When is a designer not a designer?

The answer to this seeming riddle comes not in the form of words, but in the form of a person. A person whose uncommon approach to design earned him the moniker of le chirurgien du jean (‘the denim surgeon‘).

gstar denim dome

Pierre Morriset, head designer at G-Star RAW, is the kind of man who oozes passion, the kind with which a scheduled interview ends up having no defined start and no particular end. Nor do you want it to. He has the kind of enthusiasm that’s catchy, and doesn’t so much answer questions as sweep you up into a string of stories. When I arrive at the G-Star Raw Denim Dome at Pitti Uomo, he’s busy showing everyone and no-one the inside of a pair of jeans. “They’re just as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside,” he exclaims. Function to Pierre is closely intertwined with beauty. In this instance, for spring 2013, the insides of denim jackets and jeans are not just neatly lined, they also contain flat, hidden pockets for storing money or documents.

This idea, like most of PIerre’s, came from his own archive of antique clothing. “My inspiration comes from old, authentic things. I am a collector for a long time of clothing… I have army clothing from the last hundred years. Medicinal clothing, cosmonaut clothing, workwear… I have 25,000 pieces.”

gstar denim dome pitti
Above and top: G-Star’s ‘Denim Dome’ at Pitti Uomo, Florence

So these unobtrusive inside pockets were inspired by wartime spies, and Pierre’s penchant for plucking elements from history and reinterpreting them proves to be as endlessly forthcoming as his treasured archive.

At this point I couldn’t help but wonder, how does one accumulate 25,000 pieces of antique clothing?

“I started to collect when I was 8 years old,” says Pierre, as a child already showing a penchant for salvaging garments from the throw-away pile until his parents finally accepted his obsession and allowed him storage space in their garage. So was he always destined to be a designer?

“No! I wanted to be an architect or engineer… I like always to find out new systems to make life easier.”

Next, Pierre gives me a run down on Toile De Chine, a fabric prominent for G-Star in spring 2013. Unlike regular denim, which is kept white on the inside because indigo dye rubs off on the skin, Toile De Chine can be treated to a finish that’s deep indigo inside and out. Another history lesson: Indigo, a forgotten beacon of the denim industry has, according to Pierre, been in use for over 5,000 years.

“I’m preparing a book now about the history of denim,” Pierre tells me. “And the oldest information I have is from Egypt.” Pierre points to a Toile De Chine shirt. “This, is a weapon,” he proclaims. I think I may be hearing wrong, but he continues on the topic of indigo’s historic uses: “this is a weapon against dangerous animals. Indigo represents deep water, and a lot of animals – bees, snakes, other animals – are afraid of deep water.”

The history not just of how something was used but why is fascinating to Pierre and he carries that love of functionality through the design process. These functions are adaptable. We may not be wartime spies, but when does a secret pocket not come in handy? We may not wear an indigo dyed shirt for the purpose of staving off bees, but the aesthetic value is more than enough to make the pieces sell. And even then, regardless of whether the fabric is denim or Toile De Chine, it’s less about creating designs and more about engineering garments. Each piece is made from a formula that includes a little piece of history, a little understanding of function.

arizona muse for gstar
The new campaign: Arizona Muse for G-Star

And so back to my original question. A designer is not quite a designer when they’re an engineer at heart. If beauty is about colour or print then G-Star doesn’t fit the dictionary definition. But beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder. When beauty is about function, when it stems from a story, when it’s the kind of beauty that’s engineered, that is when GStar – at the hand of its denim surgeon – makes denim truly shine.

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