'LIKE music, fashion is a language you can understand without an interpreter’ – Strellson Menswear.
‘Be good. Be bad. Just be’ – Calvin Klein.
Well, thanks for the tip, Calvin. I’d been browsing through the magazines at my local newsagent, reading the fashion pages of the daily paper and watching stuff about style on TV, to get some idea of what’s going down with blue jeans. After a week on alcoholic food, sex cheetahs in lingerie, camouflage gear and stars eating cake, plus the chance to cover a naked woman with custard on a free CD, I’d had enough. It’s all such serious fun. So, so... Vroom! Not really appropriate for a middle-aged editor of what the Brit cartoon rag Viz once dubbed the Smug Internationalist.
How good it is to grow older in an age of nostalgia. You can blame all your own follies on a ‘misspent youth’, yet still keep pace. My 1960s Levi’s jeans are under the kitchen sink. My original Beatles and Stones on vinyl – Sticky Fingers with jeans and a real zip on the sleeve – are objects of desire. And who stole my Blue Note Jimmy Smith? So I know how it happens, how you can get hooked on style by stealth. The power of suggestion is so strong you don’t see it coming.
Something similar happens when you edit one of these magazines. At first a topic can look obscure. You’re not quite sure if there’s any evidence at all of its existence out there, let alone if anyone has something fresh to say about it. Soon you find it everywhere, popping up like Spring blooms from the cold earth. So, over the years, I’ve lived for a while in a world exuberantly sprouting madness, hard drugs, tropical trees, robber barons, rubber tappers, class and Lord alone knows what else.
But blue jeans were different. I knew they were everywhere before I started, and I wear them myself. So I had to keep an eye out for jeans which were not blue-denim. I went for hemp. You may have noticed that I’m wearing hemp jeans in the photograph.
In the pub one evening I was discussing the wonders of this benign plant, its perfection as the source of fabric for jeans and the wilful blindness of the world to its virtues, when a Canadian at the next table gave me his money belt. Unsure quite what he had in mind, I was about to give it back to him when he said:
‘Hemp?’ I asked.
‘The belt is made of hemp,’ he said.
‘Of course!’ I said, stroking the fabric.
He lifted his shoe.
‘Hemp,’ he said again, pointing.
‘Good heavens!’ I said.
I wanted to know where he got those shoes – rather fetching, I thought – and was ready for a chat. But, having made his point, he seemed to lose interest. With his friends he began making hand prints the colour of blood on pieces of white paper.
Never did show me his trousers, though. Looked a bit synthetic to me.
for the New Internationalist Co-operative
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7