Want to talk about New York style? Let’s talk about blue jeans.
“New York denim fashion is driven in part by geography, income and demographics,” says Scott Morrison, the founder and CEO of 3×1 Denim. “Use skinny jeans as a recent example: The look came from a younger demographic, early adopters with less discretionary income. It probably started in 1994 or 1995, and the geography of those consumers was certainly NYC’s Lower East Side, East Village and Williamsburg, which has to do with income and age demographics. As you’d guess, those neighborhoods are where many young fashion designers, trend forecasters, advertisers, PR and marketing people, and nightlife impresarios call home. So it’s undeniable that there’s a subsequent ripple effect on the fashion and nightlife community and, in turn, global trends shift as a result.”
That’s how deep Morrison, 41, gets when you ask him a simple question about what New Yorkers want in a pair of jeans. It’s no surprise. His 3×1 shop on Soho’s Mercer Street is a boutique that doubles as a high-class factory specializing in fine raw denim and chambray, all displayed in large spools lining an entire wall of his store. The selection consists of more than 115 unique selvedge denim from around the world and more than 60 varieties of non-selvedge denim, stretch denim and twill.
“Scott Morrison is designing the blueprint of cool,” says Michael Little, the founder and owner of another well-known downtown haunt, Lost Weekend NYC. “What menswear designers will care about in six months from how is in scraps of paper buried on his desk. He is creating the archetype.”
The 4,000 square-foot retail and gallery space includes a 3,200 square-foot design studio (Morrison hosts fashion week events and skateboard parties there). On most days, dozens of people using single-needle sewing machines, hand-painted enamel buttons and custom-made RiRi zippers from Switzerland sit on one side of the floor measuring, cutting and sewing – by hand—some of the most exclusive jeans in the city.
But it’s not just the pants that do the trick here. Many designer brands offer decent options of high-value denim. It’s how well these jeans fit any body type (just ask LeBron James, a loyal customer of 3×1’s $1,200 bespoke service).
In fact, 3×1 specializes in three things: limited-edition, custom made and bespoke jeans. Limited edition pairs ($295-$475) are kept in stock and made in limited quantities of only eight, 12, 16 or 24 pieces – each to be hemmed and finished, with a button and rivets of the customer’s choosing. Custom products ($525-$750) are made to order and include time with a consultant to determine preferences for back pockets, thread and fabric. The bespoke service (yep, prices start at $1,200 and go up) allows patrons to work individually with Morrison and his pattern-maker to create their own pair of jeans from start to finish.
It’s all the more surprising because Morrison didn’t start in retail—he attended the University of Washington on a golf scholarship and played professionally, before moving to New York and founding Paper Denim & Cloth jeans in 1999.
But later he developed an obsession with selvedge and raw and Japanese and Turkish denim, and founded Earnest Sewn in 2004. The idea was to embrace the Japanese aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi (beauty in imperfection) and a love of American heritage. Fast-forward to 2011, and you get 3×1, a name derived from denim’s standard weaving construction, the ‘3×1 Right Hand Twill’ and also a reference to Morrison’s third venture following Paper Denim and Earnest Sewn.
This fall, 3×1 jumped into wholesale distribution, with full women’s and men’s collections retailing at Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Selfridges and on Shopbop.com. Not that the move in any way eliminates 3×1’s birthright in New York City.
“NYC is the world leader when it comes to creating trends,” Morrison says. It’s a quietly confident statement rooted in the truth – just like his jeans.
– Hannah Elliott