To celebrate our recent collaboration with A.P.C., available here, the brand’s founder Jean Touitou tells us how his jeans became the stuff of legends.
By Marc Beaugé and Gauthier Borsarello.
Article originally published in L'Etiquette issue 2
L'ETIQUETTE. Can you tell how you began working with denim?
JEAN TOUITOU. It began a bit by accident, honestly, because I’m not at all a specialist or a jeans geek. The initial goal for A.P.C. Was to design jackets in fine English materials, materials I would have washed beforehand. I never even thought about jeans. Until one day when I found myself in Barcelona without my suitcase. I had nothing to wear, so I went looking for a pair of jeans. I looked everywhere, and realised there was nothing good on the market. Absolutely nothing. Back then, A.P.C. Wasn’t even properly launched yet, it was in the planning stages. I was designing collections - for Et Vous, among others - and they were really happy with a collection I just designed. So they simply went: ‘What could we get you?’ And I answered ‘some really good denim.’ And they brought me what was the ‘best,’ according to them. That’s how it got started.
E. What did your first pair of jeans looked like?
J.T. With that first denim roll, I had a prototype made in the workshop. I understand right away that as opposed to ready-made or tailored clothes, the work instrument was a determining factor. A sewing machine for jeans is closer to a bulldozer. It doesn’t go ‘tick-tick-tick’ but ‘VROOOOM.’ It swallows everything in its path. That was important. Then I had to learn the rest… Those first jeans had a design flaw: they lacked a chain stitch on the waist. It’s a flaw in that the chain stitch gives the elasticity you need at the waist. I only realised that mistake ten years later, but I decided not to fix it, because our jeans were fine the way they were. In the end, these early prototypes were fairly similar to those we produce today, even if the cut was a lot more straight. Today, it’d look baggy, even. But these notions change with time. Back then, I felt the waist was sitting low, now I find them high-waisted.
E. And it worked right from the start?
J.T. It was a slow start. People were saying ‘the fabric is rough,’ and I’d answer: ‘yes, but in a week it’ll be worn in, don’t worry, and it looks good, doesn’t it?’ But for maybe four or five years we didn’t sell many. Actually, we had more female customers because they had a better eye for fashion, they got it right away. The guys weren’t getting it, and I didn’t feel like educating them on the subject, because again we weren’t jeans geeks. So it took a bit of time to take off.
E. Why do you think your jeans were met with such success?
J.T. We’re not looking to make the ultimate cool jeans. We’re not looking to lift a woman’s ass or make the dudes’ look manly. We’re not objectifying the butt. I want our jeans to be on point. To the millimeter, even. And it takes some work I tell you. Plus, we always wanted to keep our designs simple. There’s no bedazzling the rear, no tags, no gadgets. It’s the fabric that speaks for itself. This fabric is simply the best there is. When it was given to me the first time I didn’t get it. It came to me later, when I went to Hiroshima, to visit the Kaihara workshop. I understood it was high quality Egyptian thread. I understood that the dye on the chain was a mix of natural indigo and artificial indigo. Because if we only use natural indigo it washes away too quickly, and if we only use artificial indigo then we’re doing what everybody’s doing. And I understood something else, but I won’t tell you what. There’s a secret to this denim. A secret I’m trying my hardest to forget so I don’t ever tell anyone. Something the factory only does for us. And that fabric, that denim, they never sold it to anyone else. We never signed anything, we just shook hands, and that’s how it’s been between us for 30 years.
E. Is it by seeing all of those jeans from your brand in the street that you understood it was a success?
J.T. When I started seeing some in Paris I didn’t think of it as a success yet. Because Paris is like, rural when it comes to fashion… You know what I mean… It’s when I traveled that I realised the beast we’d created. In Japan, in New York, in Los Angeles, I started seeing them everywhere. And people were fetishising their jeans! They wouldn’t wash them, they thought they weren’t supposed to be washed. Some customers would send me their old jeans that had never seen a wash as some kind of offering. It sticks to you, the smell of the thing, I swear… It was mostly Americans. They always go all in, the Americans. They don’t wash their jeans for a whole year and when they realise they don’t fit anymore, they throw them away. But beyond the obvious joke, all this talk of washing helped us create a bond with our customers. People invest themselves in our jeans, they make them their own. So we play with that a bit, we give some loony advices, like soaking the jeans in seawater and letting in dry in the sun. Myself, I once tied my jeans to the back of a moving boat for 200 nautical miles! It was going ‘flush, flush….’ As it bounced on the water! E. The jeans, they made you rich. J.T. Well no, not really… I mean I live well, very well, I’d never complain, but I didn’t become a billionaire thanks to those jeans. Because we didn’t raise the prices much over time while the quality has always remained the same. We could have doubled the prices. A lot of brands would have done so, and would sell the jeans like 300 or 400 euros a pair, because it’s a seller’s market, as we say. But we never considered those jeans like a money-printing machine. Our margin on the jeans is extremely reasonable for the kind of price we charge.
E. What kind of jeans are you wearing today?
J.T. An A.P.C. But I’m not quite sure which model to be honest. Actually, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: all the A.P.C. Jeans I wear have been adjusted. They’re old models I’ve been wearing for years, they washed up, and I found were too large. So I had them tailored. I didn’t have the patience to buy new ones and wear them out the old-fashioned way…