Growing up in the Bombay of the 1970s, one didn’t have much of a choice when it came to acquiring a pair of jeans. If you didn’t have a relative returning from the west, bearing a coveted stash of Levi’s or Wranglers, you were pretty much stuck with one option: head downtown to Flora Fountain and find your way to the little tailoring outfit that manufactured Davy’s jeans. Situated next to the Akbarally’s department store in south Bombay, Davy’s was Mecca for lads like myself, desperate to emulate the cowboys and the rock’n’roll rebels we’d devoured in American flicks like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Woodstock.
There was no walking into stores like today, where you can comfortably spend a day foraging through racks and rails bearing an agglomeration of brands styles, cuts, washes and colours. The Davy’s method was basic and unfussy. The tailor took your measurements and stitched you a pair of jeans in the one shade of pale blue that was available. Forget about customisation — at best, you could specify the girth of the bell-bottom (thankfully, some photographs have faded to oblivion). A few years later, when I was in junior college, I took to personalising those jeans myself, but my vice principal wasn’t impressed — Mr Saldanha threatened to suspend me if I wore my ultra-short shorts to H.R. College ever again.
In this I-prefixed world, it’s all about customisation and personalisation. The internet throws up many online services, like the US-based website makeyourownjeans.com (they ship worldwide), that offer some pretty deep customisations: zipper or button-down; button+rivet combo; pocket-lining fabric; thread colour; back pocket style; and monogrammed label.
There are some India-based websites too, such as madetoorderjeans.com, that offer an easy path to a custom-made pair: you have a choice of fabric, style of waist (high, mid or low), a range of fits (comfort, skinny, straight, slim and boot), type of loop, waist band, fly, front pocket, back pocket and whiskers, which are horizontal distressed lines on the thighs.
Recently, one of the world’s largest suppliers of denim jumped into the fray. Arvind Limited, textile behemoth and flagship of the Arvind Group, is purveyor to such international brands as Armani Exchange, Diesel and Gap, as well as the owner of a bunch of their own brands like Flying Machine, Newport, Ruf & Tuf and Excalibur. The denim stalwart has been promoting a new in-store service of customisation and personalisation of jeans at about 98 of their TAS (The Arvind Store) locations across India.
Curious to see how it differed from the online sellers peddling ‘bespoke’ denimwear, I trundled on down to the TAS outlet in Borivali, Mumbai.
I was guided through the process by an affable ADL (Arvind Denim Lab) specialist called Tejas Shah, who had just arrived from Ahmedabad, where the Arvind Group is headquartered. He first offered me a range of styles to choose from, in either a lycra-based or a 100-percent cotton-based denim. The style would determine whether the final jeans would bear additional features like fades, or the distressed, scarred characteristic known as whiskers. Once I chose the fabric, colour (they’re limited to shades of blue and black) and style of wash, he got me to put on a sample pair of jeans, with which he began to measure me up, customising my fit to my comfort and taste.
This is the part of the process that sets ADL apart from all other customisation services—the hands-on sizing up and tailoring process. Starting from the waist, he proceeds to embark on a multi-point series of measurements: the seat (or butt), thighs, knees, bottom (from boot-to-bell?), front rise and back rise (essentially, crotch to belt at both ends). The distance between one’s navel and waistband is also measured, to optimise the crotch length to avoid any unseemly bunching at the fork.
After I was all sized up, I was offered a book of ‘hardware’ options to choose from. These included a range of buttons, each with matching rivets; pocket-lining fabric; a variety of labels; and thread colour. If you like your zodiac sign close to your skin, you can have them sew in a label featuring said sun sign to provide celestial support at the incurvation of your glutes. If you’re a name-dropper, you could have yours embroidered either on the rear or front pocket. If you’re self-effacing but wear your heart on your sleeve, you could substitute your name for a word of your choice. I opted for a winged virgin, symbolising my sun sign, but eschewed the moniker.
Priced from Rs 2,499 to Rs 3,299, the turnaround time for a fully customised and personalised pair of jeans is 15 days, which you’ll have to pick up at the store, as it involves a final fitting. While those ‘inconveniences’ may be turnoffs in these times of instant gratification and worldwide home delivery, what you’ll be assured of is a perfectly fitted pair of jeans, built to your taste and personality. And if yours demands that your jeans simply must feature Swarovski crystals, but your wallet can’t cough up the price tag of a pair of True Religion, you could always get those immaculately cut ADLs and Pinterest your way to a peerless pair.