Interview – Tony Patella of Tellason

Tellason - Ladbroke Grove

There is some debate about its provenance, but most agree that denim originated in Nîmes, France. Originally known as “serge de Nîmes”, the material quickly spread around Europe and across the Atlantic due to its strength and durability. Debunked legend even tells that Columbus’s ships were equipped with denim sails. But regardless of how the material came to the states, it’s an irrefutable symbol of American heritage. Denim covered westward bound wagons during Manifest Destiny and outfitted laborers during the Gold Rush. Despite how we may feel about those histories today, denim was as tough, as durable, and as stubborn as the people who wore it into the wild unknown.

I’d say that no other denim brand lives up to this heritage as well as Tellason. Operating out of a single studio in San Francisco, the label handcrafts honest, understated jeans that are made to withstand the rigors of daily wear. Everything about their operation is carefully considered, from developing thoughtful fits to sourcing the proper materials. To do so, Tellason relies exclusively on American materials and labor. This includes domestically grown denim from Cone Mills‘ White Oak plant in Greensboro, NC and tooled leather patches from Oregon’s Tanner Goods.

Tellason - Ladbroke Grove

Tellason – Ladbroke Grove

Despite only a few years in business, Tellason has amassed quite the reputation for quality made jeans and a passion for proper craftsmanship. So I consider myself quite lucky for the opportunity to catch up with Tellason co-founder Tony Patella to discuss his label, their work, and the value of heritage:

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A Closer Look at Women’s Selvedge Denim

Despite the proliferation of quality denim brands around the world, there is little emphasis placed on producing women’s selvedge denim. From what I understand, there are three factors that preclude an almost inevitably frustrating search for the proper pair: availability, sizing, and price. However, though it takes some time, there are jeans out there which suit different body types and budgets.

But before diving in, it’s important to fully understand what selvedge denim is. Basically, selvedge is a term used to describe denim material made on old-style shuttle looms, which produce a clean and finished edge which will not unravel (see image below). Selvedge denim is notable for its strength and character, making it easy to recognize for an aficionado.

Samurai - Geisha Pink Selvedge Detail

Samurai – Geisha Pink Selvedge Detail

Another characteristic of selvedge denim is that it is often left “dry” or “raw.” This means that the fabric is untreated after dyeing, allowing fades to develop over time with everyday wear. A key point about dry denim is the fit. When washed, it can shrink up to 4%. But keep in mind that most denim is 100% cotton, so it also stretches to conform to your body type to certain degrees. The biggest mistake one can make when buying raw denim is to purchase a pair that fits perfectly out of the box. They should always be a bit snug to allow room for them to relax.

Raleigh Denim "Davie" Jean

Raleigh Denim “Davie” Jeans

So why aren’t all jeans available in raw denim from old style looms? The best answer is profit margin. In the mid-20th century, American denim companies ‘upgraded’ to more time and cost efficient methods of manufacturing and exported most of their shuttle looms to Japan. (Fun fact: Japan is now regarded as the world leader when it comes to producing quality denim…)

In any case, there are options available for women in search of selvedge. I’ve curated three pairs which stand out based on the differences in fit and features between them:

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