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Dehen 1920: An Interview with James Clark

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Get to know more about Dehen 1920

Dehen 1920 is a garment brand with a history of nearly a century, a path that sublimes principles such as quality and grandeur. Even if these are times of everlasting change, there are still values with permanent standards.

Dehen’s varsity and letterman jackets are among the best there is. A knitting company established in Portland Oregon, Dehen is one of the better parts of true American apparel history.

James Clark is the man behind the path of Dehen 1920. He shared with us how the brand gained much of its current significance by way of reinterpreting its archive. Get to know Dehen’s way. Read below.

Dehen has a history of almost 100 years; how hard was it to establish Dehen 1920 (since the brand didn’t have a retail line for quite some time)?

Re-introducing the brand was a really interesting process.  As you mentioned, Dehen had a retail line and a number of stores up until the late 1960’s but has been operating in the background for most of the last forty years.

When we decided to start putting our own label on our products, our first thought that we needed to change things in order for it to work.  After struggling for a few months, we decided to do the same things we’ve always done, in the same way, that we’ve always done them.

Once we made this decision things actually became easy. The response has been great, mainly because the Dehen story is so strong/interesting, the product (especially our knits) so unique, and unlike some of the old brands that have been revived, we never stopped knitting and making apparel.

dehen 1920 varsity jacket
Dehen 1920 Varsity Jacket

What can you tell us about the piece selection process? Do you have a team constantly focusing on getting around the brand’s archives? How does it work?

Over the years Dehen was in the business of building things, and like most old companies they moved on to the next thing once an order was complete. They didn’t keep an archive, and many of the styles that Dehen produced over the years were lost or forgotten.

So, to find archive items we had to go out through vintage dealers and vintage stores, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, eBay and other places like that. We had to go out and build an archive.

Some items were easy to find (we did hundreds of thousands of varsity sweaters), while motorcycle sweaters and workwear items are hard to find—and expensive when you do find them.

For us to find those items was pretty tough—and there’s still a lot missing. But it’s been an interesting project.  In selecting pieces for the initial line we focused on the classic items that Dehen made throughout its history.

It didn’t feel right to do ‘inspired by’ pieces without recreating the originals first.  And, as we started reproducing the originals, we found that we really liked them, and concluded that the introductory line didn’t need any “new” products.

Dehen 1920 Varsity jacket aw 14

Your catalog currently includes Varsity Jackets, sweaters, cardigans; what can we expect for the upcoming collections? Can you disclose any new product?

In future seasons we’ll be moving things forward a little bit, and expanding the line horizontally — you’ll see items that will be derived or inspired by our heritage, but not necessarily reproductions of old products.

For next fall, you’ll see additional heritage pieces, along with a few accessories (scarves, hats) and a small assortment of workwear and  “lifestyle” pieces.  You’ll also start to see a collection of cotton products – knits, tees, and things of that nature.

The product line will be a bit broader, but the materials, construction, and artisanal approach will be the same.

What about collaborations? Is there any collaboration to be for the upcoming seasons?

There’s actually a lot of collaboration activity, both for this season and in the works for next fall.   We recently shipped a Mark McNairy X Dehen capsule, which turned out great and will soon be available at a handful of retailers.

We’ve also got projects this season with Nike, Billionaire Boys Club, Best Made Company and a couple of great Japanese brands – including Neighborhood and The Real McCoys.

I can’t talk about the things in the works for next year, but there are a few projects in development that could be really interesting.  We’re lucky in that there aren’t many people that can still do what we do, and as a result, we get a lot of collaboration inquiries.

dehen 1920 varsity jacket navy black

What does it mean to wear a Dehen 1920 garment? How would you define the ultimate feel of wearing a Dehen piece?

This is a tough question.  To me, the first thing that comes to mind when touching or wearing our product is a feeling of permanence. This isn’t disposable apparel – it’s crafted product that will literally last for generations, and in some cases get better over time.

It’s timeless and classic, and won’t change next season or next year.  To me, our stuff feels less like clothing and more like gear – permanent objects, crafted by hand, and built to last.

Get to know more about Dehen 1920.

If you are a fan of high school and varsity jackets also make sure to check out the best varsity jackets available to buy now.

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