For Chloe Lonsdale - founder of M.i.h Jeans - fashion, or more specifically denim, runs in the family; her father Tony Lonsdale, the man behind the importation of American-denim brands to London, and her mother Chekkie, a fashion model. For the London-based entrepreneur and Central St Martins alumni, a label of her own was, perhaps, something of an inevitability, but the success that has ensued is all determined by her own doing.
Since launching in 1969, M.i.h Jeans (previously Made in Heaven, named after her godfather’s first denim brand) has offered up cult styles, collection after collection - from the 1970s-inspired high-rise flare to the Bridge cropped slim-leg. Nearly 40 years later, Lonsdale heads up the London-based label - which she speaks of to us with nothing short of steadfast alacrity.
Today, Lonsdale’s focus remains unmovable, it is clear above all else, that she gravitates towards the same principles that she tells us were instilled in her from childhood: “I was never encouraged to ‘buy’ clothes, or to obsess over the word ‘trend’ - M.i.h Jeans will never be about mass consumerism. Denim is different, it lives with you - quite literally..It will always be worn despite the passing of trends, it's a lifestyle choice and this is an attitude I felt very much from my parents during childhood."
When we ask Lonsdale to give us more context, she continues: “Our upbringing was very barefoot, we would spend a huge amount of time outdoors and on or around the water - all in a pair of faded blue jeans and without shoes. Our denim felt the effect of sunlight, rain and water until it was steeped in it all and became an extension of our family DNA. There is no piece of clothing as malleable as denim is - that is something I believe and work to translate in all my work.”
Tapping into over 40 years of denim heritage, we ask Lonsdale about her childhood, her family’s inherent ties with that ‘blue jean spirit’ and her first memories of it.
Semaine: What is your first memory of the fabrication that would become central to your heritage, and later business?
Chloe: “I remember my dad picking me up from school as a child, he was dressed in head-to-toe denim (as he/ we always were). It was an early point of realisation for me, that I too wore denim every, single day. I was excited by this, it already felt like it was intrinsically linked to everything I did and would become. When I was very young, my dad’s business was the Jean Machine and my mum was a model - you won’t be surprised to hear that their relationship came into being in a denim-related context!
There was always so much vintage denim in our house, my parents would encourage my three sisters and I to customise them. We would spend hours cross-legged on the floor cutting off waistbands, cropping cuts to suit how tall we were (not very) and rolling hems. The denim was already heavy with memories before we touched it, but I remember feeling like we were adding more to it - giving it new reasons to be worn, and therefore new memories too.”
Semaine: The legacy of your father’s business remains today, can you tell us about the Jean Machine?
Chloe: “In 1970, my father was living in London and decided to start taking old British cars, like Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, to sell in California; then he would buy new jeans with the profits and try to sell them in London. There wasn’t a place you could buy a pair of jeans in London in 1970, yet there were 582 jean stores in California. So my father started importing the big American brands, like Wrangler and Lee. He tried to sell them in London, but no one was interested. So he started a chain of stores called the Jean Machine, which were huge during the ‘70s. It was mecca for anyone - the old, young, men, women etc.
It became a destination for denim, jeans hung from floor to ceiling, staff would roll around the store on skates. There was absolutely no stretch to the jeans then, because lycra in jeans was almost unheard of - there are stories of customers lying flat-out on the floor wrestling to get their jeans on and staff using hangers to pull them up!”
Semaine: Would it be true to say then, that your career path and M.i.h Jeans, has been to some level, predetermined?
Chloe: “Yes, it was totally natural. My fascination with denim was always there, it is and was, something I wanted to centre my career around. I studied Design at Central St Martins, and I recognised then that the next step was to start my own brand and then there was no stopping me. It was an obvious decision for me to make, following the incredible legacy of my parents. London has always and will always be my home, M.i.h Jeans brings a London edge to that blue jean spirit.”
Semaine: The denim industry has evolved monumentally over the last 15 years, has this influenced M.i.h Jeans?
Chloe: “15 years ago premium denim was in its infancy and brands like Diesel had led the market. Everything changed with a new breed of brands with higher price points and a new target consumer who would style their jeans for every occasion rather than just super casual environments. That was a big shift. Denim has now become even more widely accepted, because technology and fabrication have made it so much more accessible on a wider more consumeristic level. It is no longer a luxury or an investment piece, but something anyone can wear, anywhere. Which means you need to have a strong sense of brand identity to bear relevance. We responded to this by drawing our reference points from the incredible women that came with the 70s, such as Jane Birkin and Linda McCartney, but also by taking influence from new cultural ambassadors.”
Semaine: Is your personal style reflective of your brand?
Chloe: “Well, I’m always wearing denim! I have a lo-fi approach to life, style, design etc. I love jeans, but I don’t have an excessive amount of them. I’m relatively pragmatic, anything I no longer wear I give to friends, or save for my children to customise or wear when they are old enough. One of the reasons I am so obsessed with denim is because it doesn’t have the personality it will when you buy a pair. Denim by nature, the fibre, the yarn, the dye is all subject to change. Water, weather, heat, your body, all effect the fabric and create wear and tear and personality that is unique to you.”
Lonsdale’s reference to the past is an explicit one, however the story of M.i.h Jeans remains firmly rooted in the present. Following the launch of the label’s ready-to-wear collection, Lonsdale tells us she has yet more, expansive plans to create a tailored collection of customizable jeans: “Like everything we do, this too, will be characteristic of our brand: tomboy yet with a feminine spirit. We will be looking at how stitching, embroidery, illustration etc. can be used to only enhance denim, giving every pair a stronger sense of identity from the next.” Lonsdale is motivated by ‘slow’ pieces, that don’t feed into fashion’s obsession with the new. She focuses instead on the lasting power of great denim.
By Elizabeth Coop for Semaine.