Category Archives: Explained

Happy Veteran's Day!

Posted by The E on November 11, 2011

U.S. military servicemen in denim fatigues during training camp

It’s Veteran’s Day. Don’t forget to thank the members of our Armed forces for their service today.

While today’s military uniforms are mostly made of hi-tech synthetic fabrics to maximize durability, breathability, comfort and camouflage, there was a time when denim was the fabric of choice for military garments. Blue denim work clothing was adopted as the standard for the U.S. Army in 1919, and thousands of servicemen in the Army and Navy wore jackets, shirts, coveralls, pants, hats and packs made from the material from the 1920′s up through WWII.

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Explained: Design Process – Inspiration

Posted by The E on October 31, 2011

Inspiration Board

Aside from a very condensed version of design process on Project Runway, most people aren’t familiar with all of the steps that go into creating a finished look – especially a finished denim look. As part of our series of Explained posts on The Habit, we’re going into the details of the denim design process. From wash development, to perfecting the fit, to creating a sample and finally hitting retail, there are many steps in creating a pair of jeans. But before any design can begin to take shape, a designer has to be inspired.

Gathering inspiration is a constant practice, and it can come from anywhere – great photographs, the texture of fabrics, a stylish person, artwork, music, architecture, nature – really anything that we see or feel in the world around us. Designers are required to be sponges, soaking up as much of this inspiration as possible.

When the beginning of a calendar season comes around, the design team is tasked with putting together a “collection”, a cohesive group of pieces that represents our vision for the line, yet also carries market appeal. At that point, usually more than a year in advance, we have to focus in on our favorite bits of collected inspiration to draw out major trends in fabrics, silhouettes, washes, and colors for the given season.  We check our tastes against macro trends in society, and look at what’s on the runway, what is chosen for magazine shoots, and what trend services are saying. We can then pull a series of images that support the product and design direction we’d like to go in for the line. Out of habit, we gather these images into an inspiration board, which serves as a constant reference as we start to create specific looks.

Even after we have a sense of what the product will look like for the season, inspiration continues to play a key role throughout the entire process. We are constantly looking at blogs, magazines, tumblr accounts, trend services, and the world around us to reconfirm that our inspirations for the current line are hitting the mark. When all is said and done, the goal is for the product to hit stores right as the trends are starting and never too late.

Staying Inspired

Photo Inspiration

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Explained: Model Casting

Posted by The E on July 25, 2011

We selected Angelika for the HABITUAL Spring 2012 shoot.

The HABITUAL Spring 2012 line is nearly finished, and we’ve just selected a model for the new lookbook shoot. It takes a bit of vision and a lot of work to find the girl that will embody the look of the brand for a whole season, and that’s why model casting is a crucial part of the fashion business. In the case of HABITUAL, we don’t hire tons of different models each year for multiple campaigns and runway shows, we do only a couple of shoots per year, and we have to be very particular to pick the model that best reflects the style and feel of the line.

The first step to casting a model is figuring out basic requirements. In general, we have a specific size that we know works best for our samples. We can’t select someone who is too thin because they have to show off the shape of the denim. Of course, the girl you want has to be LA-based and available on the shoot date.

We also have to keep in mind the budget. Every model has a different day rate. In general, new faces are less expensive than the seasoned girls. Sometimes having a great photographer can get you a more experienced model for a lower fee. You also have to consider usage rights – in this case, we are using the shots for the lookbook, our own website, PR, and potentially even some advertising. Broader usage rights translate into a bigger fee.

Next you have to think about the look of the model – who is the HABITUAL girl, and what look are we going for with this season’s line? For the spring shoot, we were looking for a brunette with longer hair and a bit of edge and mystery to her. Even though we are based in LA, we were not really looking for the bubbly blonde Southern California girl. Our celeb inspirations included the Natalie Portman, Emmanuelle Chriqui and, Zooey Deschanel style of brunette. She’s not the reality star, but someone who is genuinely talented and has some substance and character.

You might have also worked with a model previously. We hired someone as a window model at an event earlier in the year, we were really impressed with her work ethic, and so we called her back to the casting for the shoot.

Based on these requirements, we’ll narrow it down and look at the portfolios of a few dozen girls from different modeling agencies. In the old days, we used to have to tell the agency what we were looking for, and then they would messenger over physical portfolios of the girls they thought were the best fit. Now, thanks to the web, we have access to thousands of portfolios instantly. We’ll end up reaching out to three or four LA agencies with whom we have relationships and invite less than ten girls to the live casting.

Angelika in the showroom trying on a Spring 2012 look.

During the actual casting, it’s not all about the pretty face. First and foremost the model has to look great in the denim and the denim needs to look great on her. She has to know how to move, how to work the camera, and how to show off the best features of a particular look. There is a skill to modeling, and that experience and skill is why why some models are better to work with and command a higher fee.

Beyond aesthetics and skill, perhaps one of the most important considerations is attitude. Even if a girl takes amazing pictures, you have to spend a whole day or more with this person. You need someone that can handle switching looks all day long, without complaining. Bad attitudes can upset the dynamic on location and even hurt the quality of the images. In casting, we try to ask the models basic questions to see if they are engaging, funny, interesting, and animated.

Finally, we like them to know a bit about denim. Do they wear denim? Do they know the difference between a crop, a skinny, and a trouser? What are their favorite brands? We hope this will help them appreciate the clothes and believe in the product and really “sell it” during the shoot.

For Spring 2012, we selected Angelika from Photogenics Agency. We knew we picked the right model when she came in for a second time and we found out she has a tattoo of a Maltese Cross – exactly the same shape as the HABITUAL Glory pocket. We could not even believe the coincidence.

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To Heel or Not to Heel

Posted by The E on July 13, 2011

Pregnant Celebrities Wearing Heels

We recently received a lovely thank you note from a fan saying that our maternity jeans look great with heels. It revives the age old question: do all the stylish expectant moms out there (and there are so many of you) still like to add a little height in the 9 month journey to motherhood?

We have found that some women like only to be as comfortable as possible, choosing stretchy, forgiving attire and flat shoes, while others won’t sacrifice their fashion sensibility for even a trimester. It’s sort of like the doctor’s advice about running when you are pregnant – you should remain a runner if you have always been a runner. You don’t have to change who you are just because you are pregnant. Would you even recognize Victoria Beckham if she wasn’t wearing her remarkably high heels?

So the simple conclusion is, if you loved being in four inch Manolos before, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be in them when you’re expecting. If it becomes too much, you can always go down an inch or two.

Pregnant Celebrities in Flats

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Explained: Indigo Dye

Posted by The J on May 10, 2011

We all remember learning about indigo in grade school - the bright blue color used for dyeing cloth, and one of the seven colors of Sir Isaac Newton’s rainbow. Indigo has been used as a coloring agent since ancient times, and is best known for the distinctive color it gives to blue jeans.

A Block of Indigo Dye

The Origins of Indigo:

Indigo is found naturally in tropical plants of the indigofera family, thought most of the indigo used today is a synthetic variety. Indigo is produced today mainly for dyeing cotton and for food coloring. You might see it on food packaging as “Blue No. 2″.

The natural form of indigo is among the oldest dyes used to color textiles, and has a rich tradition in clothing, design, and the arts in India, China, the United States and Latin America, as well as ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Peru, and Africa.

Indigo plants were first domesticated in India, which became the major hub for indigo production and trade. India provided the main supply of dye to Europe as early as the Ancient Greeks, who referred to the color as indikon or “indian dye.” 

Because the dye had to travel on precarious overland routes from India into Europe and incur tariffs from shipping merchants, indigo was expensive and difficult to acquire, which helped it earn the nickname “blue gold.” Wearing indigo blue clothing became a sign of wealth (as opposed to now, as “blue collar” refers to the working class), which is why one particular shade is now known as “royal blue”.

Indigo continued to command a premium even through the Middle Ages, and many Western European countries began to cultivate a similar plant called woad as an alternative. It wasn’t until Vasco de Gama discovered a trading route to India by sea that the price was greatly reduced.

In the 1700s, many European powers began to cultivate true indigo in their territories in the Carribean and North America. American plantation owners grew and sold indigo to England, until British companies began buying indigo from India in accordance with their imperial interests, and indigo fields were replaced with cotton crops.

The industry began to see radical change in 1878, when German chemist Adolf von Baeyer (of Bayer Aspirin fame) perfected a process for synthetically manufacturing indigo dye, which largely replaced plant dye by the turn of the 20th century.

Indigo Ropes

Why is Indigo Best for Denim?

Indigo is perfect for dyeing cotton because it only partially penetrates into the fibers, lending a rich surface color that does not affect the innermost parts of the fabric. Cloth dyed with indigo turns a lighter color when worked or rubbed over time, and remains the preferred dye to achieve the signature worn-in look of denim.

Indigo is not soluble in water, so it must be chemically changed to “white indigo” for the dyeing process. During manufacturing, cotton fibers are woven into ropes and dipped in the white indigo saturated water. Once they are taken out of the water, the dye then reacts with oxygen in the air and takes on its characteristic blue hue again.

Normally, the cotton yarns go through at least 4 to 8 “dips”, or passages through the dye bath. The more dips, the darker the fabric. After the initial dyeing process, the ropes are washed or additional chemicals are added to change the color of the yarns or improve the fastness of the dye to the fibers.  Once the dyeing process is complete, the yarns are woven into the cotton cloth known as denim. While there are many ways to treat denim after it is woven, cut, and sewn into the pair of jeans you see at your local boutique, the initial dyeing process accounts for much of the variability in denim color.

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Explained: Denim Artisans

Posted by The E on April 21, 2011

Walking through any boutique or department store, it is easy to see that every pair of denim is different, with variations in color, weight, pattern, stiffness and wear.

This is largely the work of specially trained denim artisans known in the industry as “wash developers”. These skilled craftsmen hand process virtually all denim in the marketplace today. Using a combination of specialized washing machines, hand held grinding tools with metal burrs, sandpaper, and a variety of (somewhat environmentally friendly) chemicals, they create, entirely by hand, what people know of as a denim “wash”.

For designers, the wash developers are one of the most crucial pieces of the denim design puzzle. They work closely with the denim designer, who communicates exactly the look and feel they are seeking for each piece. The artisans then take the constructed jeans and use their knowledge and skills to create the final product and achieve the designer’s vision. Without them, we would all be wearing raw or ‘unwashed’ denim, and everyone’s product would look pretty much the same.

Because the denim laundering process is so crucial to what we do, we took a couple of hours during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. to stop by a laundry exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. The museum has used an actual home from Ipswitch, Massachusetts to illustrate nearly 200 years of American History. As families moved in and out, the town developed into a bustling industrial center. During the late 1800s, one part of the home was occupied by an Irish immigrant named Catherine Lynch, who ran a clothing laundering business. The exhibit details the difficult process of doing laundry in the late 1800s through a number of intensive steps:

1. Soak the laundry overnight.

2. Scrub the laundry in hot lye suds. This was a physically demanding process of rubbing the linens against a wash board to remove stains and filth. Lye is a corrosive alkaline powder; while modern detergents have replaced lye with other, more effective, less harsh materials, it is still used today in oven cleaner.

3. Boil white linens and cottons.

4. Rinse the clothing.

5. Rinse again with bluing powder. Because many stains could never fully be removed from white cloth and left a grey or yellow tinge, bluing powder served as a light dye to make the cloth appear whiter, even with the stains.

6. Dip in starch and hang to dry.

7. Iron the next day.

Laundry in the 1870's: Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Institution: Scrub in Hot Lye Suds

While laundry at home in 2011 is as simple as loading a machine, pouring detergent, and pressing a button, the denim laundering process is closer to the laundering process of the 1800s, with several intensive steps to achieve the desired result.

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Explained: LA Street Fashion

Posted by The E on April 19, 2011

Being based in Los Angeles, people ask us all the time, what do people wear in LA? To be honest it’s a difficult question to answer without going on and on and making people go cross eyed.  With so many neighborhoods, so many distinct personalities, and so many styles, it’s difficult to sum up.  Next time, we will direct them to the ongoing collection of street style photos of LA Times photographer Colin Young-Wolff.  He has created an interactive map of fashion hot spots throughout the city, each telling a story about the part of town in focus and the people who live there.  Have a look and you’ll think twice about calling it the worst dressed city in America.

LA Times Street Fashion - Interactive Map

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Explained: HABITUAL "Glory" Pocket

Posted by The E on April 8, 2011

If you are familiar with the HABITUAL brand, or even poked through a couple pairs at a local boutique, chances are you have noticed the large cross that appears on the back pocket of many of the pieces in the line. Ever since its inception, HABITUAL has used a cross as a logo and a frequent back pocket emblem. Specifically, we use a slightly modified version of the Maltese cross that is often called the ‘cross pattée’ or ‘iron cross’.

HABITUAL "Glory" Pocket pattern

Actual pattern used to make a HABITUAL "Glory" pocket

The Maltese cross, also known in Italy as the Amalfi cross, is recognized as the symbol of a group of Christian warriors known as the Knights of Malta. The symbol was originally used as a symbol of protection and a badge of honor, but it has gone on to become a symbol for the European nation of Malta. The symbol even appears on the one and two Euro cent coins. The cross has a v shaped element on the end of each arm, which creates eight individual points, said to represent 8 points of courage for the knights:

Glory and Honor
Contempt of Death
Helpfulness to the poor and the sick
Respect for the church

Greek Cross, Maltese Cross, Cross Pattee

Left to Right: a Greek cross, a Maltese cross, and a Cross Pattee

While the “Glory” pocket takes it’s name from one of these points of courage, the shape of the glory pocket is more accurately a cross pattée, which comes from the French for “paw”. The cross pattée has arms which are narrow at the centre, and flare out to become broader at the perimeter.

Both the Maltese cross and cross pattée evolved from a very well known and widely used symbol, the Greek cross. Perhaps the most basic cross you can find, the defining characteristic of the Greek cross is four arms of equal length. It looks like a plus “+” sign, and is also used as the international symbol for nursing, medicine, and the Red Cross. The Greek cross got its name because of its repeated use on ancient greek artifacts, including coins, statues, and other artworks. The cross was also used by early Greek Orthodox Christians as a religious symbol, and the cross still appears on the modern day Greek flag. A similar cross shape is evidenced in many artifacts from pre-columbian america.

Coins, Pre-columbian cross, Maltese Warrior

Ancient Greek Coins, a pre-columbian cross, a Maltese Warrior

We love the history behind the HABITUAL ‘Glory’ pocket and all the values it symbolizes. But most importantly we think it makes quite a statement on our jeans! Below are photos of some of the customized ‘Glory’ pockets we have done in previous collections.

Leather Glory PocketMixed "Glory" pockets

Torn "Glory" pocket

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Explained: Vermilion

Posted by The E on March 30, 2011

When the fall 2011 line reaches retail, you will notice that the brilliant red orange color vermilion has made its way into the final collection.

Vermilion is a storied color that has been around since ancient times. In its naturally ocurring form, vermilion is actually mercuric sulfide, a toxic compound also known as “cinnabar”. Like most compounds containing mercury, the substance is toxic to humans, and significant exposure can lead to the psychic and emotional disturbances that result from mercury poisoning. Today, vermilion dyes and paints are synthetic and non-toxic, though natural cinnabar is still mined in China.

Vermillion Paint Swatch

We had been watching the red trend over the past few seasons, moving from the bluer reds of last year to vermilion red with an orange tone in current lines. Isabel Marant is a frequent offender, having used vermilion in several past collections. Hermes, Tory Burch and Chanel have all offered vermilion leather designs, and BMW recently offered vermilion as a paint option on its X5 SUV. We have also seen a lot of red hair both on the runway and in fashion editorials, which became a design inspiration for the fall line.

Red Hair

The origin of the word vermilion is even more interesting. It comes from the French vermeillon, meaning “bright red”. This is derived from the Latin word vermiculum, which means “little worm”, and refers to a small orange red insect the Romans used to make red dye (the same word is also the origin of the pasta shape “vermicelli” – doesn’t that make you hungry?).

Not sure what it is about the ancients using insects for coloring, but carmine is another, deeper shade of red that was made from the crushed up shells of a certain kind of beetle. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra allegedly used these insect bits as a sort of primitive lipstick.

In ancient Rome, the pigment was used to color the face of the statue of Jupiter, and to honor victorious generals as they made their return to Rome. It also decorated the cheeks of gladiators who fought in the Colisseum. In China, vermilion was used by royalty to create imperial writings. Traditional Hindu women still dab vermilion in the part on the top of their hair during certain ceremonies to indicate that they are married, while men wear the color on their forehead. 

The master Italian painter Titian used vermilion powder to create the bright red tones of paint in his fresco Assunta in 1518, which still hangs in the Santa Maria gloriosa dei Frari chapel in Venice. Caravaggio also kept vermilion in his palette to brighten the clothing and blood of his often grotesque imagery. 

Assunta by Titian

"Assunta" by Italian painter Titian

Judith Beheading Holofernes - Caravaggio

Caravaggio's "Judith Beheading Holofernes"

Vermilion also occurs in nature. Scientists gave the vermilion rockfish and vermilion flycatcher their names because of their bright red pigmentation. The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona is a popular tourist attraction and photography subject. Several cacti also produce bright vermilion flowers.

It’s really no wonder how vermilion found its way into the line.

Vermilion in Nature

Clockwise from top: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, a bright cactus flower, Vermilion Rockfish, Vermilion Flycatcher

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Explained: Selvage Denim

Posted by The S on February 24, 2011

Selvage Denim

People often ask, “What is selvage denim?”  (Well, maybe you never asked, but we certainly did).

Selvage denim (also called selvedge denim) is a type of denim which forms a clean natural edge that does not unravel. It is commonly presented in the unwashed or raw state. Typically, the selvage edges will be located along the outseam of the pants, making it visible when rolled into a cuff.

The word selvage comes from the phrase “self-edge” and denotes denim made on old-style shuttle looms. These looms weave fabric with one continuous cross thread (the weft) that is passed back and forth all the way down the length of the bolt of fabric. As the weft loops back into the edge of the denim it creates this “self-edge” or selvage. Selvage is desirable because it can’t fray, unlike most denims, which have separate wefts that leave an open edge and must be stitched.  While shuttle looming is a more time-consuming weaving process, another benefit is that it produces denim with a tighter weave and heavier weight that lasts longer.

And, as a bonus for reading, you have a new Scrabble word: “weft”.

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