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Brandon Svarc Likes It Raw — An Interview with the Founder of Naked & Famous
Brandon Svarc speaks with the theatricality of a showman and the conviction of a true denim enthusiast. For four and a half years, the do-it-all founder of Naked & Famous has been showcasing some of the most innovative jeans on the market while simultaneously maintaining a line of well-priced, luxury denim basics. Created in reaction to often garish and over-embellished celebrity denim culture — from which the label’s name was derived — Naked & Famous constructs its jeans strictly from Japanese denim that is then crafted wholly in Canada. We recently sat down with the Montreal-based Svarc for a conversation on all things denim, from his stance against distressed jeans to ever-popular questions on sizing and the craziest denim from the label yet.
Could you tell us about your role at Naked & Famous?
Sure, Naked & Famous is my baby, I design the jeans, I make them, I sweep the floors — I’m joking — but basically I do everything that needs to be done. Sourcing the fabric, worrying about production, everything.
Naked & Famous was named in reaction to celebrity denim culture. Has anything changed since the brand’s inception?
No, of course not. We’ve stuck to our guns the whole time. I mean, we don’t do any advertising, we never have. We don’t give away jeans to any celebrities. I mean, we still get emails all the time. We had Justin Bieber’s stylist send us an email a while back saying, “Hey, he’s going on tour, can you send us free jeans?” Every time we say no. We tell them the address — 9570 Wilshire Blvd., Barney’s Beverly Hills — there’s valet parking, there’s no problem. You can buy it yourself. And still, in the last four and a half years, we’ve never given out a free pair of jeans away to a celebrity.
How would you describe the essence of Naked & Famous as a brand? What are the core concepts or values?
We really split our brand in two. We have the more innovative stuff but the core is really the luxury basics. That’s what we were born with and that’s what we’ve been doing for four and a half years. That’s what we’ll always do. Great Japanese fabric, always done raw, and for a good price. We have four rules: always made in Canada, always from Japanese fabric, always raw, and the last rule is no bullshit. No advertising, no free giveaways, no sales reps, simple.
Is there a reason why you don’t do distressed denim?
Yeah, for sure. I hate distressed denim; there are a few reasons why we don’t do distressed denim, actually, not just one. The first is because I think it looks tacky and ridiculous. Jeans, it’s crazy, it’s the only product in the world – not just in clothing – but the only product where the consumer will say, OK, I will accept to buy this damaged product. Not only will they accept to buy the damaged product but they will pay double or triple the amount because it’s pre-damaged or pre-distressed. One day you’re going to be a 60-year-old guy and say you have lots of money in the bank and you’re gonna say, “That’s it, I want the best car I can get — I want a Ferrari.” Just as an example, it doesn’t matter. You go to the Ferrari dealership, you knock on the door and you say, “Hello Mr. Salesman, I’ve saved up a million dollars in the bank and I want the best goddamn candy apple red new Ferrari you’ve got.” He brings you a cappuccino, brings you to the showroom and says, “Look at this, we’ve got a brand new Ferrari, candy apple red, just came off the production line one week ago, brand new.” Then he whips open the curtain and says, “Look at all the rust, the designer put it there, oh, it looks so vintage and the scratches on the door were from driving 300 miles and hour, and the leather seats are all ripped up.” You’re gonna tell the guy to go fuck himself. You’re not gonna buy a brand new Ferrari for half a million dollars or however much one costs, with scratches and dents and rips, so how can I sell you the best denim fabric in the world with scratches and rips and chemicals and shit all over it? Never. I will never sell you a pre-damaged, pre-destroyed product. When you go to the fruit store and there’s an apple with a bruise, do you say, “I’ll pay you double?” Of course not, we laugh, we think it’s silly. Distressed jeans are just as silly to me.
Besides distressing is there anything you would never do with denim?
Yeah. We don’t do back pocket stitching, we don’t do embroidery, we don’t put Swarovski crystals all over our jeans, we only make new jeans by making new fabric. That’s the way we want it, that’s the way we keep it. People tell me, “Well, you’re the designer of the brand.” Well, I don’t really call myself the designer; I’d rather be the builder, you know. We go out and we develop new fabrics. I mean, what design do we really do? We choose the thread color and the leather patch color. It’s not so complicated. The fit and the construction are of course of paramount importance but it’s not as important for us as the fabric.
Speaking of new things, what is something that you’ve learned about denim recently? Are you still learning new things as you work with denim?
For anyone to say they know everything about something is silly and I don’t know everything about denim. I think I know a lot but I always learn new things. Every time I go to Japan I’ll see a new process or learn something new and interesting, so for sure, no question about it – I’m always learning new things.
What would you consider the most difficult pair of jeans you’ve ever made?
No question about it, it’s this [points to the 32 oz denim pair standing on their own]. It took two and a half years to create; it was definitely the most difficult jean we’ve ever made. It’s a 32 oz indigo — you guys have written about it before — we made 140 pairs, I can’t make any more, we broke 3 machines and 25 needles. The factory manager thinks I’m crazy, so that was definitely the most difficult jean we’ve ever made.
When you’re working with mills or factories, is there a lot of convincing that you need to do?
Definitely, especially with crazier stuff like the glow in the dark jeans or the thermochromic jeans. With the crazier ones they always look at me like I’m fucking mad. Whenever I go to production meetings, they’re always just ready to laugh. It’s so funny sometimes with the Japanese, they’re very stubborn and I’ll say, “Oh, I want to make glow in the dark jeans,” and I tell them by email, and they’ll say, “Sorry, we don’t have that.” I’ll say, “Yes, I know you don’t have it; it’s never been done before, I want to make it for the first time,” and they’re like, “Uh, we checked and we don’t have it,” and I’m like, “Yes, again, I understand you don’t have it, let’s develop it together.” And they’ll say, “Oh, OK.” It takes a while.
So they come around to the idea eventually?
That’s why we also have to go to Japan because doing it by email — some companies say they can develop by e-mail — it’s not possible. You must go, you must be face to face, you must discuss, you must go over dinner, have a beer or two and develop.
So what do these guys think of ideas like glow in the dark denim now?
You know, they laugh, they think it’s crazy, but when I order a few thousand meters they know we’re serious and they love it. Now, being in business for four and a half years, we’ve done all these crazy things already. Most of the mills know. I’m pretty well known in Okayama for doing crazy shit, I think.
Let’s talk about a few things our readers might want to know. On our forums there are always questions on our Naked & Famous thread surrounding the fit of the jeans, particularly on the Weird and Skinny Guy fits. What would you recommend with regards to sizing for those fits?
That’s a very common question and it’s a very difficult question to answer because the real answer is it always depends. It really depends on you and your body. Even for me personally on the Weird Guy for example, I’ll have some size 30s and some size 31s. I’ll have some where I’ll size down if I want a slimmer silhouette and if I want it more relaxed with a belt I’ll size up. I cannot give you a single all-encompassing answer but I can tell you that all of our denim is sanforized and that means it doesn’t shrink, so if you want a slim silhouette then you’ve got to get it snug and when you wear it, when you beat it up, it’s going to stretch out a bit and fit you well. Generally I see on the forums a lot that people ask how to size between the Weird Guy and Skinny Guy — very often people will go down one size on the Weird Guy. Normally if someone wears a size 30 in the Skinny then they’ll wear a 29 in the Weird.
I think readers might also appreciate some tips on caring for denim. How do you personally take care of yours?
Again, it’s a good question and everybody asks that question. For me personally, I usually go for about a year before my wife gets pretty pissed off. I usually beat the shit out of my jeans [points to stain] — I spilled some barbeque sauce there in Chicago the other day — then after a year, I wash it inside out in cold water and hang to dry. It’s not a rule by the way, I don’t believe in rules. Nudie, for example, will say six months, but rules are silly. What happens if one guy’s a bike messenger and every day he’s beating up his jeans for six months and another guy is say, an accountant, and he wears his jeans on the weekend. At six months, those gentlemen do not have the same faded pair of jeans, right? The whole fun of raw denim is that you get to decide. Whenever you’re happy with how the creases and the folds are coming in — or until your girlfriend or boyfriend elbows you in the side and says it’s a little too smelly – then go ahead and wash it. Inside out, cold water, hang to dry.
What is one pair of jeans that you find yourself wearing the most?
Right now, I’m wearing the Dirty Fade, which is a new style for this season for us. It’s a 14.5 oz selvedge denim and I’ve been going five months with these. [Pointing to a pair of jeans of the table] Here’s a pair of the the Broken Twills that I wore for one year, every day, and never washed and only washed after one year. I’ve done a pair of the Left Hand Twills also for one year. Those are the three pairs that I think I’ve worn the most.
If I were to buy only one pair of Naked & Famous jeans, what would you recommend?
The answer again is it depends. If you want a jean that you can fade and beat the shit out of, then I recommend either the Left Hand Twill Selvedge or the Dirty Fade Selvedge. Those are probably our two best basics right now, or the Deep Indigo Selvedge also – those three. But the Left Hand Twill is retailing at $140 in the United States; it’s pretty damn unbeatable and it’s a really good one that you can just beat the crap out of and fade really nicely.
One of the defining characteristics of the brand is your commitment to Canada and to Canadian made. In Montreal, what are stylish guys on the street wearing at the moment?
I travel a lot around Canada and because of the internet I find that these days fashion is pretty similar almost everywhere now. I do see a lot of guys wearing raw denim, which makes me happy. It’s only the guido-style dudes, the bottle service bros, those guys are still behind and I have a couple of friends like that. But most of my friends, even the very sporty, jock types, even those guys are converting, so I see a lot of guys wearing raw denim. In the winter, everyone wears Canada Goose, which is pretty funny. I mean I personally don’t have one. Bahzad, my sales manager, has got a few of them but in the winter everybody wears that.
What do you think of the state of menswear in Canada? Has it changed since you started the label?
I think so. Not just in Canada, but I’m sure all over the world, I’m seeing a lot fewer logos on T-shirts, which is great. I don’t see that Ed Hardy shit anymore. I think everyone is going cleaner, everyone is going less logos, less graphics, and into better fabrics and better, well-made products. Thank God it’s moving in that direction.
Are there any other Canadian labels that you think more people should know about?
There are many labels that I think many people already know. I love and respect any label that makes their stuff in Canada. There are some smaller ones that I’ve become friends with — there’s one called Muttonhead, it’s a pretty small label and they’re pretty fun. I find their staff to be super nice. There’s another one called Raised by Wolves, which is kind of cool too. I’m not sure all of your readers know about them as they’re kind of small start-ups at the moment, but they’re fun and support Canadian-made so that’s great.
What’s in the works for Naked & Famous?
Do you want to see the craziest one for next season? As you know, we’ve done glow in the dark, the heaviest jeans in the world, and cashmere blend, linen blend, hemp blend — don’t smoke them — right hand, left hand, and broken twill and every twill, but these ones may be the craziest jeans we’ve ever done — Thermochromic Selvedge denim. Jeans that change color with heat.
So if I wear them out and it gets hot, they’ll change shades in certain places?
Yes, I promise you that you won’t only get a cock fade from these, in case you’re wondering. Actually, it changes all over, crotch, knees, behind the knees, the thighs, the bum, everywhere. We actually tested it. If it only changed the crotch I still would have made it but this one really does change all over.
What would you say to people who think Naked & Famous is gimmicky? To people who think Thermochromic jeans are gimmicky?
You know, we prefer to call it novelty rather than gimmicky. I don’t mind, the core of our collection has always been the luxury basics — the Left Hand Twill, the simple basics that go from $135 to $170 USD. That’s the core of Naked & Famous and it always will be. The novelty stuff we do because it’s fun, because it’s crazy, because it attracts people’s attention. At least the novelty is not because we have Swarovski crystals on the jeans, or a gold button; the novelty is in the fabric. The thing is, it works. When we make raspberry scratch and sniff jeans, it actually smells like raspberry. When we make glow in the dark jeans they really do glow in the dark. If you don’t like the novelty pieces, then go ahead and buy the luxury basics, that’s fine with me. The novelty stuff is fun, attracts attention and gets our brand known, as we don’t do any advertising. So it’s a good way for us to get attention for free as well.
Where do you think denim is going in general?
Good question. Sometimes people ask me a different form of that. They ask me if, since raw is popular now, if washed jeans will be popular in 10 years or whatever and I say, no way. Levi’s has been making raw jeans for what, 140 years? It’s like Coca-Cola. Americans or whoever have been drinking Coca-Cola for the last one hundred and something years; they will continue to drink Coca-Cola for the next 100 years and people will continue to wear raw denim for the next 100 years as well. So raw is here, it’s popular now, and I believe it’s here to stay.