Goodbye London, hello Amsterdam

When Jason Denham was transferred from London to Amsterdam by Pepe Jeans in the early 2000s, he thought it would put a dent in his image as a leading British jeans designer. In those days, the London of Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney was still considered the fashion mecca for all forms of casual wear, including jeans. “For me, leaving London represented an unfair, and therefore temporary, exile from my most important source of inspiration,” he says.

But today, he sees that transfer as a pivotal step in his evolution as a fashion designer and entrepreneur. “Immediately on arriving, it dawned on me that this, finally, was the real denim capital of the world. Amsterdam is the personification of everything jeans represent. Unyielding, slightly rebellious, adventurous, firmly opinionated, never afraid to make a statement and always uniquely individual.” 

“From the very first day,” he explains, “I felt like I had come home. So, I think it makes sense that many of the major modern denim brands are getting their start in Amsterdam or are moving here. This is the modern heart of the international denim industry.”

A growing denim scene

Since Denham’s arrival, the local denim scene has continued growing at a steady pace. Tommy Hilfiger moved its head office from New York to Amsterdam and G-Star, Gsus and G+N all began here, too. Even older labels like Levi’s and Diesel have chosen the city for their design studios. And these are just a few of the more than 2,600 fashion-related enterprises that call the Dutch capital home and inject billions into its economy each year.

After leaving Pepe, Denham (and yes – that’s his real name) co-created Kuyichi, the first organic jeans brand. He believes the local fashion industry benefits from Amsterdam’s compact size, and the fact that “the best and most creative designers want to live and work here.”

And he also thinks Amsterdam’s cachet influences the decisions of major labels, adding, “That’s exactly what drove Levi’s to move its design studio from Brussels to Amsterdam, for example – they were afraid that all their best talent would leave if they didn’t.”

Eventually, he launched his own Amsterdam-based label, Denham the Jeanmaker. From the start, it has distinguished itself by targeting the upper segment of the luxury jeans market. Shoppers can customise many aspects of their jeans, and only the best Italian and Japanese denim is used.

“We prefer to work with reused fabrics and materials and require our studios to process them to a higher standard,” Denham says. “Sometimes, we take that to the extreme. For one of our trousers, we’ve elected to have them specially dyed in a Japanese studio; their indigo is deeper and more natural than anything else I’ve seen.”

Giving different fashion traditions a Dutch twist

Though Denham the Jeanmaker is now a successful brand, control over the creative process still lies fully with Denham. He does, however, work with more than 20 people from his office in the heart of Amsterdam and is quick to credit the multicultural atmosphere of the capital for bringing together his unique crew. “I’ve got an extremely international team here,” he says.

“And that may well be the key strength of our brand. It successfully ties together a range of different fashion traditions. We’ve infused it with the Italian flair for style and a creative take on accessories. My British colleagues and I were raised in the tailor’s tradition of solid quality and the perfect fit, the Japanese have taught us a keen attention to detail and the Americans here take denim back to its roots...And last but not least, the Dutch have added pragmatism and an international orientation to the mix.”

Brought together by a love of Amsterdam

He also thinks Amsterdam itself brings something incredibly unique – and valuable – to the mix. “Never before have I experienced that international dimension within the design process as manifestly as I do now,” he says.

“Our location plays a part in that respect, too; a melting pot of nationalities like we have here can thrive in Amsterdam like nowhere else…if we weren’t based here, we would never have been able to get and keep such a unique group of people together. Our love for this city binds us.” 

Read more business news from around Amsterdam.