Here is the complete version of the “Last Words” interview with denim legends Marithé and Francois Girbaud (pictured above). An abbreviated version appears on page 154 of issue #201 of SPORTSWEAR INTERNATIONAL, which is on sale now.

The denim designer duo Marithé Bachellerie and François Girbaud celebrated their 40th anniversary during the June 2005 edition of Pitti Uomo. They spent their long time career finding new creative paths in jeanswear as an alternative to the traditional western five pockets. In 1975 they create the Closed brand recognized for their X-Pocket Pedal Pusher model. In 1988 they discovered Metamorphojeans, a new generation of synthetic fiber ergonomic jeanswear. They discovered the stone washing technique in 1965 and made an industrial process of it in 1976. In 1999 produce the BE Blue Eternel, a denim that never fades, and in 2003 the Lazer Syndone, innovative imprinting and aging techniques that employ laser on denim. François today also collaborates with style and managing consulting for Kaltex, significant Mexican denim and jeanswear manufacturer. In September in France, and soon after also in Italy, François will publish a book, “Ma peau” (My Skin), presenting 80 stories that sum up the most significant moments and meetings of their career.

Interview: Maria Cristina Pavarini

In France they never understood the importance of fashion movements like jeanswear. They only think in terms of pret-à-porter or haute couture. For them jeans might be a theme that lasts for one season.

I’m in part French, part Italian and part American. For our generation the US were like a syrup — we became adults with it. After the Second World War, they came and gave us everything – Jeep, Coca-Cola,…everything. It seemed that the Eldorado was there, but that was wrong. And America is no more “l’Amerique” we thought of. People there are little by little building a piece of history themselves.

> There has to be a new way for the jeans of tomorrow - and that is not vintage. Sooner or later those jeans that Marylin Monroe and Jeames Dean used to wear will have to die.

In our last collection qw presented a denim diaper in order to strike with some outstanding idea that can show some new direction in jeanswear.

The use-and-throw napkin was born with us baby boomers, the first generation that was born with jeans on and that will die wearing jeans.

In our minds we once had the idea to live fast and die young. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and many others have died like icons, but now we don’t want to die like that any more. It is very interesting this relationship between jeans, diapers and death. From the diaper of the beginning to the diaper of the end, in the middle there’s just one difference: the brand of the underpants that shows up. New generations have to find out new ideas.

Our school is a school apart – there’s nothing like this. Technichally we have studied and developed everything in various directions: materials, stitchings, lines of the garment, …We really “chewed” it all during these 40 years and always added innovation.
When Pierre Morrisset of G-Star came out of the Florence exhibition he was crying and hugging me. That’s part of our story and we were born before him. Here in Italy Adriano [Goldschmied] had a role similar to ours. Though he has been working mostly on five-pockets. On another side of the market there is Diesel who took more or less the market that before was occupied by Levi’s. Renzo [Rosso] is making a commodity business and he’s a great innovator. They only have one gap – they don’t have a feminine part. Venucia [Diesel’s modelist] or Wilbert [Diesel’s creative director] are good in doing that and they admit that. They cannot make what we did.

Nobody knows what premium jeans are. They all look the same. It’s enough to change the label and you have another brand. There’s nothing new with them. They don’t even necessarily mean first quality. California jeans brands are produced and finished just beyond the US border in Mexico, differently from other American brands who have their jeans manufactured in China where there’s no culture for handmade finishings. We think that California premium jeans can help these countries surviving.

> When 7 for all Mankind Jeans did jeans with an ironed central pleat I found that interesting. For people of my generation that was a horrible thing! We could have killed that mother who did that. Though in general premium jeans is not creating anything new. They’re just going back to the fits and patterns of the 1970s and 1980s.

In this moment I like what Armani is doing. He has courage to debut in the haute couture in Paris and face people like Galliano. But he has an advantage: While Dior doesn’t sell anything, he sells. His haute couture can be worn; others’ can’t. And Armani Jeans can some time astonish me.

What we do is haute couture jeans, with laser, for instance. While other people work with paper, we work with our hands and make new volumes come out of our products. We are not taking a pair of pants bought on the market and add two centimeters per side. This is not a scandal. It’s a part of this culture. American jeans designers work as if they made shopping: they come to Europe find the looks and launch production in big quantities outside - in Mexico or China.

Being a US designer means becoming popular enough to give the rhythm and creating a designer’s own dressing style – it’s not about creating apparel. In Europe that’s different. They say we design “live” – and that is true. I’m not speaking about designing simply the brand, but redesigning the product totally. And we’re not so many able to do that. I might say that we’re almost alone.

Inspiration. That’s always good to say, but inspiration is in travelling, or may come from the bombs of London, from everywhere and not from that particular jacket.

Eastern-ness is like a new white page we’re happy to start from. We all speak about China, but we are afraid of it. That’s a market. The jeans they know is Lee, for instance, that makes them all look like American cowboys. But we could also try to also get into their culture, bringing some ideas that can also speak to them. Our denim diapers was a way to astonish them.

Our work was born, grown and developed in Italy. We’re not represenative for Made in Italy, but when at Pitti Uomo they greeted us as an example of creativity really gave us great satisfaction.


They say our fashion is phallocentric, but in the end the crotch is always important in jeans and we’ve always been looking at that point. What can we do. In the nd we all come from there!

We have always made fashion that can seduce. When years ago we let the buttons being carried visibly on the crotch that seemed a provocation – even if today that means nothing. The same happened when we put the label on the crotch of Closed jeans.

For years we have been wearing jeans with a tight crotch. Then revolutionized the fits of jeans and anticipated of 15 years Levi’s Engineered Jeans. But Caroline Parent who worked at it came from Girbaud. They took a good idea but were not able to change the company’s attitude. Their 501 had such an old image keeping your balls pressed for ages.

The piece we liked most was the Metamorphojeans. That intuition had opened our minds because jeans didn’t need sewings or saddle stitchings any more. We made jeans leave ranches and get into the cities and after that into the stadium.

We don’t belive in material exclusivity. At the end of the ’60s Cone Mills provided a very specially treated denim that became a big success later copied by everyone and called Pinto Denim or Palomino Jeans. After years, while visiting their Greeensboro headquarters, I discovered that a disastrous flood had ruined a big quantity of denim and I turned up to be that stupid French designer who ordered 100 meters of that damaged fabric and made a worldwide success out of that.

Designing fashion is not something you learn. It is something you have inside. We laugh when we see people attending fashion schools. In a fashion school they teach you that there are three models of trousers: with pleats, without pleats and jeans. We did 4,000.

If a young person wanted to work in fashion I’d tell him or her: “Come and work with us.” If somebody understands that he as the desire to change something or make them evolve follow that. First we dreamed about US and then told them: “You can put your hands in your pockets,” and made American jeans change their direction.

Do your own things and no matter if the market moves a lot. You might suffer from loneliness and face difficult moments (there are not only limousines, but also ups and downs). Our strength has always been that we are two.
We were condemned for the “Last Supper” advertising. Our problem was that we wanted to communicate about the fact that Girbaud also makes womanswear and put some emphasis on women’s parity. OK we showed, instead of Jesus and the apostoles, just women. Though we received a worldwide mediatic coverage. Even friends near to the Dalai Lama called me telling me they had heard about that.

Today we don’t need so much in our wardrobes. It’s enough when we have a T-shirt, a pair of jeans and a down jacket. What we wear extra from this we suck it from somebody else’s blood.

And it’s not that I want to accuse Benetton or anyone else. When the consumer buys he a has a worldwide responsibility and makes a political act. Be it branded as made in Zimbawe, Vietnam or Croatia, that means that for making that they bombed a palm tree. It is too easy always condemning and ask for the lowest price products.

Our strength in surviving from the 1980s has been that we have the control of our brand since we own it. That’s why we never wanted to make a perfume: Other designers need money because they have to finance their shows, but I think that a show is not everything. We don’t do anything just for the show. Whatever I present also goes in shops.

Jeans have always been a symbol for equalizing all generations and a means for liberalization against the system but on the other hand the making of them polluted earth. And even when we turned to our SPQR sportswear collection we focused on synthetic fibers that are not earth friendly at all. Same can be said of cotton that is bombed with pesticides. It’s a total contradiction. One has to find alternative energy sources. Light might be a solution.

“L’altro jeans,” the Florence exhibition, was a means for saying that new jeans might be treated with laser, even if the industry still doesn’t get that message. They say: “I don’t need that since I can still can use water and stones.” That reminds me of when I went to French manufacturers and offered them indigo dyed fabrics. They refused saying: “We don’t need that. We already have hydron blue.” They couldn’t get the difference from that kind of uniform workwear blue and indigo. It took them 40 years to understand that. Now they have 40 years to understand the positive aspects of laser.