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In focus: G-Star Elwood jeans


Exactly 20 years after G-Star Raw’s iconic Elwood 5620 jeans were introduced, Global Blue goes behind the scenes to discover the history of the design and why it remains so popular today

Hannah Lewis / © Katie Wilson-Ells
Hannah Lewis,

In 1996, Pierre Morisset was sitting on a terrace in the south of France when a passing motorcyclist caught his eye. Or, more specifically, his trousers did. The rider’s jeans, noted Morriset, had formed to his riding position due to exposure to the elements over time. ‘Moulded into his riding position, they articulated the shape of his body. The knees, the back pocket, the heel pad, I looked at it and instantly knew: this is it.’

A chance encounter it may have been, but this rainy day in the south of France was a career-defining moment for Morisset. It led to the creation of the iconic G-Star Elwood 5620 jeans, which have become not only the most emblematic creation of the brand – at which Morriset is still head designer – but also one of the most successful models of jeans ever.

Brand beginnings
Founded in 1989, Dutch brand G-Star Raw set out with one main aim: to make excellent denim products that eschewed trends in favour of true quality and great design. It was only natural, then, that Morriset – already known as an expert in denim – would find his way to this groundbreaking brand. Morriset was determined to transform what he called the ‘traditional flat design of jeans’ and introduce the ‘next generation’ of denim, and G-Star was the perfect place to do this. Inspired by the motorcyclist, he and his team took a revolutionary approach to denim, designing pieces that were expertly sculpted to fit the three-dimensional form of the wearer.

Revolutionary approach
G-Star’s 3D approach to denim is as complex as it is unique. Unlike traditional pattern making, which approaches the garment as a flat object, the 3D method uses various techniques to sculpt the jeans around the wearer, including paper patterns, chemical treatments and heat, special stitching and ironing techniques, and specially designed foam moulds. Combined with G-Star’s introduction of raw denim – an unwashed, untreated form of the fabric – the brand had created a completely new way of thinking about and working with denim.

Slow burner
The result of these processes was the G-Star Elwood 5620 jeans. Initial success was slow but, as global brand manager Remco de Nijs explains, this soon changed. ‘When we introduced the Elwood, retailers and especially consumers were quite sceptical. Because of its 3D construction, it was difficult to fold and looked strange. The staff in the stores had a hard time selling the Elwood to their consumers. We pushed and pushed, but sales number remained low. But then we asked store staff to wear the Elwood in their stores … and it became an instant bestseller! When consumers saw how the design was constructed around the legs, they all wanted our Elwood.’ Today it is one of the world’s most popular jean styles, with more than 20 million pairs sold worldwide.

Limited editions
The style is at the core of each seasonal collection from G-Star and of course the jeans have seen various incarnations over the years, although five key elements remain unchanged: articulated knee pads, knee darts, saddle patches, heel guards and slanted thigh seams. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their launch, on the 20th of each month of 2016 a new limited-edition version of the G-Star Elwood is appearing in stores, and they’re sure to become collector’s pieces. ‘The first in the monthly series was the G-Star Elwood Moto, a re-release of one of the first Elwoods designed in 1996’, explains de Nijs.

‘In February a special Raw for the Oceans edition (made out of recycled ocean plastic) was launched, and in April we launched a special Elwood edition by Marc Newson. In October we will launch an Oxford Denim version … so stay tuned!’ From the autumn/winter 2016/17 main collection, women should look out for the 5620 Pouch jean, which incorporates a functional and stylish pouch, inspired by workwear. For men, the Staq jean uses skeleton taping to create a fashionable ‘stacked’ or ‘ruched’ effect along the leg.

Pharrell gets involved
Over the years the G-Star Elwood has attracted a number of famous fans, from Hollywood actors to top models and the world’s leading musicians. But none, perhaps, has connected with the brand so wholly as superstar producer and singer Pharrell Williams. Following two years of collaboration between G-Star and Williams’s company Bionic Yarn on joint venture Raw for the Oceans, the partnership has been formalised both financially and creatively.

As well as becoming co-owner of G-Star Raw, Williams has been appointed head of imagination at the fashion label. Speaking of the developments (wearing, of course, his favourite G-Star Elwood jeans), Williams explained his excitement at working with the brand: ‘G-Star is an independently minded and forward-thinking company. I believe it will be the definitive jeans brand of the 21st century.’ The future looks bright for G-Star and its iconic Elwood 5620s.

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