Smart Dressing

Jean genius, the Blackhorse Lane Atelier

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From an unlikely workshop in Walthamstow, Bilgehan Ates is making jeans only the Japanese would dream of…

Han Ates, Black Horse Lane Denim, The Jackal

‘I’d witnessed what had happened with craft beer, and with burgers as well, and thought that denim was in need of that kind of revolution,’ explains Bilgehan ‘Han’ Ates, surrounded by piles of dark-hued, heavy-weight cloth. He is sitting in the building that he has owned for 25 years, talking about how he’s gone from heading up fashion factories in Vietnam to running a denim atelier in the wilds of Walthamstow.

Despite having worked in tailoring and then clothing manufacturing since he was 18, starting- out in factories in Hackney, it was opening a restaurant in Stoke Newington that finally set him on this path. ‘I saw how customers became more knowledgeable as consumers once they’d tasted craft beer and realised how much better it was, and that would force pubs to supply that demand for better beer. It was the same with burgers,’ he says. It was seeing that cycle of demand improving the quality of supply, that sparked a desire to witness the same evolution with denim and Blackhorse Lane Atelier was born.

Black Horse Lane Denim, The Jackal

Ates makes all his jeans according to the heritage-style construction, which was patented back in 1877 and which many Japanese brands use today. Each style reference number pertains to a London postcode and the corresponding tailoring that goes into each pair subtly hints at the jean preferences of the people in those environs. It’s a quirk that is both a nod to Ates’s Hackney origins, and continued London presence, but also to the brand’s emphasis on connectivity and community; something Ates also perpetuates through his Denim and Dine evenings, which sees the workshop turned into a restaurant presided over by Pedro Passinhas, an experimental chef who trained under the likes of Heston Blumenthal.

Unsurprisingly, the finished product isn’t cheap, with a pair of NW3s setting you back £175. However, as Ates explains, these jeans are a luxury item that takes time to make – a reaction to the ‘cheap chasing’ and corner cutting that he experienced first-hand in his manufacturing days. ‘We only work with the top 20, the Premier League, of cotton suppliers and also try to ensure the impact on the planet is minimal,’ he says.

Blackhorse Lane Denim, The Jackal

Since setting up Blackhorse Lane Atelier, Ates has collaborated with the likes of Hussein Chalayan, Christopher Raeburn and King & Tuckfield and has got his workshop to a stage where it is producing 350 pairs of jeans a month, all hand sewn. Blackhorse Lane Atelier might not be a name on everyone’s lips just yet, but doesn’t every revolution start with a whisper?

To buy online or book a workshop to make your own pair of five pocket jeans go to Blackhorselane.com or call 020 8531 7772.

David Giusti, Blackhorse Lane Atelier’s self-confessed ‘denim head’, gives his top tips for looking after your jeans:

  • Wash them as little as possible (but don’t wait until your other half starts to complain about the smell…)
  • Run a lukewarm bath (go hotter if your denim isn’t pre-shrunk and you want to shrink it a little) and add a detergent such as Dr Bronner’s Castile soap (http://www.drbronner.co.uk).
  • Leave for 45 minutes, agitating the fabric a little from time to time. After that time as elapsed, rinse, roll in a towel and hang out to dry.
  • If you are going to use a washing machine, choose a low temperature and a setting without a ‘tumble’ cycle. The less tumbling action, the less indigo dye you’ll lose.