The Commonwealth Times - VCU's independent student press
One VCU alumnus has made his way to the top of the fashion world, working for internationally recognized clothing brands and designing his own jeans for A-list celebrities.
With opportunities coming in from all directions, Donwan Harrell, founder and director of the denim line “Prps” was recently selected to design the 125th Anniversary Collection for Lee Denim.
During high school, Harrell wanted to become a comic book artist. He attended a few comic book conventions and interviewed with artists at local universities, but people who viewed his work felt it qualified more for fine art instead of comic strips. At this time, Harrell was also helping his mother sew garments to sell at the flea market. When comic art was not going the way Harrell wanted, his mother advised him to study something that came naturally to him: fashion.
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.
“Everything in life should have a purpose.” Profound statement right? But have you actually thought about its meaning? The decisions we make, actions we take, and processions we claim should be handled with a desired outcome. Sure life is meant to be lived and enjoyed freely, but we’re given one shot at pulling it off correctly, so planning along the way won’t hurt. Take fashion for instance – although done whimsy at times, many items in our wardrobe serve a specific purpose for certain events and environments. Donwan Harrell and his clothing label Prps would like to think the New York-based label offers garbs that allow its wearers to go through life purposefully, yet with style and grace. Born in North Carolina and raised in Virginia to a seamstress and naval ship repairman, Harrell was intrigued with fashion at an early age helping his mother sew her own designs with the help of his foremost sketching skills. Moving through life winning every art competition in sight and designing his own clothing for classmates, the Southern gentlemen decided to take his talent to New York and after a few stops he eventually landed a job as associate menswear designer for Donna Karan. The next stop on the calculated Harrell expressway was a stint at Nike as the worldwide director for “Organized Team Sports,” designing uniforms for a slew of international teams including the 2002 World Cup. Having gained the necessary experience to build his own successes, the emerging fashion visionary eventually opened the doors to Prps. He took pride in utilizing arguably the finest cotton in the world form Zimbabwe and the experienced craftsmanship of the Japanese to produce garments infused with originality and an ode to traditional menswear. Vowing to never lose sight of detail and quality, Prps has been worn by a long list of A-list celebrities, from Kate Moss to Christian Bale. Donwan Harrell, a name that will certainly reign supreme in the realm of fashion for years to come, leaves us constantly wondering where he will take our imagination and wardrobe next. In the meantime, persue the items featured here in our latest Essentials installment and tell us what you think of his personal style.