The Italian Almanac

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Battle for Jeans

Genoa is girding itself for battle over the world's best-loved fashion item, jeans, which it says originated among fishermen in the city's port over 500 years ago. Although Levi Strauss patented the copper riveting that made jeans famous, the material itself has been used widely in the Mediterranean since the 16th century. The renowned work trousers take their name from 'Bleu de Genes', meaning 'blue material from Genoa', but few people today are aware of that. Genoa has therefore decided to reclaim part of its heritage with a three-day festival next summer. Blue de Gens will run from June 4 to 6, 2009, with events in the city, its port and across the province. Top brand names from the world of fashion are expected to participate but the focus will be on educational and cultural events. The goal will be to spread the word about Genoa's role in jeans, and there will be a string of exhibitions and concerts exploring the history of denim.

Referring to Spain and Italy's long-running tussle over the nationality of Christopher Columbus, Genoa Mayor Marta Vincenzi, said: ''We won that battle, we're certainly not going to pull back from defending this Genoese material''. Vincenzi admitted that France also had a role to play in the history of jeans, as the material was originally known as cloth ''de Nimes'', or denim. But she said it was not important whether one town copied the other or whether similar materials were developed in both places around the same time. ''What is certain is that then, as now, the Mediterranean basin was an area of great creativity and that today there is no need to say denim,'' she said. ''When you say the word jeans - meaning the material from Genoa - it clear you are talking about the most famous blue cloth in the world''. The material was originally shaped into tough-wearing, baggy trousers for Genoese seafarers, both fishermen and members of the navy. These were designed to be rolled up to avoid getting wet while at sea and to be easily removable if the wearer fell overboard. Although the material is now blue by convention, the cloth used by sailors was originally brown. By the 1700s it was hugely popular with English traders, who shipped large quantities of it to the US, where Strauss chose it over a similar, more expensive version from Germany.

Strauss teamed up with a Latvian tailor, Jacob Davis, who came up with the idea of strengthening the denim trousers worn by local miners by adding copper rivets. The pair received their patent in 1873, taking a crucial step forward in bringing the Genoese material to the world.