Behind The Scenes: Denimsmith’s Leonie Rutherford
Meet Denimsmith’s Leonie Rutherford: a veteran of Australia’s denim industry, skilled artisan, Creative Director and one of the key forces behind Brunswick East’s ultra-local, Melbourne-made denim brand, Denimsmith. In today’s blog, we look at Leonie’s influences, her ideas on denim’s perennial popularity, on the import of locally-produced jeans and at fashion icons of note.
Let’s talk about denim. Why do you think this material – and its iteration into the wardrobe classic of the jean – is such an important cultural item and wardrobe essential?
Leonie: Denim jeans have been proven to stand the test of time. They have had a colourful history: from their conception as work clothes to being the symbol of youth rebellion. Today, jeans are a trusted wardrobe essential – they’re understated, comfortable and (after all this time!) their fashionable, cool attitude remains.
How does Denimsmith fit into the story of Brunswick East?
Leonie: Brunswick East is a unique little pocket; it offers something for everyone but remains a low-key and relaxed community. The Denimsmith studio store is nestled between the bustle of Nicholson Street’s cafe strip and the idyllic parklands of the Merri Creek. Just as Brunswick East is unique, so is Denimsmith: we offer a rare shopping experience by offering premium denim jeans direct from creator to consumer. It is so important for Denimsmith that we produce honest, locally-made jeans that people can see being made by hand with their own eyes when they’re in our studio store. At the Denimsmith Store, our workfloor, makers and machines are on display – so come by Kirkdale Street and see the fascinating process firsthand!
What do you love most about working with denim?
Leonie: Denim has many faces – it all depends on how you work with it, wash it and age it. It is ever-changing and ever-new – a real discovery every time. Denim jeans are famous for their understated ease, but the technical science of making them is quite complex. It is a challenging journey: from sourcing the yarn or cloth to deciding upon the pattern and cut before manufacturing, dyeing and washing. Many things can go awry – which is why being locally made adds a level of customisation and control to the product – a true Denimsmith point of difference.
When it comes to denim design in Australia, you are an industry veteran. How was your professional trajectory progressed?
Leonie: The path I took was really from the bottom up. I was lucky to start my denim career working in Richmond, Abbotsford and Fitzroy-based manufacturing plants. I could see all aspects of the trade: from design to manufacturing. It was a very exciting time. I started on the factory floor as a cutter and sample machinist, before moving to pattern cutting, working in laundries and ending up in design. You could say I worked backwards – to become a good designer I had to understand the manufacturing process intimately. My practice today is informed by my experience as a young person. I still work very closely with the cutters, sample machinists, pattern cutters and laundry technicians.
If Brunswick East were a person, what would they be like?
Leonie: They would be confident in their own style and probably super busy with a relaxed attitude. They would grab their favorite Japanese denim jeans from the day before (unwashed of course, and comfortable just as they like best) before discovering they are wearing odd socks (which is totally acceptable).They would be ready to face their weekend by rising early to adventure around Brunswick East with family and friends, jamming as much as possible into one day. It would start with breakfast and a good local coffee at Milkwood on Nicholson Street followed by a long walk along the Merri Creek while listening to some great tunes from local radio station RRR.
What two kinds of denim are essential to a Melbourne winter wardrobe?
Leonie: Denimsmith’s hero jeans for Winter15 are the ‘Black’ and ‘Japanese Indigo’ Alana Jean High Rise Super Stretch Fit for women, and the ‘Black’ and ‘Japanese Indigo’ Quinn Jean Easy Rise Slim Fit for men.
What does Denimsmith mean to you, and what do you hope to add to Melbourne sartorial style?
Denimsmith means a lot to me, having created jeans for 20 years while watching the Australian denim industry battle on. It’s wonderful to say that the local industry is not dead yet! If we’re lucky enough to tap into a likeminded community that wants to wear honest, hand-made local jeans – then my job at Denimsmith is done.