A full decade before Diana Vreeland would declare blue jeans “the most beautiful thing since the gondola,” and Brooke Shields would inform the television masses that nothing came between her and her Calvins. But that year, out of the clear blue southern France sky, came the true jean that started it all – Mac Keen.
From the very beginning, Mac Keen – with its heavy quotient of glamour and style – was different from anything the industry had ever seen. Featuring premium fabrics and sexy, sophisticated cuts, Mac Keen took the humble jean from the realm of duty to that of pure decadence. What was once the uniform of workers, cowboys and school kids was suddenly an object of desire among models, celebri- ties and social royalty.
With the advent of Mac Keen, jeans were no longer a unisex affair with a universal boyish cut. “Tight is right,” proclaimed print ads for the brand. So tight, in fact, that zipping up a fresh, unbroken pair required a team effort...women would lie down on the fitting room floor and enlist the help of the store’s sales staff. Curves were ahead – and they were winning. Form-hugging high waists pushed aside their low-slung predecessors to make modern pin-up girls of those lucky enough to own a pair of Mac Keens. Men’s cuts were also snug, higher waisted, and lean.
And along with it, a brave new dress code. In the ensuing years, Fiorucci, Sasson, Jordache, and Gloria Vanderbilt among others would follow suit with their own versions, prompting the Washington Post to declare 1978 “the year of the status jean.” Bridge brands like these represented accessible luxury for consumers who could not afford to buy designer clothing.
Those who could , however, bought Mac Keen.
At a then stratospheric $65 per pair, the original designer jean was decidedly un-democratic. Brazilian photographer Paulo Rocha shot Mac Keen on a young Jerry Hall. Later the supermodel would remember that shoot as one of her first and best. Farrah Fawcett and her fellow “Charlie’s Angels” as well as Brigitte Bardot and Jacqueline Bisset wore the jeans.
Steve McQueen and Alain Delon added their own brand of cool to the culture. They were among the many luminaries who frequented Mac Keen boutiques, including the Rodeo Drive location in Beverly Hills, where a Cartier store now stands. Countless other actors, rock stars and socialites purchased them at the exclusive French Jean Store in New York.
Melding its innate French esthetic with American and U.K. sensibilities. After all, British export Jane Birkin was at the height of popularity in her adopted France, and she too wore Mac Keen long before she became muse to Hermès. But nowhere was the label more visible than under the scintillating disco ball lights of Manhattan’s Studio 54. Wearing Mac Keen was a guaranteed shortcut to the head of the lines that thronged the velvet ropes outside the club in its heyday.
All good things must come to an end, and so did Mac Keen in 1983. In the ensuing years, original pairs became highly collectible and virtually impossible to find. Today, one of these remains on display in Paris’ Musée de la Mode et du Costume.
But Mac Keens are no longer relegated to fashion’s archives. Designer denim history comes full circle in early 2014 when Mac Keen debuts its re-launch the brand.
The new Mac Keen is not your parents’ Mac Keen, nor is it a museum piece. Once again, the company is setting the standard for wearable luxury, but that means something different today than it did 40 years ago. Premium denim has evolved, so the bar has been set higher than ever. Mac Keen is committed to delivering an exclusive product that seamlessly marries the past and the future.
First to launch will be a concise men’s collection designed to exude the luxury that has always been synonymous with the brand. The product will be crafted using narrow loom machines brought back from the 1950’s and ultra—premium Japanese red selvage. The fabric is woven with the classic ring spinning technique -- one dating back to the prior century and used in denim production until the late ‘70s, when most manufacturers turned to the less expensive open end spinning technique. Mac Keen has revived this more costly and time consuming method, since only ring spun yarn gives fabric an authentic vintage look and feel that gets even better with repeated wear and washing.
Modern hardware and a new logo (replacing the old Union Jack-inspired one) will grace the jeans. “Initially, men will be able to choose from slim and slim-straight jeans in 20 washes. Besides denim, there will be chinos and fatigues, both in a slim-straight cut. The collection also brings back the button fly in a big way. The new Mac Keen will be sold through a handful of elite retailers beginning at $280 a pair. Women’s styles will follow.