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“Down With the Ritz,” Exclaimed Yves Saint Laurent – And So Does This Denim Exhibition

“Down With the Ritz,” Exclaimed Yves Saint Laurent – And So Does This Denim Exhibition

Welcome to The Director’s Cut, an interactive column featuring fashion, beauty and career advice from RGNN Director and Founder, @isabelevabohrer.

“Down with the Ritz, long live the street!” exclaimed Yves Saint Laurent. It was August 1965, and a key turning point in the French designer’s career. But more than that, it was the beginning of a revolution in fashion. Saint Laurent opened its first Rive Gauche boutique and haute couture, previously only worn by runway models and muses, – the Ritz,- became accessible to a wider public. Saint Laurent launched a ready-to-wear collection in 1966, and the focus turned to the street.

Let me take you inside the denim exhibition | Video credit:

With a nod to this famous quote, Spain’s most prestigious fashion museum, the Museo del Traje in Madrid, has organized an exhibition titled “Jeans, from the street to the Ritz.” Organized chronologically, the exhibition effectively documents four centuries of denim history. Though denim as we know it didn’t officially come to be until the 19th century, the origins of the material date back two centuries before then. In fact, fun fact: did you know that the word “denim” comes from “de Nîmes,” the town in the south of France where the material was sourced from?

Classics made in USA | Photo credit:
Levi Strauss played a key role in the history of denim | Photo credit:

The roots of denim as clothing for workers cannot be ignored. Levi Strauss played a key role here in 1860, utilizing the material for utilitarian purposes. Jeans were, quite simply, work pants. Studs were added, for example, in 1873, to strengthen pockets and seams; the pants had to resist the pressures of heavy lifting, moving around, squatting up and down and more.

As time went by, jeans trickled up all the way to the Ritz, and you can clearly see that in the exhibition. From Elvis Presley to James Dean, Hollywood played a significant part in making denim more glamorous. We all remember that head-to-toe denim look Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake wore on the red carpet at the American Music Awards back in 2001. The couple has since split and I won’t get into that here, but the iconic photo remains in many pop culture minds to this day. To this day still, anyone from movie stars to royalty wears jeans, dressed up or down.

From work pants to strapless dresses with bows – that’s the history of denim; this dress is by Paul Smith | Photo credit:

Both national and international designers, including archive pieces from Levi Strauss, Lee, Lois, Pepe Jeans, but also brands like Cavalli, Armani, Kenzo, Paco Rabanne, Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein, Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Versace, Maison Margiela, Alexander McQueen are represented in the exhibition. Christian Lacroix, a major proponent of denim throughout his entire career (and whose original store in the south of France we visited last summer), specifically stands out with his ornate, embroidered pieces.

Getting creative with denim, this design is by the Spanish brand Bibian Blue | Photo credit:

It really is “from the street to the Ritz”; everyone I know, -fashionistas and those who are clearly not fashionistas, – has a pair of jeans in their closet. And whether it’s skinny jeans, boyfriend jeans, or even patchwork designs, everyone I know will keep buying denim in one form or another.

In awe of the creativity of some of the designs | Video credit:
Stopped short by this design on the far right by Gori de Palma | Photo credit:

Precisely because of the wide-spread nature of denim, R&D in this field is so important. That’s research and development to find a sustainable solution; did you know that making ONE pair of jeans requires approximately 1,800 (!) gallons of water?

The exhibition is an entertaining way to spend the morning, but the most important takeaway is sustainability. New ways of making denim that require less water need to be found. While that is still a work in progress for most, look for brands that actively recycle, re-used and re-work existing denim fabrics.

Jeanologia jeans | Photo credit:

A special mention here goes to the Valencian company Jeanologia, which is leading the way with ecological and sustainable denim production. Companies such as Levis and Inditex are already using their technology to create denim. In fact, as Business Insider reported, of the 5,000 million pairs of jeans fabricated worldwide per year, 35% are made using the Jeanologia technology. That’s a lot of jeans.

Or you can do it yourself; customize, embellish, let your imagination run loose. Not so artistic or just scared to ruin them? Even just cutting off the bottom can make an old pair of jeans look like a completely different one, no sewing skills required.

It’s a call for creativity and food for thought for both designers and consumers. Wear them on the street, to the Ritz, or anywhere you want. Just don’t forget the environment when you do shell out for another pair.

Plan your visit

Museo del Traje.

  • Av. de Juan de Herrera, 2, 28040 Madrid.
  • Tuesday through Saturday, from 9.30 a.m. to 7.00 p.m.
  • Sundays from 10.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m.
  • Closed on Mondays.
  • Entrance is free for temporary exhibition.
  • This is a temporary exhibition and will be on view until March 17, 2024.
  • For the permanent collection, see more information here:

Questions or comments? Follow me on IG @isabelevabohrer or TikTok and say hi! See you soon!

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