If you’re denim obsessed like myself, you’ve perhaps heard denim’s origin story: the fabric was born in the French city Nîmes in the 16th century. The fabric was dubbed “serge de Nîmes,” which means “serge from Nîmes.” It was originally made from a silk and wool blend, and was used to make the flared jackets favored by women at the time as well as men’s jackets.
Most traces of Nîmes’ denim history were erased with the persecution of Protestants in France when the André’s—the town’s prominent (and Protestant) textile family—were forced into exile in Italy. The first trousers were eventually made using the fabric in Genoa, which also led to calling the pants jeans. Levi’s eventually brought the fabric to American workmen.
Now, Nîmes native Guillaume Sagot is reviving denim culture in his home town with a new denim brand called Atelier de Nîmes. Sagot currently makes three styles of men’s jeans, and he has plans for accessories and women’s styles in the next couple years. He’s starting small but is in it for the long haul. Read on for my exclusive interview with Sagot!
1. Where are you from and what’s your background? Do you have a clothing design background?
“I come from France and I lived in Nîmes and Paris. Paris was for my studies. I studied history and European Affairs to finish with a master of web communication. I begin to work on communication in differents enterprises. After few years in Paris, I wanted to came back in Nîmes because my life was too busy and I missed the South of France 😉
I do not have a clothing design background but my façonnier (manufacturer) taught me how to cut a jeans and how to make them. I’m not really skillful, but he does a big part of the job. I work also with a design office for the jeans.”
2. What got you interested in making jeans?
“ What inspired me was firstly the history of jeans, how they were made in Europe and especially in the South of France. Secondly, it was the spirit of this cloth. Everywhere in the world there is someone who wears a pair of jeans.”
3. What inspired you to want to bring back denim production to Nimes?
“ I was inspired especially by the history of manufacturing in Nîmes. In the XVIIeme (18th century), Nîmes was one of the bigest textile cities in France. Nîmes has a great story with it. In the XXeme (20th century) there were a lot of little workshops that made clothes and hats. In the 70’s Nîmes saw the birth of Cacharel, a luxury brand most know now for parfume. In the 80’s and 90’s most of these workshop went to Tunisia or China .”
You mentioned in the BBC article that you’d like to build denim and jeans production factories in Nimes. Do you have a timeline for that? When do you think you could accomplish it?
“ I would like to have a unit of production in 2 years. And in 5-8 years I would like to make denim with shuttle looms. ”
5. It looks like you currently have three styles… do you plan more for the future?
“ For the future I would like to make also jackets and bags, all in denim. Also other cuts like slim, straight, etc. I would like to specialize the brand in denim.
6. Do you plan to make women’s jeans in the future?
“ Yes, I would like before two years. Now we do not work with shop for women but I am already working on it.”
7. Where are the jeans currently made? The BBC article said you are cutting and sewing them yourself?
“ Currently there are two parts. One in Nîmes where all the jeans are cut one by one, and an other in Marseille where they are sewn. The last part is also in Nîmes where the rivets and butons are set. I do also the finishing.. We also rinse one of them close to Nîmes in an ecological laundry.”
8.How many people do you have working on the project currently?
“ I work with two associates: one for commercialisation and the other for the visual communication. My girlfriend also helps me sometimes 😉