Second of two articles
At the new Denim Bar in Arlington, where the saleswomen are dressed like bartenders and you may get a free Yuengling if they like you, the owner says he sometimes turns customers away.
"You're just not ready to try on designer jeans," Mauro Farinelli tells them. Certain women try on pair after pair of premium denim and look great, but still complain. They're just not prepared, it seems, to be fabulous.
"We'll be here," Mauro tells them, hoping they'll come to their senses one day and allow him to fulfill their sartorial destiny.
No one would begrudge Mauro his noble cause. Premium denim is not just about beauty; it's about feeling entitled to be beautiful. It's about broadcasting your worth through the Swarovski crystals on your behind. Jeans have become diamonds, art, custom cars. Spend the rent money on a pair, by all means, but do not simply wear them. Know that you are wearing the Degas of denim.
Mauro, then, is an educator. He has studied tailoring and likes to talk about triple-stitching. His store is all dark wood and fine denim, some of it woven on decades-old looms, then blessed with hand-painted logos. Some jeans are so fancy they come in boxes or leather pouches. The most expensive are $645, though Mauro also sells "entry-level" jeans for $100.
Mauro has women who have followed him since his last gig, as a jeans specialist at Saks Fifth Avenue. They say he makes them look amazing. Mauro is equally loyal. He says of one customer, "She buys anything I tell her to buy."
Carolyn Lindsey, a lawyer, says: "I really wouldn't buy a pair of jeans from anyone else unless Mauro was there."
Amy Angelo, another lawyer: "I just completely trust his judgment."
Amy, 31, has jeans for all her moods. She has sexy jeans "that hug me in all the right places" and "Sunday-afternoon-party, not-too-sexy-but-dressier" jeans. She has a "comfortable pair," not to be confused with her "comfy bummy ones," which are designed to look dirty even when they're clean. "You feel like you look amazing but you're not really trying," she says of those.
Amy is willing to pay more to get cutting-edge jeans, jeans that other women don't have, because they make her feel "special." The most she's spent is $320, and she wouldn't take it past $350 unless she really, really loved them.
There are limits, she says: "There are so many other things to buy."
Denim was sober and utilitarian, a thing of the 19th century, a tough fabric for tough men, meant to be worn lots and worn down.
Now it is worn down by our own fussiness. It is washed, sandblasted, hand-sanded, treated with resin. Mauro owns jeans that came with the outline of a chewing-tobacco tin already etched into the back pocket, like ready-made manhood. He's wearing them when a tough-looking man comes out of a Denim Bar dressing room looking gleeful.
"They're hugging my buns!" the man says.
The buns are the anchor of the premium-denim world, and not just because a good pair of jeans will make them look fabulous. ("Like cherries," one fit model has said. "We don't want any muffin tops," Mauro says mysteriously.)
The backside of a pair of jeans broadcasts your status, and hard-core denimheads will instantly recognize the meaning of each obscure squiggle stitched into a back pocket. It's a tribal marking. It tells you if the owner is wearing a pair of 7 for All Mankind jeans, signaling that she may be mainstream, a girl who follows her friends. It tells you if she's wearing Paige jeans, suggesting she reads InStyle religiously and emulates Jennifer Aniston. Or she may flaunt the hand-painted logo of Evisu jeans, meaning she paid, oh, $520 for them. This signals that she's loaded.
Mary Alexandre, a part-owner of the Denim Bar, pulls out a pair of the Evisu. They're a pretty medium blue and incredibly soft, but aside from the back-pocket squiggles, there's little to distinguish them to the untrained eye.
"They're fun, they're different," Mary says earnestly. She doesn't have Mauro's retail experience but does have a natural talent for clothes. (Mauro calls her a "hard-core shopper.")
Mary, an attractive blonde, and the two attractive blond saleswomen who work here have perfected that expensive, casual look that is so popular these days, when celebrities wear jeans even on the red carpet. This look is epitomized by the crisp, perfectly fitting plain T-shirt with crisp, perfectly fitting jeans. (Crisp even when purposely wrinkled.)
Mauro and Mary sell little aside from jeans, but what they do sell appears carefully selected to follow this aesthetic, at once pricey and understated. There's a thin white undershirt decorated with what looks like turquoise beads, selling for $212, and a belt with a carved onyx buckle that might (to a know-nothing) appear to be plastic, priced at $440.
This is the epitome of looking good without looking like you're trying. It's an insider's club; only fellow denimheads will know how much you've spent to look ordinary.
There is also a denim skirt that is significantly wider than it is long. If you push the waist down to the pelvic bones, the skirt barely reaches mid-thigh, assuming you don't bend or sit. It sells for $146, and lives out on the floor with the lesser-priced jeans; pairs that cost $250 and up are kept behind the bar, where the vodka should be.
People who come to Denim Bar want their jeans to be the perfect length, so Mauro measures customers with jeans on. Sometimes he sends the men home to get the shoes they plan to wear with the jeans, or he lends the women high heels, like bridal shops do. He marks the right length, so that the jeans nearly touch the floor in back. Then he gives them to a tailor who stitches them so the original hem stays on. This is key. If you're paying big money for jeans with frayed hems, you don't want to mess up the imperfection.
Sometimes Mauro does more. One day a woman named Angie Hegazi comes in. She is 26 and has been a customer of Mauro's since his time at Saks. She asks if her jeans are ready. Mauro goes into the back and comes out with a pair of jeans that Angie bought at another store, and then brought in for Mauro to perfect.
"They were slightly distressed," she explains later. "I wanted them distressed a lot."
The jeans have various holes and worn spots that Mauro has designed and executed through hours of labor with a palm sander, stitch remover and dental pick. Angie is pleased. She takes them home and wears them out at night. She says they look good with sequins.
Mauro is a slender, curly-haired guy in his early thirties with a knack for blunt talk. His favorite word is that elegant three-letter word for rear-end, and he often will compliment a customer on hers if it looks good in a pair of jeans she's trying. He will also tell her if it doesn't.
Sometimes, in an attempt to explain the complex science of denim, Mauro will say things like, "You can have a girl with a huge ass" who looks good in one type of jeans, while "another girl, equally titanic," looks better in a different pair.
"Pocketless jeans are the worst, though," he says with disgust.
These days, Mauro is extremely fond of "raw" jeans, made from virgin denim that has never been washed or treated. Four to five days a week, he wears a particular pair of raw jeans. He has been wearing them like this for more than three months and won't even dream of washing them till it's been half a year.
Raw denim is really dark blue and stiff when you first put it on, and in the beginning it tends to bleed onto white sneakers and light-colored couches. But after six months of near-constant wear, Mauro says, the jeans will fit him perfectly and will have faded in all the right places. There will be "whiskering" around his crotch and "honeycombing" behind the knees.
"This jean will be unique to me," Mauro says.
"They kind of show your soul, you know?" says a woman who represents a raw jeans brand.
Such revelations don't come cheap. An 18-year-old named Mike Zima buys a pair of $278 raw jeans from Mauro. "It's not my money so I don't really care," he says as he checks out. The money is coming from his parents' account. "I guess they'll find out," he says.
Mauro has given a lot of men his pitch on raw denim. He says men are more receptive to breaking in raw jeans because they're more "patient," though it also could also be that they're less turned off by the notion of wearing dirty pants. (On the Web site for a raw jeans maker called Nudie, men ask what to do if their jeans start to smell. The site advises them to put them in the freezer.)
If a stitched logo can tell the world how much you spend, a pair of raw jeans show the world how much you care. Raw jeans are a sacrifice, and not only for your white couch.
Victor Fonseca, a friend of Mauro's, says he's been trying to break in his raw pair on weekends, since he can't wear them to work. Two months ago Victor bought a different pair of jeans for $330, but hasn't permitted himself to wear them yet. Every time he wears jeans, he must wear the raws. His butt is reserved.