Denim’s Real Origin Story: From Italy to America

Last Updated: June 13, 2024By

Denim’s Real Origin Story: From Italy to America

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Alright folks, gather ’round for a tale about one of the most iconic fabrics in the world: denim. You know, the stuff our favorite jeans are made of. There’s a big debate about where it actually comes from. Some folks say it all started in 17th-century Italy, while others believe it’s from southern France. And then there’s the famous story of Levi Strauss in San Francisco. Let’s dive into this denim drama, shall we?

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Denim’s Italian Roots?

So, there’s this new exhibition that suggests denim might have its roots in 17th-century Italy. Yep, that’s right—Italy! Imagine that. This exhibition highlights paintings by an anonymous artist, dubbed the “Master of the Blue Jeans,” who often painted scenes of poor folks in northern Italy rocking what looks like denim.

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Maurizio Canesso, a big name in the art world, is behind this exhibition. His gallery has been around for 30 years, and they’re showcasing a bunch of artworks they’ve sold over the years. One standout piece is “Woman Begging With Two Children,” showing a woman in what appears to be a denim skirt. Canesso is convinced this points to denim originating from Lombardy, Italy.

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France vs. Italy: The Denim Debate

But wait, the French aren’t backing down. They claim denim hails from Nîmes, France. They even call it “serge de Nîmes,” which means twill fabric from Nîmes. According to them, this sturdy cloth was perfect for ship sails and sailor outfits.

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Six months ago, Genoa, a city in Italy, made a big splash with an exhibition called Genova Jeans, asserting their claim over the origins of denim. Marco Bucci, the mayor, is all about promoting this connection.

Enter Levi Strauss: The American Dream

And then we have the classic American tale of Levi Strauss. In 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis got a patent for putting rivets in work pants, and boom, blue jeans were born. These pants became essential for railroad workers, miners, and ranchers in the US. It’s crazy to think that what started as workwear is now a $91 billion industry!

This month, Milan’s Mudec is hosting an exhibition showcasing Levi’s version of the denim story, complete with a pair of jeans worn by a miner in the 1870s.

Denim Today: A Global Fashion Icon

Today, denim is everywhere in the fashion world. It’s the fabric that never truly goes out of style. Some fashionistas are even pushing for triple denim looks—talk about commitment! The only place you’ll never see jeans? North Korea. They even blurred out a gardener’s jeans on a BBC show because of its “decadent” Western associations.

Wrapping It Up: Denim’s Universal Appeal

The exhibition “Jeans, From the Street to the Ritz” in Madrid’s Museo del Traje wraps up this whole debate beautifully. The title nods to French designer Yves Saint Laurent, who once said, “I wish I had invented blue jeans. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity—all I hope for in my clothes.”

So there you have it, folks. Whether it’s Italy, France, or the USA, denim’s journey is as rich and textured as the fabric itself. Now, the next time you pull on your favorite pair of jeans, you’ll know there’s a whole world of history stitched into those seams.

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