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.
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.
“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.