Divisive biologist Svante Pääbo has hypothesized that instead of a physical trait, like opposable thumbs, the distinguishing characteristic between humans and other creatures of the animal kingdom is a certain madness a “Faustian restlessness” that relentlessly drives us to expand and innovate. This could be interpreted as a quest for immortality or, as Svante suggests, could simply result from a particular DNA sequence. Either way, the product is our visceral desire to break boundaries.
Fashion has always been as a visual way to express this sentiment, with denim serving as the choice uniform for cultural rebels since the ’50s—think cowboys, James Dean or the original rockabillies. For this reason, the young Australian denim label Neuw names the decade as once of its primary eras of influence and tweaks the DNA of classic denim cuts—like the Marilyn (Monroe, of course) or the Johnny (inspired by Marlon Brando in The Wild One )—to meet today’s fashion standards. As its creative director Par Lundqvist, another Swede, explains, “If you have a pair of jeans from the ’50s or ’60s, it might be a beautiful fabric with really nice details but the cut might not be what you want now—at all. So what I started doing was re-cutting those jeans into the kind of cuts and patterns we want right here, right now.” Neuw has coined this process “Vintage Revision.”
A denim enthusiast since his youth, Par’s vintage denim collection—among the main inspirations of Neuw denim—includes approximately 3,000 pairs of jeans, many purchased at second-hand stores in Sweden, which is among the world’s highest per capita consumers of denim. While his collection covers the past one hundred years, the two periods he most often comes back to are the mid-1950s, as noted above, and the late 1970s, a time when New York was all about CBGB and its mutinous style.
This musical thread, exemplified by Par’s extensive record collection, is the second leading inspiration behind Neuw. After moving to Stockholm to attend law school, Par dropped out to focus on his band, which he soon realized was “shit.” Instead of returning to university, he began working at a denim store, where he discovered his ultimate passion: classic denim. Still, the sentiment of music continues to motivate him, particularly bands like The Clash who had an understanding of musical “roots” that they used to create something new, just as Neuw is attempting to do with their denim collection.
Since Par is a Swede, it would be easy to categorize him and Neuw as derivatives of renowned Swedish brands like Acne and Cheap Monday. But while Par reveres Acne for giving Swedish designers confidence, his trajectory tells a more international tale. Following his professional revelation, Par joined the Antwerp branch of an international denim company. From there, he traveled with the company’s patternmaker to factories, learning about construction and fabrication. At the same time he was greatly influenced by highly conceptual Belgian designers like Martin Margiela who “work with the heritage and soul of an object.” Par approaches denim in a similar way, like Levi’s original workwear, each pair of Neuw jeans procures a story as time passes. This, he notes, makes Neuw’s design more Belgian than Swedish, as does its name. Short for Nieuwlandstraat, Neuw recalls the street in Brussels where Par lived while the concept for Neuw began to form. The shorter name was selected, Par explains, because “Nieuwlandstraat’s a mouthful for those who don’t speak Dutch.”
Three years ago, Par met Australians Stephen Little and Richard Bell, who also worked for the denim corporation and who asked him to transfer to its Melbourne branch. One year later, the three friends began Neuw. The denim line comprises three “Levels” of “Vintage Revisions.” Level One is…
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…the adaptation of a classic. Level Two adds unique wash and fabric, while Level Three can involve patchwork and repaired denim. Additionally, each pair features a number of autograph Neuw details: a zigzag stitch on the back pocket, which relates to Par’s own experience of having his back pocket bust out from a chronically overstuffed wallet; a stamp detailing on the inner pocket; and a metal ring on the waistband.
The denim itself comes from Turkey, the United States and Japan, and Par develops and selects fabrics that become better with age. The Japanese, he notes, are particularly versed with rinse, wash and fade that replicate the home wash and dye process. There is a vintage skinny mid-rise pair in the upcoming collection that uses sulfur dying to achieve an authentic workwear shade. Further, the company’s signature “black color” denim, with an innovative black weft, was exclusively developed in collaboration with one of the oldest denim mills. The result is attention-getting pants in deep hues, including red, mustard and cobalt. Like all of Neuw’s designs, they are neither ostentatious nor retro but rather quietly cool and unpredictable, hinting at recklessness––in short, the mark of a true rebel.