At the crossroads between truths and falsehoods, denim is a legendary fabric. Both historians and aficionados have their own versions of the story. There is however an indisputable fact: Nîmes is the city where the legend began.
It is in the heart of the old town and its sun-drenched streets, in the shade of the courtyard of a town house, that one can uncover the scattered clues of its glorious past. Here, on the iron bannister, a coat of arms was ripped out during the city’s dark ages. On this coat of arms there were two letters: J.A. The initials of a prominent 17th century businessman from Nîmes, Joseph André, who brought fame to the city by establishing trading posts all over the world. The Andrés, who were a prominent protestant family in Nîmes, built their fortune in the silk industry and the commercialisation of the Serge de Nîmes, the famous “de Nîmes” – or denim.
This renowned fabric, made in the region with wool and silk since the 16th century, was used to make fustians and casaquins for locals. The wool came from sheep rearing and the silk from the magnaneries, or silk farms, in the Cévennes mountains. Silk and wool were later replaced by cotton, which was less expensive, imported from Africa and Asia.
Following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685 (a decree which protected the protestants in the region) the André family had to go in to exile. It’s in Genoa that they found refuge, at one of the many trading posts.
As well as this emblematic family from Nîmes, many other French protestants left the country for Italy, but also America, England, the United Provinces, etc… exporting the de Nîmes fabric with them.
Later, a famous American trader, along with his tailor associate, got hold of the fabric (which they found more comfortable than the tarpaulin sheets they were using), attached rivets onto the trousers and adapted them to suit American workmen.