Heritage is defined as something inherited from the past, heritage brands are inspired by classic style and garments from the past, sometimes reproducing them in meticulous detail, sometime re-interpreting the design into something more contemporary. In the denim and work wear scene I sometimes see the term heritage confused with the term provenance, meaning where something comes from, and inspired by a discussion I read on one of my favourite forums I set myself to thinking, when people talk about heritage and provenance are they really talking about history?
I struggle with the idea that a brand enters the denim market fresh, produces a straight cut, selvedge, five pocket jean with pocket arcs and maybe a box cut denim jacket or work shirt and immediately become labelled as a “heritage brand”, I think it’s an easy cop out on the part of the market and deliberately ignores the work put into any subtle distinctions which the brand make. For me the word heritage has taken on a broader meaning that its dictionary definition in this scene, I think that certain brands are genuine heritage brands based on their own distinct history whilst other brands should perhaps be more comfortably termed as “heritage inspired” brands.
An example of an actual heritage brand, perhaps the best example, is Levis. Here is a brand with arguably the richest and most genuine history in the whole denim industry since they began trading in 1853, and patented their reinforced rivet design in 1873. Contrary to popular advertising which showed Levis making jeans for gold miners in the gold rush of the 1840’s they actually did not start producing denim jeans until the 1870’s. In more recent times Levis have fully embraced their heritage through their LVC line, revisiting their own classic designs for the modern market.
The examples of heritage inspired brands are numerous and familiar to anyone reading this, most Japanese brands take inspiration from the past, as do many of the new movement of American artisans. A brand with whom I am personally familiar, Jelado, are to me the epitome of heritage inspired as they take direct inspiration from vintage garments which they reproduce with their own twist for the high end denim and work wear market. More prominent brands would be the military inspired Real McCoys and Buzz Rickson, along with motorcycle inspired brands such as Iron Heart and Trophy.
I guess like many things in life the use of the term heritage is a matter of perspective, and it has certainly become an almost throw away or umbrella term to describe almost everything produced out there, which it most certainly isn’t. Heritage is a real, tangible thing which can be used to great effect by skilful brands, and simply using the past for inspiration should not pigeon hole a brand into having their unique design elements ignored under this term. The common use of heritage has become a laziness amongst people connected with the denim industry to not look part the inspiration and give credit for the advances, improvements, tweaks and details which brands are making to their product. After all, is a Bugatti Veyron simply a heritage Model T?