Strolling into the Natural Selection emporium at 46 Monmouth Street – a wonderful retail discovery made during a lazy stroll around the West End – I found an eclectic range of the shop’s ready-to-wear clothing rubbing shoulders with pieces from brands such as New York footwear label 288 and French eyewear specialist Thierry Lasry.
I couldn’t help being drawn towards the denim. Unsurprisingly, perhaps: the label’s founder John Park is a serious collector of the material, and Natural Selection began life as a denim-only brand, using solely Japanese selvedge. Despite introducing ready-to-wear to the label in 2014, Park’s quest to find interesting ways of working with his favourite fabric is never-ending and, for me, it’s this that makes the store such an enticing prospect. As a man who harbours a secret longing to breach the first sartorial commandment – Thou Shalt Not Double-Denim – this one-stop shop for a man’s entire denim repertoire is not so much a godsend as a wicked treat, with the devil in the detail.
On my first visit, I picked up a denim coat called the Wells Jacket Raw (£150), whose silhouette is traditional but which has subtle details such as gold-stitched decorative notches and industrial-looking buttons that takes it into the tasteful outer suburbs of fashion-focused denim. The moment I slipped it on, it was obvious it was coming home with me.
Visitors now will do well to gravitate towards the brand’s No Evil capsule collection. Highlights include the Slim Straight 00 jeans (£240), which are ideal for pairing with a sports jacket or blazer – it sounds preposterous, but trying them on I was struck by how this off-the-peg, casual garment created the imperious feeling associated with bespoke formalwear – and the more rugged Slim Straight 23 pair (£360), which were inspired by an old pair of vintage jeans Park found in a Californian market.
Natural Selection commissioned the renowned Kurabo mills in Japan to make the grey selvedge organic denim (dyed in natural indigo and set in potato starch) used for the whole collection, and the jeans are cut, stitched and washed by artisans in Venice without permanganates, sand blasting or nickel.
Over the years, Park has changed the way he treats raw denim fabric. Initially, the focus was on recreating the beauty of vintage pieces – wear patterns, patinas – but this approach has now been pared back to emphasising the simple beauty of the fabric, the character of the weave and the blue tones lying underneath each layer of indigo dye.
Some sartorial commentators are a tad wary of upmarket jeans: devoid of tricky features such as pleats, and made using one of the most obedient and durable fabrics, they’re a garment that any skilled tailor could make in their sleep. But when so much care has gone into not just design and cut but the making too, to ensure that the resulting products will improve with age – that denim should evolve over time is the essence of the brand concept, and its name – it’s almost impossible not to sit up and take notice.