It’s not hard to spot a woman in M.i.h Jeans. They instil a quiet confidence in their wearer, and the fit always enhances and flatters the body – they’re comfortable, yet structured. The authentic detailing, washes and stitching hark back to the 70s, and the beginning of the cult of denim. Chloe Lonsdale, the British mastermind behind our favourite denim label, has made a name for herself with a brand that makes every woman look effortless with a dash of London cool.
When Chloe Lonsdale talks about denim, it is with the eye of a trainspotter. The woman on the street might be interested in the colour and fit of her jeans – asking important questions such as: Do they make my bum look big? Do my legs look longer and leaner? Does my tummy look flat? But to Lonsdale, there is so much more to contemplate. She is passionate about every detail, from the stitching to the stretch content to exactly the right wash. From her new home in West Sussex we were excited to hear all about her latest styles, which shapes flatter best and why she still dresses like it’s 1970.
Your parents owned their own denim business in the 70s – tell us a bit about that.
My father started Jean Machine in 1970, he was the first person to import denim into the UK – American brands like Wrangler and Levi’s. Denim wasn’t something that was worn that much at the time, so he decided to open a store on the Kings Road and filled the shelves with denim. He met my mum, who was a successful young model, and persuaded her to work with him, altering jeans for customers. Jean Machine was unisex and democratic. My parents wore the same jeans as everyone else, whether you were gay or straight, male or female.
What was your alternative upbringing like?
My dad had made it by the time he was 30. His idea of living was this low-key, barefoot life, always in a pair of jeans – and after six years he decided to pursue his dream to sail around the world. For about 20 years my parents just lived off the stock from the stores, customising any jeans they hadn’t sold.
Where did the idea of M.i.h Jeans come from?
I went to Central Saint Martins to study fashion. I had been working for Nicole Farhi and really wanted to run my own business, but it didn’t occur to me to look into my family archives, although I knew I wanted to start a denim brand that was inspired by my parents’ principles and ideas. So I rang my godfather, Tony O’Gorman, who had sold his own label at my dad’s store and he said, “You can do whatever you like with Made In Heaven, you can have everything I have in the basement.” He turned up with 10 dusty boxes of old design folders and said, “Off you go.”
When you launched in 2006, what was the landscape like for a niche denim brand?
I remember going into a store to buy some jeans, and they had 7 For All Mankind and True Religion, which were a huge deal. I tried them on, and although I was slim and didn’t have a bad body, I thought “I can’t wear jeans with my bum showing, this is ridiculous.” What happened to these amazing images of Jane Birkin wearing Made in Heaven? I understood the subtleties. It’s about the hem, how you tuck your shirt in, the cool London girl in vintage jeans with a fur coat. The denim I loved was so different to the LA Britney Spears look.
Running your own business doesn’t give you freedom, but it gives you flexibility
Do you find it challenging coming up with something fresh every season despite always working with denim?
It’s not just jeans, it’s a lifestyle. I don’t like to shop. So instead I create everything I need. Every season I design a collection of what I think I’m going to wear. A beautiful chunky textured sweater to layer over simple jeans. A denim jacket to wear in the office, or a gorgeous overcoat for the winter, cool silk dresses for festivals.
Tell us about the Marrakesh style. It’s one of our top-10 wardrobe must-haves and we always recommend it to our readers. What was the inspiration behind it, and why do you think it’s been so popular?
The Marrakesh was the first jean I ever wore – it was the bestseller at Jean Machine. We’ve made some adjustments to the fit for the modern woman, but the flare on the legs, the pockets, the stitched waistband, everything we did was authentic. It’s a bestseller once again, even when flares are not in fashion. Some women might buy them in black and they look like the most immaculate trousers, or if it’s for a cool 70s moment they buy them in our vintage blue. We try to adapt it for each season to make it feel relevant. And this summer everyone is loving it with a rough-cut split hem. You can wear the Marrakesh with a slight heel and you have the longest leg ever and a really flat tummy, but it’s also nice to wear them casually and cut the hem and wear them with Converse as I am now. It’s a really adaptable jean.
Another of our favourite styles is the Breathless. Laura says it’s one of the most flattering pairs she owns. Was it designed for a specific body shape?
Breathless was designed to capture a tomboy spirit. It’s a boyfriend skinny and has a little bit of movement to it, it’s not spray-on and it’s got some really authentic details. It did two jobs, so we recently split it into a Tomboy jean, which is slouchy with a cool, androgynous vibe and the Bridge jean, a skinny with the perfect high rise.
At Wardrobe ICONS we love staples, so what are your top five wardrobe must-haves?
1. An easy, cropped pair of jeans like the custom-cut Tomboy, because I always wear flats or Converse. We’re just launching our Cult jeans, which I’m going to be living in. They have a semi-straight leg that hits well on the ankle bone and a boyish waistband, in an authentic mid-blue wash. I don’t wear black or white jeans – they have to be blue.
2. Converse – I try to make myself wear a cool trainer, but I can’t wear anything else. I only like the off-white high-tops, and wear them with grey or blue socks.
3. The Oversize shirt in blue or white.
4. Knitwear – I love our green mohair sweater with a rolled up sleeve. I don’t do pattern or stripes that well.
5. Sunglasses – round tortoiseshell glasses from Oliver Peoples are a classic, or Illesteva’s blue mirrored sunglasses to go with all the blue denim I wear.
We adore your oversize shirt, what’s the secret to this staple?
There is nothing cooler than a woman in a man’s shirt, but a man’s shirt isn’t always cut that well for a woman. The shoulders are a bit big and the sleeves are a bit blousy and you can often see it’s not working. It’s the first piece of ready-to-wear that we did and it’s still one of our bestsellers in blue and white.
Whose effortless style do you admire and why?
Chloë Sevigny’s style, she’s brave and not too sensible. She has that disruptive sense of fashion, which I admire.
I’m not big on jewellery, but I love to wear one piece you can put on with a white shirt – it suddenly makes you look a little bit more dressed
What will be your ICONIC investment this season?
If I really want to dress up, then ankle boots do the trick. I just bought a pair of Valentino ones that look amazing with a grey jean. Shoes are probably the one area that I’m always happy to spend money on. Bags less so – if I don’t have one with me, I put a credit card or set of keys in my pocket. I’m not big on jewellery, but I love to wear one piece you can put on with a white shirt, it suddenly makes you look a little bit more dressed.
Has your style changed at all?
I haven’t changed since the 80s. I pretty much only wear blue and white, and my Converse. I look at you in colour, having the confidence to mix and match and put things together. My excuse for wearing the same thing is to eliminate the noise.
What are your favourite M.i.h Jeans pieces that you own?
My first pair of Marrakesh jeans! We make them better now, but I definitely have a soft spot for that first pair that came off the production line.
What style of jean feels the most modern and of the moment? And what feels totally off?
A very low-rise is still dated, but it’s not just about the fit – it’s often about the wash. I think snow washes and super-stretchy jeggings are unacceptable.
You must get asked for denim advice all the time – what style of jeans suits which body shape…?
Curvy: the Marty jean is perfect, and of course the Marrakesh. Boyish: the Tomboy or the Bridge. Everyone: the Niki high rise – the leg is cropped with a little kick, it’s not too short, and is amazing on every shape.
We love your Instagram – tell us who we should follow to get fabulous outfit inspiration.
I love Instagram, it’s an incredible tool. But I follow a lot of nature photographers for a bit of escapism, I like to look beyond the obvious. @thefamilyacid is an archive of old slides from the 70s that reminds me of my upbringing. @soitgoesmag is a lifestyle publication with amazing shoots. And @cathykasterine – she posts pictures that make me happy.