There’s so much possibility when it comes to denim, but so often all the denim out there ends up looking the same. In honor of back to school we took it upon ourselves to seek out the coolest denim brands right now. From Ksenia Schnaider’s asymmetrical pant legs (saving up for a pair of these as we speak!) to Cie Denim’s inverted jean shorts and more, the brands ahead are making some of the most creative denim we’ve ever seen.
From your IG feed to the school hallways, if you’re looking for jeans that will make you stand out this year, look no further. Here we speak with the founders of seven denim brands about their earliest denim memories, what makes their jeans special, and what they love most about denim.
Launched in January 2018, Cie Denim is a sustainable and reworked vintage denim brand started by Kelcie Schofield. Schofield, who grew up in Atlanta and studied at Syracuse University, says her earliest memory of jeans was a “killer pair of striped corduroy flare pants from Limited Too in the second grade.”
Schofield was always interested in what was trendy and new, and in high school would spend hours in stores and shopping online. In college she started taking jeans she found at thrift stores and cropping them into shorts. Now, the designer creates denim pieces that are made from recycled materials. “We work with a denim mill that has put a huge focus on making denim eco-friendly, using less water and chemicals than traditional denim manufacturing,” she explains.
Amanda Litzinger, aka Stickybaby, made her first denim creation, a purse from denim scraps, at the age of eight. Now 27 and living in New York, the designer says, “I started upcycling my own clothing as a kid, and the concept launched into a brand at age 19 while I was studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology.”
Under her catchy moniker, Litzinger now takes vintage jeans, denim jackets, and other clothing items (Bella Hadid has been spotted wearing her “real love” sweatshirt!), and applying special details like sparkly broken-heart patches, cool phrases, and even some tutu-like fabric. Other highlights include a pair of “space cowgirl jeans” that have hot pink fringe, mini pearl trim, and cutout clouds sporadically attached to the jeans. Plus, you can even order an item custom-designed to your liking.
What does Litzinger love most about vintage denim? The integrity compared to contemporary denim, she says because it lacks, “structure, quality, and personality.” According to her, “the same pair of vintage Levi’s or Wranglers will stay with you and fit for years and improve with time.” These jeans not only stand out, they’re fun. “When you wear a Stickybaby piece, you know it is special and others will know it too.”
Growing up in the Soviet Union, designer Ksenia Schnaider says it was considered “luxurious” to own a pair of jeans, which ultimately sparked her interest in the denim phenomenon. Now, as the cofounder of Ksenia Schnaider, Ksenia and her partner Anton, who are based in Kyiv, Ukraine, rework secondhand jeans into jaw-dropping statement pieces.
“We don’t normally go for the every day,” says Schnaider. In fact, you might’ve seen their asymmetrical jeans on none other than Céline Dion, who showed up to Paris Couture Fashion Week wearing pants that had one slimmer leg rolled up and the other one flared out. ”We strive to create garments that induce a sense of style by highlighting the natural beauty of our clients,” Schnaider explains.
Though the disproportionate look is something the brand has become known for, it’s not the only out-there denim piece they’ve released. Some of their other pieces include: a shrunken multi-pocket denim vest, reworked demi-denims with transparent legs, white-denim wide fringed jeans and “urban cowgirl” exaggerated fringed jeans that are available for preorder. Our favorite lower-ticket items? A denim fur hat and a mini demi-denims keychain complete with a black belt.
Ecologically speaking, 35% of these experimental items are upcycled, while all other products are made with factories that have certificates of sustainable production. Schnaider and Anton believe the denim material presents a lot of opportunities for ingenuity. “We love its versatility. It can be anything you want — a pair of everyday jeans or a red carpet moment.”
“As long as I can remember, denim has been a central part of my wardrobe,” says Ella Wiznia, founder of The Series. While starting a clothing brand wasn’t always something the 24-year-old saw herself doing, it was her recovery from an eating disorder in high school that inspired her to stop supporting clothing brands that promote unrealistic body types.
“In 2013, that was pretty much everywhere except for secondhand and vintage shops,” she tells Teen Vogue. “I also became extremely sensitive to how clothing felt on my body…I wanted to find pieces that felt comfortable and that would allow me to grow in, instead of confine me.” This is how oversized vintage denim pants became a staple in her wardrobe and a canvas for her creations, as Wiznia began collaging on denim, using vintage patches, appliqués, and textile remnants.
“While in treatment for an eating disorder, it is common that patients will take up knitting or crochet for anxiety management. However, I took up embroidery,” she explains. With this, Wiznia began incorporating needlework into her jeans as a way of “painting with thread.” “For the first time I started to customize pieces to fit my vision and my body rather than changing my body to fit the clothing,” she shares.
Now, with her brand, Wiznia creates customized denim that is meant for all genders and bodies. Each item is its own masterpiece, bringing together deadstock and reused patches, antique textiles, and embroidery, all of which are hand-stitched onto these one-of-a-kind vintage denim pieces. “I love the history of the material,” Wiznia says. “I love how denim shows the story of its wearer.”
Cassie Goodman, born and raised in the East Village in New York City, vividly remembers as a child going through her dad’s collection of vintage from the 1970s. It also wasn’t unusual for her to tag along with him to thrift stores, where she was “surrounded by all the OG Levi’s,” she says. At the same time she was attracted to all of her mom’s ’80s Gaultier jean skirts and jackets, which she’s “borrowed” throughout the years. And we don’t blame her.
With both parents working in the fashion business, the 26-year-old says, “Designing and sewing were my childhood hobbies and I never grew out of them.” It’s no wonder the creative now runs her own fashion brand, Auto Body, a company known for its high-waist, five-pocket, exposed–button fly, straight-leg jeans that come in all different varieties, including corduroy, hickory stripe, plaid, and classic black denim. She’s now expanded to zebra-print velvet corsets and matching pants, a look that was once worn by none other than our girl Maggie Rogers, as well as faux leather trousers with embossed flowers.
In her designs, Goodman tries to balance the feminine and masculine. “I like taking what may be considered a more feminine print or fabric but using it on a more masculine fit. And vice versa,” she says. And her jeans succeed in doing just that.
Eleanore Guthrie went to school for accounting, not fashion design. And the 27-year-old, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, says it was actually snowboarding that sparked her interest in fashion. As a former recreational snowboarder, Guthrie found that the fitted flare pants and oversized tops of other snowboarders on the mountain were flattering. “I would alter my snowboarding pants to fit like that when I couldn't find any on the market that fit my size or budget,” she says.
On top of this, Guthrie liked to bike a lot, always wearing cute and comfy knits on her rides. But in the winter she couldn’t find anything to wear that was appropriate. So she decided to bring the two ideas together, launching a denim knitwear brand named Knorts that uses cotton, indigo-dyed yarns, and Lycra to make pieces that are comfortable but still elevated.
Some of Knorts’s best items include: a denim knitwear jacket, elongated and textured denim knit pants, a denim knit drawstring Bag-o-Secrets, a denim knit sports bralette, and so much more. She also offers a more sustainable option where you can rent her items at a fraction of the cost.
Why does Guthrie love denim so much? “It’s so many things. It’s dressy, it’s casual, it’s sturdy, it’s gender neutral, it’s historical, it’s nostalgic, it’s always relevant,” she says.
Designer Sophie Hardeman’s earliest style memory was making denim for her genderless dolls. For the Amsterdam-based creative, jeans symbolize freedom, and she hopes through her denim brand, aptly named Hardeman, she can help stir a new revolution. Launched in 2015, Hardeman is a genderless brand that uses reclaimed denim waste from stores and thrift shops to make new, one-of-a-kind patchwork pieces.
The silhouettes are rather unconventional — think a denim tracksuit with breakaway snaps (currently sold out), an indigo tie-dyed velveteen suit, shiny denim pants with silver flames, patchwork denim of all different varieties, and even a long denim tote bag that appears to have been made from one pant leg. Troye Sivan and Keiynan Lonsdale are fans of the brand, as are we.
Why denim? Hardeman says, “Jeans play the role of the ultimate example of social conformism. Denim pants have evolved from a workman’s attire to the symbol of freedom to an everyday wardrobe staple.” Hardeman tries to break free from outdated conventions by playing with existing relationships and structures that make up a recognizable garment. For Hardeman, individuality and flaws are the “new perfection.”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue