A Brief History
The date is 1973 and a crowd of raucous kids are jostling for position around an unassuming market-stall sheltering from the icy February drizzle under a railway bridge in the heart of Portobello Market, London. The buzz is palpable. Trecking by Tube, bus and bike from the far corners of London this motley crue has converged on the capital’s hippest clothing market in a bid to lay their hands on an elusive pair of the jeans that has had London’s most discerning fashion devotees swapping notes. It was there in 1973, under that bridge in Notting Hill, that Pepe Jeans was born.
In a time when fashion brands were made less by marketing science and cold cash, and more by real people discovering different, sometimes dangerous, and always breathlessly exciting fashion that the founders of Pepe jeans, Nitin Shah and his brothers Arun and Milan, unleashed their vision of detail-rich denims to an audience that had become tired by a tidal wave of bland and anonymous jeans.
Fast forward almost 4 decades and Pepe Jeans today trades in 60 countries, sells through almost 7,000 doors at wholesale, has over 300 stores internationally, and employs over 2,000 employees, yet remains devoted to its initial mantra to create directional denims and challenging young fashion in an era dogged by conformism.
It didn’t take the Shah brothers long to realise that the popularity of Pepe Jeans was rollercoasting beyond their aspirations. Pretty soon, they would be ditching the full time jobs, in favour of a business which almost overnight found itself operating from a 25,000sqm strategic command centre in London. By 1980 Pepe Jeans was squaring up confidently to the American denim heavyweights which had until then dominated British jeans boutiques. Pepe Jeans’ popularity in Blighty had not gone unnoticed abroad and around that same time it began to take its first tentative steps into new international markets. In 1984 the US invasion started in earnest with the opening of a new office and showroom in LA, and in the same year the brand launched in Ireland.
Buoyed by its early successes and fuelled by an appetite to articulate its message in a sexy and engaging way Pepe Jeans hired the hottest fashion photographer of the decade, Bruce Weber, to shoot its biggest ad campaign to date. The ads, featuring soon-to-be supermodel Bridget Hall, set a new benchmark in the fashion world in terms of its polished production values and a precedent in Pepe Jeans’ ability to find advertising faces destined to become the stars of tomorrow. Celebrity TV presenter and trendsetting style guru Alexa Chung is the latest in a long line of celebrities which has counted Jason Priestly, Laetitia Casta, Donovan Leitch, Ashton Kutcher, Sienna Miller, Letitia Casta, and Cristiano Ronaldo, among its numbers. Guess which brand provided Kate Moss with her first ever advertising campaign? Cinema and TV commercials soon followed. From performance artist Leigh Bowery’s extravagant turn in front of the camera to Raindance, a 90-second love story fimed between Nevada and Notting Hill and set to the thumping soundtrack of The Smiths iconic anthem to the lamented, How Soon Is Now, each campaign has left an indelible mark in the annals of fashion advertising. In the 1990s Pepe Jeans continued its expansion trail through Europe, with France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Holland, Portugal, and Switzerland all falling under the Pepe Jeans spell.
By the start of the new millennium Pepe Jeans London had confirmed its reputation as one of the biggest brands in the denim market. The last few years has found Pepe ploughing a furrow into emerging territories such as Latin America and Asia. And, not content with sitting on its laurels, the brand has launched new lines including kidswear in 2002, as well as the rock-tinged premium denim collection 73, the directional Andy Warhol by Pepe Jeans collection which launched in 2007, and more recently new footwear and eyewear collections.
Fashion is defined by its ability to evolve, excite and create trends at breakneck speed. Just like the Red Bull Formula 1 team which the brand sponsors, Pepe Jeans London remains at the front of the fashion pack with a winning formula based on its ability to deliver the strongest denim-led fashion in the market.