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Talking Jeans With One Of The World's Biggest Denim Designers

Even if you're not a "jeans person," everyone has that one pair they could live in; the pair that's worn in just right, hits at the perfect length, fits in all the right places, and looks good regardless of the time of day, season, or occasion. Finding "the one" in the world of denim, however, isn't easy — between the brands, the silhouettes, and the washes, the available selection can feel endless.

London-based label M.i.h, however, has spent a decade attempting to streamline the process by offering women a selection of jean styles they could only dream of. Founded by Chloe Lonsdale, whose family has a strong denim history in the U.K., M.i.h is all about worn-in, vintage-style jeans that exude the ease of the '70s — a decade that greatly influenced both the brand's foundation and its aesthetic. And if you're already familiar with the company (or own a pair or two of their jeans), you know that they put their money where their mouth is: Their jeans don't just have that enviable, perfectly washed blue tone — they also fit so. damn. well.
Photographed by Derek Wood at Seen Artists.
Chloe Lonsdale.
To celebrate the brand's ten-year milestone in providing some of the best denim on the market to fashion girls everywhere, M.i.h has reissued 10 of its classic styles in a limited-edition series dubbed The Cult Denim Project. Channeling the silhouettes, cuts, and washes that helped create (and maintain) its loyal following, the offering doesn't just remind us how far denim has come — but how far it's going, too.

Below, we talked to Lonsdale (and photographed her alongside two of her sisters, Tamsin and Tahnee) about the collection, the continuing legacy of denim, and what she really thinks of skinny jeans.

Let's start at the beginning. Tell us about founding the company.
"I grew up surrounded by denim all my life. In 1970, my father was living in London and decided to start taking old British cars, like Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, to sell in California; then he would buy jeans with the profits and try to sell them in London."
Were jeans not available in London yet?
"There wasn’t a place you could buy a pair of jeans in London in 1970, but there were 582 jean stores in California. So my father started importing the big American brands, like Wrangler and Lee, and other brands that don’t exist today. He tried to sell them in London, but no one was interested. So he started a chain of stores called the Jean Machine, which were huge during the '70s. They were the only store in London selling jeans; they were the first store to sell just one product; they were unisex; and the environment was democratic, confident, playful — everything that decade embodies. The staff wore roller-skates, the lines were around the corner, the princess would be on the floor getting her skirt zipped up with a coat hanger. It was everything you imagine about the '70s, in a pair of blue jeans.

"My father met my mother a few years after starting the stores; she was modeling for a brand called Made in Heaven, which was my godfather’s denim label. Made in Heaven was eventually the inspiration to start my denim business 10 years ago. M.i.h is really a composite of the overarching emphasis of my childhood growing up in denim, and the Made in Heaven label itself. But it is ultimately launching a new brand inspired by the spirit — and founded on the knowledge — of everything my parents and godfather did in the '70s. So I was able to start a denim brand with the foundation of 40 years' worth of experience and expertise in the industry.

"I think that’s very much the difference [between M.i.h and other denim brands]. In order to survive, you have to have a strong expertise in denim. It’s a very technical industry; it’s a very specific industry. With denim, you have to differentiate yourself, and for me, it was always about capturing the spirit of my mom, this cool, amazing woman, living in London in the '70s in her old, battered, washed-down blue jeans. I know everyone references a Jane Birkin heritage, but that was the brand in the '70s. That was our style heritage."
And how has the brand changed over these 10 years?
"We’ve grown the business carefully and organically, building a following with, obviously, first and foremost, beautifully cut, cool blue jeans, and around that has grown a very strong ready-to-wear collection that obviously stands on its own and is now 50% of our business. But it's there to amplify the energy and the spirit of the jean-wearer. So everything we design is designed with the same approach and attention to detail; it all has to echo the spirit of the denim-girl attitude."

Why did you decide to launch The Cult Denim Project? Is it meant to celebrate your 10 years as a company?
"Ten years alone is never a reason for anything — any landmark date is an opportunity for a business to get together and say, 'What do we need to remember at this stage?' But I think we’re growing incredibly fast as a business, so I really wanted to make sure that we were continuously supporting what our core spirit is; we did that by celebrating the most successful cult sell-out pieces we've ever done that were inspired by the archive, or inspired by something we did when we launched.

"The opportunity with The Cult Denim Project was to choose pieces that meant so much to us, so the end consumer really saw how we chose to celebrate our 10-year anniversary with denim that's so unique to us. Every piece we reissued was totally us: You will not find pieces like that being delivered by another brand. Sure, we do black skinnies; sure, we do white skinnies; and we compete and pull our weight with all the big names in the industry. But the pieces we reissued were to remind our customer that fashion-girl denim is not basic denim."
How did you pick these specific 10 pieces?
"It was actually one of those things — sometimes, when an idea feels so natural, it can be hashed out in half an hour on the back of a napkin. It seems crazy, but my head designer and I sat down for a very long time and said, 'Genuinely, what are the 10 pieces?' We both know the whole history of the business, and when we listed them off, we both came up with the same ones. The only shift we made was to break it down into three different fabrics: We put four in really classic vintage stonewash, non-stretch denim; we put three in a uber-cool Japanese bright '70s blue, which is a denim that we kind of own; and then we did a chambray as well. They're pieces that made us smile, pieces that make people think of us as a brand, pieces that completely changed the direction of the business."

From your perspective, how has denim changed through the years?
"Denim exploded 15 years ago because it became acceptable to wear to work. But it wasn't fully acceptable. Then it became even more widely accepted, because technology and fabrication allowed a much wider group of people to wear denim. Now, not only can everyone wear it to work, they can wear it to bed, they can wear it on a plane, they can wear it everywhere.
"I think, in terms of how important it is to our wardrobes, you can look back at landmark times, iconic film stars wearing it with that cool, carefree, slightly 'fuck you' attitude that had been associated with denim, whether it's James Dean or Jane Birkin — and when someone gets that less-is-more look right, it's always ultimately super-appealing.

"More recently, you have a slight fusion of denim moving toward the athleisure trend; and then the cyclical element of denim, which we've been pushing for a long time, is authenticity, even non-stretch jeans that have more attitude and spirit, that look like vintage denim, but updated, cool, and relevant for today. That's the other reason denim is permeating every level, because everyone from Gucci to Miu Miu is putting denim on the catwalk in uber-cool cuts and washes. We've got high-fashion brands embracing denim and bringing it into couture, and we've got it pushing into the more sportswear arena as well. For us, it's great because it's all about that vintage denim look, which is something we do and have always done as a brand. And while skinnies still sell really well, we're just selling so many of our authentic vintage high-rise jeans."

What are your thoughts on the controversial skinny jean?
"They're great. With technology now, you kind of wear them like leggings and not like jeans. But for skinny jeans to work well, you need a lot of stretch. And with a lot of stretch, you can't have very authentic washes. Therefore, to me, they were never really jeans. You can't look like Jane Birkin in a pair of skinny jeans. But it's less about the silhouette and more about the fabric and the spirit. I think the distressing trend has done very well because it captures authenticity in a skinny jeans — they just don't last six months because you put your foot through the hole and then they rip and whatever. The trend has moved away from skinny jeans, but that doesn't mean there isn't a business in it. For us, it's a part of our business, but it isn't the mainstay."

Photographed by Derek Wood at Seen Artists ; Hair by Whitney Schield using Oribe at Atelier Management ; Makeup by Gloria Noto for Noto Botanics at Atelier Management ; Styling by Chloe Lonsdale