Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The prps of obsession


Shorthand for 'purpose', Donwan Harrell's PRPS takes not shortcut in its ambition to deliver the perfect denim product to the most discerning denim enthusiasts. Over the last decade Harrell has continued to innovate and evolve denim. Few denim brands can legitimately claim to do justice to an item as functionally and symbolically significant as a pair of jeans. At a time in which so many of his contemporaries have simplified the manufacturing process to the detriment of the end product, PRPS obsesses over every detail and ensures everything is done the right way. Sat in the private dining area of La Bodega Negra which has been decorated in the finest denim from the PRPS Noir line, we talked through his passion and the craftsmanship behind the denim.

Born into a hunting and logging family, Harrell has an innate understanding of functional clothing whilst quality and durability are of paramount importance and each and every detail on every item is constructed for a reason. His denim obsession dates back to when he first discovered what was going on in Asia. Rather than just admire the quality and dedication to true craftsmanship, the designer was inspired to open it up to a new market. "I just loved the really cool, high end jeans that were produced by small labels for the domestic business and when I came back to the US, I couldn't stop thinking about them and just thought, 'why can't I go back to Japan and get them to make something for me?' I saw the calibre in Japan in terms of the raw, five pocket, basic jean and wanted to push it more." Harrel's desire to push it that bit more ensures that PRPS constantly evolves. "So, I went to Japan, researched and began a relationship with the top family within the domestic market and over time it developed. There was no market for Japanese washed jeans at the time, it was non-existent. There were only around five small Japanese denim companies and you couldn't really find it anywhere, other than Duffer St George. For me to go to Japan and produce specifically for the Western market was unheard of at the time. It was great to create that path."

PRPS now offers three product lines, PRPS Goods (denim and sportswear), PRPS Japan (very clean Japanese selvedge denim), and PRPS Noir (Japanese denim with vintage washes and distress details). Given the surroundings, it is Noir that we focus on and Harrell's eyes light up and the pace of his chat rises to a canter as he talks me through the details of his cocktail of Japanese denim and distress details.

"In comparison with our other lines, Noir takes it one step further than where we've been previously. The bulk of the Japan line has always been non-selvedge denim and I wanted to take the selvedge denim and actually amplify it in to a full collection and I wanted to make the product more demanding from a design stand point. So, for example, I took the shanks and put them in paint thinner and exposed them in the sun for a week to rust them as well as the cracked leather that is used for the rear patch, I was inspired by an old couch - what I had them do was roll it up, twist and over dry so the leather has this aged appeal. The idea was to create this aesthetically superior product - laden with considered detailing.

Each segment has a different process. For Noir, it starts with me playing with the jeans in Japan and coming up with rough sketches but inspiration can be found every and anywhere from books to people in the street, I love looking at people who wear jeans as part of their working uniform, the jeans change through their day in, day out wear. I spend a lot of time with friends in the summer time and they are all diesel mechanics and all of their jeans are really, really crazy just from working for a period of time. I take photos and then experiment, trying to replicate elements that I've seen so that they look aged and already loved."

I have a particular favourite pair of jeans that one guy threw out and I found them in the dumpster and now they are in my personal collection. They are a great standpoint for me to look at and grasp where the certain tonal nuances are, I have amassed a pretty extensive collection over the years. I try and replicate what a guy would do in a working environment and apply it to a jean so that become a fashion statement."

Now, I'm far from a denim obsessive but Harrell's passion is infectious and my appetite was whet. Shortly after leaving the stomach rumbling inducing smells of La Bodega Negra, I took a closer look at a few of the AW12 options from PRPS Noir...

A closer look at PRPS Noir.

"Even though the market is difficult right now, there is a consumer base out there that understands what we do. The Japanese families are really traditional and anal about replicating the Big E Levi's concept - the construction and replication of an original World War II jean is the optimum jean making. Typically jean makers use a single needle technique and process for whole jeans manufacturing. There's no stop and go - no tension allowance for the different areas. Typically there are five changes in the stop and go process of stitching jeans that Mr Levi Staus created, based on the fact that when a guy works the tension in the stitching has to change for every part of the jean. For me, he was a genius but so many companies have lost sight of that and cut corners. At every segment of PRPS we stick to the different processes that he created because we are striving to keep that bar the same, if we are going to do any improvement, it comes through the leather quality, the shanks, the denim - but essential the process is the same. The hope is that the informed consumer understands that and buys in to the obvious quality."

There's no doubt that the informed consumer will fall for the charms of PRPS. From using the best cotton in the world to utilising the craftsmen of Japan's families who hand-spun it on the original looms that Levi’s used to create their denim and the experiments with finishes and details, Donwan Harrell's PRPS Noir line is a heady cocktail of tradition and innovation, the forgotten and the new. 


Matthew Spade said...

his passion sure does come through, which is a joy to read. it totally rubs off when you hear someone like this

Karen said...

Yeah! I love the jeans there! :)) I'll grab one of that. Hehehe.

John said...

PRPS jeans are some of the best on the market and Donwan is a dude!!!


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