Lessons in wearing denim with Godspeed Melbourne
Wearing denim became a thing at around the time James Dean became a rebel without a cause, back in the 1950s. Dean didn’t stay a rebel, but his statement look in the film soon came to represent rebellion, seen as a symbol of subversion at a time when slacks and textured sports coats still reigned very much supreme. Though not directly visually offensive, jeans were, for a time, even banned in some theatres and schools, due largely to the anti-authoritarian ideology that they exemplified.
But by the 80s denim’s influence had transcended counterculture and entered the realm of mainstream fashion, and so it was that “designer denim” was born. Since then we’ve seen it all: acid washed denim, ripped denim, denim on denim—done both wrong and right. Highlights include: Travolta's unforgettable black-denim-jeans-and-leather-jacket combo in Grease, Brad Pitt's iconic denim shirt in Thelma and Louise, and John Bender's oversized denim jacket in The Breakfast Club. Gone are the days of denim’s strong association with defiance. The fabric is now a wardrobe staple, worn by younger and older generations alike.
If you’re a man who currently lives and wears clothing in Melbourne, there’s a 92% chance you own at least one pair of jeans. You probably also appreciate the feeling of overwhelm that’s felt when you shop for denim in larger retail stores. Sensations include: confusion, indecision, and label information overload. We feel your pain. Because what is actually the difference between slim fit and stovepipe? Will you regret it if you buy the wrong colour wash? And does a boot leg cut even have anything to do with actual footwear?
To avoid buying blind for the season ahead, we spoke to local legend Martin Kirby, founder and owner of Melbourne’s premiere denim destination, Godspeed. Established in Fitzroy in 2016 before recently relocating to 9 Crossley Street in the CBD, the iconic laneway space is home to quality made Japanese selvedge denim, apparel and accessories. For the man who’d rather invest in superior pieces that will stand the test of time.
Kathryn Carter: Tell us about the story of Godspeed?
Martin Kirby: I opened Godspeed after having lived in Japan [for a while]. The Japanese are obsessed with making the best products they possibly can and I wanted to share what I had discovered with the rest of the world. Denim plays a major part in the store but all of the brands we stock also produce apparel, boots and accessories. We also offer a denim repair service, which keeps us super busy.
KC: You’re clearly dedicated to the diffusion of the Japanese retail model into the Melbourne scene. Can you describe the experience of shopping at Godspeed to us?
MK: Education is a huge part of our business; we love to have conversations with our customers about everything from the products and processes to responsible manufacturing and consumerism. Most of the brands we sell are Tokyo-based brands [that are] exclusive to Godspeed. Although they are not as well-known as major brands the quality and uniqueness of their products is easily understood, so having a physical space is important, to give customers the chance to see and feel the products. We don’t consider ourselves part of the retail industry [at all], and certainly not a part of fashion, rather, a comfortable space to buy quality products.
KC: Can you tell us more about Japanese tailoring techniques?
MK: I can’t speak about tailoring as such, I don’t really know enough about it! But I can speak about the undying attention to detail, honoring of heritage, and commitment to quality across everything they make and do in Japan. Regarding the clothes we sell at Godspeed, almost everything has a history of some description. The Japanese are incredible at taking influences from heritage American, French and British pieces and recreating them down to the most minute details, and adding their own touch. Japanese brands almost always manufacture their own original fabrics and hardware, too, which is almost unheard of in the business nowadays. It’s pretty incredible.
KC: What are your top three tips for the man who is in the market for a new pair of jeans?
MK: 1 – Buy selvedge denim. Quality jeans should never have ‘stretch’ in them and should be made from 100% Cotton. In the 80s, denim brands started introducing stretch fabrics to accommodate for slimmer and slimmer shapes, probably dictated by European fashion.
2 – Don’t be afraid to wear something a little wider. Classic denim shapes like the Levi’s 501 are iconic for a reason. I’ve heard every excuse in the book for grown men wearing skinny jeans, and none of them are valid!
3 – Don't overthink it. Denim was made to be worn and the best pairs of jeans have been lived in; they tell a story. There are no rules. I mean, denim was associated with rule breakers in the 50s and 60s after all.
KC: Is it important to shop somewhere that can offer proper fitting advice when buying a new pair of jeans?
MK: Buying quality jeans is mostly difficult because the majority of jeans out there are disgusting in every way. There are reasons why cheap garments are cheap, and you’re doing yourself and the planet a disservice if you don’t acknowledge those reasons. I think it’s important to shop somewhere that can offer quality and ethically made products to begin with, so you actually start off on the right foot. Chances are if you’re standing in a store with great products you’re going to receive great advice and leave with something that you’re really happy with.
KC: Not all denim is created equal. What should men be looking for, fabric wise, when they invest in a new pair of jeans?
MK: Fabric wise, buyers should be looking for selvedge jeans. Selvedge denim is woven on vintage selvedge looms; the original machines to weave quality denim fabric. Unfortunately they are becoming more and more rare and just last year the last remaining American denim mill, Cone Mills, closed down. Japanese selvedge denim is now the most sought after, and is widely considered the best fabric you can buy. Selvedge denim is easily identifiable by the selvedge seams running up the outside leg of the jeans, as opposed to overlocked seams you see on cheaper denim.
KC: The million dollar question: how are you actually supposed to wash your jeans?
MK: However you like! I think there is way too much hype surrounding the washing of denim. If you want them to stay dark or eventually have high contrast fade marks then avoid washing them until it is absolutely necessary. If you want that washed vintage look then wash them all the time! There are a few technical reasons like shrinkage etc. that scare people, but that is only really applicable to 100% raw, untreated, straight from the loom denim. Most of the denim we sell has been once washed, sanforized or rinsed to take the guesswork out for people buying jeans in our store.
KC: What are your personal favourite ways to style denim?
MK: I don’t really overthink it or directly take influence from anywhere, but I guess the way I wear denim is fairly 50s in style by default, as the brands we stock love the classic 50s style. Wider jeans, cuffed fairly high and paired with classic boots or high top sneakers…Think of Stand by Me, where the boys are walking the tracks. I think double denim works [too], if either the jacket is raw and the jeans are faded, or vice versa!
KC: Why do you think jeans have become such a staple in the modern man’s wardrobe?
MK: I think the best thing about denim is that it always has and always will remain in style. It is truly the most diverse clothing. Denim garments are hard wearing, durable and stylish. With extended wear your pieces also become very personal and unique. Everything in our wardrobe should be like that. At Godspeed that’s what we are trying to help people achieve.
KC: What are three pieces that all men should have in their wardrobes?
MK: Straight or wide jeans, a well made pair of Goodyear welted boots that can be resoled and will last a lifetime and heavyweight plain t-shirts. I don’t believe in fashion rules but you could never make a mistake wearing those pieces.
KC: What would you say is the ultimate denim fashion faux pas?
MK: Almost everything you can buy at major retailers, which is truly unfortunate. I hope that can change. I guess if you want me to pinpoint one thing, it’s the elasticated ankle, super ripped, super slim, stretch leggings style ‘denim’ on men. That has got to be the worst.
KC: Do you have any denim style icons?
MK: This is a conversation I had just last week with my partner and some friends. I truly don’t have anyone I look to for inspiration related to clothing, at all. Being mostly inspired by people who can make or create beautiful things with their hands comes to mind first and foremost. Everything from clothing to food to motorcycles to art and music. I guess I believe in kindred spirits and sometimes you just line up with other people stylistically.
I go to Japan 3-4 times a year for exhibitions and buying trips and the hardest part for me is choosing what NOT to buy for Godspeed, as to this day I am a customer and fan of the brands that I sell. I guess the collections are designed by guys with genuine lifestyles and an appreciation for classic design, which I hope is something that could be said for me, and for what I offer the Melbourne community via the curation of Godspeed.
This story first appeared on Mr Men’s Melbourne.