Premium Denim Brand Review: Denim Design Lab

by Jaime on September 1, 2009

I told you that I’d be writing a review on Denim Design Lab, but I decided I wanted to take a little bit more time, wear the pants for a few days and really get a feel for them.

Turns out, it was a great idea.

Let’s start with a little brand background, courtesy of DDL’s website:

We wrote the book on vintage denim, literally. Now, Denim Design Lab is drawing upon its extensive knowledge of the history of denim to bring denim fanatics a modern twist on vintage work wear. Starting from the absolute best materials available, we transform selvage denim woven on vintage shuttle looms into modern masterpieces, borrowing key design lines and construction techniques from vintage work wear jeans, in comfortable modern fits, to create what we call “modern vintage.” The medium of choice here at DDL is denim. Denim is the “raw canvas” upon which we create, and we are here to ensure you get your hands on the perfect pair. Whether you prefer to start from a pair of our premium raw jeans, or experience the perfection of one of our custom crafted finished denim masterpieces, you are about to find your “next favorite pair of jeans.” With Denim Design Lab’s custom finished styles, we concentrate on painstakingly accurate vintage replicas vs. trendy “novelty” finishes. DDL designs and silhouettes are based on real vintage work wear vs. common “fast fashion” trends and “fit of the month.” DDL denim is designed to last a lifetime, not a season. The Denim Design Lab customer is a denim fanatic. They are independent in mind and spirit, and not driven by trends.

For starters, if that doesn’t sound like me… I don’t know what does.

So when Brian Robbins, the owner of Denim Design Lab, contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing their products, I jumped at the opportunity. I snagged the 101-500-SL-W in Slim Fit True Vintage (most of the DDL cuts don’t have names, just codes)… I know I’m a bum because I didn’t finish them myself and I left it to the professionals, but I loved the style, wash and, more than anything, the fabric. These were the Black Seed Pima Cotton selvedge denim that comes from Cone Denim manufacturers. Those of you who are denim history buffs understand the importance of that; next to Amoskeag manufacturers (the first denim company to supply jeans to Levi Strauss & Co.), Cone Denim is the historical denim for the US. They’re one of the few places to still use smaller looms for their denim, so they’re all selvedge.

I know, I know. Most of the time, when I think selvedge, I think rough-and-tumble, raw denim. While DDL does make that, what I decided to get doesn’t fit that bill. It’s as soft as a pair of chemically treated denim – without the chemicals. And there were little details that just made my eyes light up… like the logo on the back pocket, which tells you what cut the pair is (for women: slim or skinny fit, for men: slim or vintage fit) by having the beaker half or totally full of liquid. Or the clean distressing that came on mine. Or the fact that C. loved them, which is a rare thing these days, considering how many pairs of jeans I do have.

But, more than anything, there’s something about a totally American-made, eco-friendly and fun brand like Denim Design Lab. I like start-up brands that have character and charisma while still putting out a great product because it’s something that I really feel like I can stand behind. Any time I had questions, I was able to contact Brian, the owner, designer and author of Denim Design Lab LE (the book I reviewed here) and get a prompt, super helpful answer back.

The fit is fabulous… a little bit relaxed but still figure-flattering (note: DDL’s Slim Fit for Women runs true to size. They don’t have any of the skinny fit available on the site currently, but Brian has got me excited about the possibility) and easily one of the most comfortable pairs of jeans I own. They’ve got the softness of a pair of AG jeans but such a natural look and feel. The slight slub contrast that comes up, courtesy of the older looms used by Cone, create this one-of-a-kind look that really makes these jeans stand out.

There are a couple of downsides, but they actually have nothing to do with the jeans themselves (though the uniform inseam of 34″ is kind of a pain in the ass). First, there’s no online store and the only places they can be purchased currently are on the West Coast. You can contact Brian via email at [email protected] to place an order (I have a girlfriend who has already done it after being forced to listen to me rant and rave about these jeans for the past two weeks), but that’s the only way you can get a hold of them if you don’t live in Cali…. though, there is supposedly an online store coming soon.

Second, the women’s selection is sparce right now. The revamping of the brand is really being focused toward the men’s end (C. is DYING for a pair of DDLs after I got mine. He’s been through the lookbook and just loves the style, which is surprising for my Paper Denim & Cloth-wearing boyfriend, but I’m glad he’s broadening his tastes a bit). Makes sense… selvedge for women isn’t as big of a market right now as it is for men. I’m considering snagging a pair for him once I have the money and seeing if he’ll be interested in reviewing the men’s end of DDL’s designs, as well as getting a raw pair myself to add to my collection.

Yes, the price tag is high (the jeans start at $200), but what you’re paying for is quality. These jeans will easily outlast any $50 pair of denim I’ve ever met… it will probably outlast four pairs. This is a sure case of “you won’t believe it until you’ve tried it” denim, especially when it comes to the superior hand of the Black Seed Pima.

Alternately, I’m concerned that my denim experience has peaked at 23. These jeans are too good to be true.


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