Listening to Shubhankar Ray talk about G-Star’s denim and fashionable streetwear, it’s easy to be swept up by his enthusiasm. Ray, G-Star’s global brand director, used to work at Levi’s and has headed up the label since 2006. He’s a denim-clad ball of energy when the conversation rolls onto his favourite topic which, as you may have guessed, is denim. ‘I’m a denim head. I had been for a long time before working in the industry and all the people who work here are denim heads. We love it and we want to find ways to re-invent it and re-interpret it for our customers.’
Archive designs for a modern audience
Ray was studying for a science PhD before finding his fashion calling while working as a barman in cult London clubs in the 1980s. ‘I was observing and absorbing this exciting new world all the time, I was getting paid to be immersed in it all. It was the time when street style was really becoming known, and denim was a part of that,’ he says.
He took a job at Levi’s at a pivotal time for the brand. It was launching its Levi’s Vintage range, which comprised archived designs which were re-made for a modern audience. Ray’s love of denim was unleashed as a result: ‘I worked on iconic campaigns and it was great to see a denim label become so involved with popular culture.’ After 17 years at Levi’s, he joined hip Amsterdam brand G-Star.
3D denim designs
The ‘formulas’ for G-Star’s jeans are re-invented and tweaked season after season. ‘What’s unique about G-Star is that we take a three-dimensional approach to denim design, we see jeans in terms of architecture for the legs,’ Ray explains. He goes on to assert that G-Star’s point of difference in the streetwear market is its fervour about incorporating craftsmanship quality into mass- market products. Its jeans, jackets and other denim items benefit from artisan levels of attention to detail. To demonstrate, Ray is swiftly on his feet to talk through a new pair of jeans he’s developing: these are in a dark indigo and are much stiffer than normal denim. They hold their form more, giving them the appearance of formal trousers.
‘I would say craftsmanship combined with product innovation is what makes us strong,’ says Ray, who describes his studio of designers and innovators as ‘a pot of creativity’. The latest creative idea from the brand is an advertising campaign in which skeletons of running dogs wear denim items (yes, dog skeletons).
G-Star’s denim heads
As well as describing himself as a ‘denim head’, it’s a term Ray uses for the denim connoisseurs who beat a path to G-Star’s door for their treated or engineered denim, or for denim that’s been washed in a particular way or manipulated to fall a certain way on the leg. ‘The culture of denim is like red wine culture. It’s something that you can get into at a very basic level – you can buy a €40 pair of jeans the same way you can buy a €10 bottle of wine. But at the other end there are people who devote every waking minute to exploring different kinds, who are willing to spend thousands and who absolutely love it.’
Denim, he feels, is a truly 21st-century garment because it’s the most demographic, something that straddles the divide from streetwear to high fashion. ‘Only denim and trainers have that kind of culture where they are streetwear items that can become incredibly covetable and become part of fashion’. G-Star, he says, is ‘a pioneer in a super-specialist culture with serious, dedicated levels of passion in it’.
Amsterdam is similarly important to the identity of the brand. ‘It’s a place with a lot of international influences. It’s a central hub in Europe but it has a small population, so trends catch on quickly,’ he says. Although the owner of the brand lives in Amsterdam, Ray lives in London, the head designer in Province and the stylist in Maastricht. This crack team enlists a range of creatives to collaborate with them, from the worlds of music, art, film and design – Marc Newson and Anton Corbijn are just two of the names G-Star has worked with. ‘The results push boundaries we didn’t even know were there sometimes,’ he says, as the hypnotic VT on his laptop of dog skeletons running to music triumphantly attests.