Prps Noir and the Case for $1,200 Jeans
We live in an age of endless options, where nearly anything is possible. And the notion that personal style is contingent upon purchasing high-priced designer goods has been all but squashed thanks to democratic retailers like Gap, Uniqlo, and Zara. But while many brands look to cut corners in order to increase profit margins, Donwan Harrell of Prps is moving in another direction. He introduced a specialized division of his label, Prps Noir, that traffics in the world of handcrafted denim — with an eyebrow-raising price tag attached. A pair of these jeans will set you back four figures, topping off at around $1,200. But is it worth it? We called Harrell to talk about his Bentley of denim.
Harrell had just returned from Qatar when we reached him. "The most beautiful, serene place I've ever been in my entire life," he enthused. In fact, Harrell has a deep reserve of general excitement, on display most prominently when he's talking jeans. We cut right to the chase to ask what, exactly, justifies the price of his hyper-expensive denim. "Listen, Prps Noir is for a specific customer," he says. "Someone who appreciates certain details they can't find elsewhere, and that the average consumer wouldn't necessarily wear."
The designer then ticked off several reasons why Noir can reach upwards of a thousand dollars. Scarcity is, of course, one factor — there are only about 15 of each style produced, with every pair being cut and sewn by hand in Japan. Harrell also fills each pair with details that tap into the small but serious world of denimheads — then he takes things a step further. "There are a lot of denim geeks out there," he says, but doesn't count himself among them. "They're aware of all the details — but a denim geek wants to keep things pure. I don't want to keep denim the same, I'm looking to push the envelope."
Take the inside back yoke of a pair of Prps Noir jeans, which uses a replica of wabash fabric, based on cloth made with an indigo dyeing technique that first gained popularity in 1900s Japan. Or the inside fly, which is covered with selvedge fabric, something you wouldn't find in your average off-the-rack pair. From start to finish, a pair of Noir jeans take four whole days, with the wash taking up three of them: a day each for the wet, dry, and finishing processes. Hardware, including buttons and shanks, is soaked in paint thinner to give an authentically distressed look. In other words, there's no detail (including the satin-stitched back pocket rivets) that hasn't been injected with some luxurious twist.
In the end, Harrell wants to create something different, as much for himself as for his customer. "I've been making jeans for the past 15 years or so, and I've learned all these different techniques but haven't necessarily been able to use them," he says. This is a chance for him to push himself, and, he notes, there is a responsive customer scooping up the end product.
So is it worth the price? Suddenly, that becomes a highly personal question, hinging on the psychology of why some people save up for a pair of Prada shoes while others tread around in worn Converse. Plus, the bar could always be set higher. "I wouldn't even know how to surpass $1,200," Harrell says, laughing. "But I saw some denim that was woven through with cashmere recently, so you never know."
Prps Noir is available at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.