Black on Black Denim
An exploration of black denim manufacturing methods through six pairs of superior jeans
Though we'll never turn our back on indigo denim, lately we've been thinking more and more about the world of black denim. A lengthy discussion with leading denim authority and Self Edge co-founder Kiya Babzani on the three main modes of making black denim led to the realization that there is a bit of confusion surrounding just what to call a solid black pair of denim jeans. In an attempt to help clear the matter up, below is a quick lesson in black denim manufacturing as told by Babzani, followed by a selection of six superior pairs that have caught our eye.
Historically speaking, black jeans were first manufactured around 60 years ago. Pigment-dyed black cotton was used as the vertical warp along with a natural colored, horizontal weft, creating jeans that were dark on the exterior yet light on the underside. The second method (and our preferred technique) is most often referred to as "black/black"—the jeans are woven on the loom with a black warp and black weft, thus creating a perfectly black sheet of denim with no contrasting color. The third (and oft confused) method is by overdying, or garment dying. Most apparel brands employ this messy procedure to turn a batch of identical, naturally colored garments to other hues. In short, a pair of blue jeans are dunked into a boiling vat of black dye, resulting in a pair of overdyed black jeans with a dull, semi-worn-out sort of look. The latter two methods are where we've directed our attention.
When it comes to black jeans, it's hard to go wrong with an ultra-dark pair that have a tapered, slim fit; when done properly, the rocker look will never die. And few people realize this better than NYC-via-Sweden designer Johan Lindeberg, a venerable rocker in his own right. His denim and leather focused BLK DNM line produces straight forward silhouettes no matter what the season is. The Slim Fit Raw Jean in Ludlow Black is made in the black/black method and feature a tiny dose of spandex (2 percent) to make the fit a bit more manageable. Find these for $225 from East Dane.
Similar to BLK DNM, Sweden's Acne is known for perfectly executing classic designs with a chic, modern Scandinavian touch. For example: The Roc Cash jean. The five-pocket jean is made with a 2-percent elastane weave and straight slim fit for a timeless look. Acne describes the color as "overtinted," though upon closer inspection it appears they are similarly made with a black warp and weft, making for a nice sharp black. Visit Acne to purchase for $200.
Celebrated across the blogosphere for their understated, NYC-made garments, Public School has been consistently on point since its relaunch in 2012 by co-founders Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne. Cut slim and made of 11.25-ounce Candiani Italian cotton and 2-percent spandex, the PS 14 Italian Overdye jean is one to lust after—even though it seems they're in fact made with a black warp and weft construction, rather than overdye. Check Public School online where the jean sells for $168.
Made in the US of custom 14.5-ounce selvedge denim woven exclusively for 3Sixteen by Kuroki Mills in Okayama, Japan, the SL-220x Double Black jeans are a labor of love. The slim, straight-leg jean is made of sturdy black warp and black weft fibers, meaning though it's resistant to wear at first, the black will eventually fade to grey in time. To keep the all-black-everything motif going strong, the Double Black jean features tonal stitching, a black chromexcel patch by Tanner Goods and custom gunmetal shanks and rivets. Purchase directly from 3Sixteen for $240.
Levi's Vintage Clothing
Lauded as the original skinny-fit jean, the 1960's Levi's Vintage Clothing 606 jean is a classic low rise, with tapered legs constructed of 14-ounce preshrunk Cone Mills denim. As a reproduction of the original '60s era Orange Tab line, the LVC 606 features bar tacks instead of copper rivets and a big "E" orange tab on the back left pocket. With a slightly washed out look, soft hand and partially dyed threads, the 606 is obviously overdyed—a darkened, dye-soaked leather patch and muted rear pocket tag are a dead giveaway. Unionmade sells the LVC 606 for $225.
From what we've seen, Japan's Iron Heart is one of the very few brands actually overdying their black denim. While most manufacturers avoid the time-consuming and messy process, Iron Heart embraces the unique look it delivers, which can be seen in their signature 21-ounce 8301 Japanese selvedge jean. As the denim wears, areas of high abrasion will fade, revealing the cotton's original indigo color. And unlike most Western brands that use polyester thread (the stuff is super strong), Iron Heart employs a cotton/polyester core thread, only a portion which is penetrated by the dye, making for a unique yellow color native only to Iron Heart. The slim cut jean, designed in collaboration with Self Edge, is sold exclusively through the denim shop for $400.