaud earned a reputation as modern-day masters of the jeans world – as pioneers of the baggy hip-hop look, of stonewashing or stretch denim.

“This calls into question the entire history we have been telling up until now,” said Francois Girbaud, who partnered with the Paris exhibition. “And that’s what’s fun.”

Find out more at Joe Nolan’s Insomnia.

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  • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

    Who knew that blue jeans could be so complicated that it would take a team of art curators to pinpoint their origin.

  • Joenolan

    Who knew that blue jeans could be so complicated that it would take a team of art curators to pinpoint their origin.

  • steve m

    who gives a flying shiiiit?

  • steve m

    who gives a flying shiiiit?

  • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

    This story is all over the internet. People no doubt find it interesting because fashion is such an integral part of culture and denim is one of those materials that is common to the shabbiest as well as the sheik. I’m especially interested in the way that these paintings functioned as time-capsules that were ultimately transformed into vessels of hidden knowledge. The fact that this is a lot of hullabaloo about jeans seems beside the point. This story has direct parallels to Ancient Astronaut Mythology or Illuminati Conspiracies in that it demonstrates the fragility of knowledge and the manner in which the common and the known can very quickly become the mysterious, the “occult”.

    Plus its funny to see so much excitement over jeans. ;)

  • Joenolan

    This story is all over the internet. People no doubt find it interesting because fashion is such an integral part of culture and denim is one of those materials that is common to the shabbiest as well as the sheik. I’m especially interested in the way that these paintings functioned as time-capsules that were ultimately transformed into vessels of hidden knowledge. The fact that this is a lot of hullabaloo about jeans seems beside the point. This story has direct parallels to Ancient Astronaut Mythology or Illuminati Conspiracies in that it demonstrates the fragility of knowledge and the manner in which the common and the known can very quickly become the mysterious, the “occult”.

    Plus its funny to see so much excitement over jeans. ;)

  • Vox Penii

    sorry, but david bowie discovered the blue jean missing link way back in the ’80s — the blue jean gene led to a camouflage face and no money…

  • Joenolan

    I always liked that video :O)

  • http://joenolan.com/blog Joe Nolan

    I always liked that video :O)