Artist Transforms Denim Into Wearable Works of Art Inspired by Grandma and Los Angeles

@denem.jeans spring has sprung with butterfly & floral jeans ! #fashion #jeans #streetwear #smallbusiness #art ♬ never be yours by kali uchis – Kali Uchis Fan Page ❦

Traditionally, art involves building something up, whether that's charcoal on paper or oil paint on canvas. However, Los Angeles-based artist and fashion designer Emily Starobrat magically creates wearable masterpieces through obliteration. Her brand Denem features hand-constructed artisanal denim elevated by drawings which are carved into the fabric with a rotary tool.

An artist since she was 5 years old, Starobrat fell into fashion through a stroke of luck. When the fine arts pre-college summer course she wanted to take was full, she signed up for fashion design. There she fell in love with working with textiles and headed to Parsons School of Design. Only a few years post-graduation and she has already created her own thriving business hand-crafting artisanal denim.

Deftly wielding a rotary tool as seemingly fluidly as a brush, Starobrat sands down dark jeans to reveal innovative patterns that are highly personal for the young artist.  “I take a lot of inspiration from my childhood,” Starobrat tells My Modern Met. “My grandma was very present growing up so a lot of the inspiration stems from things that remind me of her, things I'd find in her house, and things she'd carry around, such as tigers, florals, and embroidery patterns.”

She melds these motifs with pop-culture references from Los Angeles in the 2000s, the background of her childhood. “I also take inspiration from the culture of growing up in the early 2000s in LA,” she explains. “The drawing style of some pieces is also an ode to tattoos and Von Dutch and Ed Hardy style artwork.” As a result, her wearable art balances innovative techniques with nostalgia-tinged imagery to create exceptional slow fashion that is getting her noticed internationally and by celebrity clients alike.

Taking anywhere from a few days to a week, Starobrat transforms her design into hand-constructed jeans. Her drawings are immediately eye-catching, but she also subtly plays with proportion, making it clear that every aspect of the garment has been considered. For instance, her pieces that have been sanded into actually become bolder after washing.

While it's mesmerizing to watch videos of her carving into inky indigo denim pieces, she also uses fabric markers to add color and even works with undyed denim. Commendably she uses any scraps to create other pieces and only releases her work in small batches, limiting its impact on the environment. Starobrat has smartly included a series of tote bags and t-shirts featuring her drawings at a more attainable price point in order to reach a broader audience. Unsurprisingly, those sell out quickly.

To stay up to date with the latest pieces Starobrat is working on, you can follow Denem on Instagram and TikTok.

Artist and fashion designer Emily Starobrat uses denim as a canvas for her art.

@denem.jeans current work in progress ✧ ⊹ ꕤ #fashion #process #sewing #textile #custom #denim ♬ original sound – fashionluvr_

@denem.jeans puffy sample #denim #fashion #sewing #slowfashion #process #custom ♬ Gunna x Offset Fresh Out The Can – Unreleased

Her luxury streetwear brand called Denem features familiar icons from her grandmother's embroidery and 2000s Los Angeles.

@denem.jeans ✾ ❃ ✽ ✾ ❈ #jeans #denim #textile #fyp #fypシ #process #upcycling ♬ Collide (sped up) – Justine Skye

@denem.jeans floral + butterfly customs #denim #jeans #fyp #fypシ #textile #process #upcycling #custom ♬ Puppet – Zoomer Drift

@denem.jeans made some la kid inspired jeans ! ⛓️✧ ⊹ #jeans #textile #art #process #denim ♬ Surround Sound – JID

@denem.jeans jean process #fashion #denim #slowfashion #streetwear #custom ♬ summer walker x bk hell n back – BK

@denem.jeans ༺✧✧༻ #denim #jeans #fyp #fypシ #fashion #WomenOwnedBusiness #process #textile ♬ Just a Cloud Away – Pharrell Williams

Pieces from the unique fashion line include anything from a denim jacket to a pair of jeans to even a pair of denim boots.

@denem.jeans puffer pre order closing monday ! #fashion #denim #jeans #streetwear #cars #custom ♬ Gunna x Offset Fresh Out The Can – Unreleased

@denem.jeans jeans work in progress #denim #jeans #fyp #fypシ #custom #process #textile ♬ Snooze – SZA

@denem.jeans denem shoes ✰ #shoes #fashion #denim #smallbusiness #fyp #fypシ ♬ breakin my heart – renny

Starobrat's innovative denim art is an evolution of her painting background.

@denem.jeans how it started ➷♡ how it’s going #fashion #design #artist #fypシ ♬ original sound – J.CABB

Only a few years out of Parsons School of Design, she has already created a business of her own.

Two models wearing Emily Starobrat's Denem Jeans

Photo: Bella Valentini

 A close up shot of Emily Starobrat's artwork on artisanal denim and tote bag

Photo: Bella Valentini

Denem: Website | Instagram | TikTok

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Emily Starobrat.

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Elizabeth Beiser

Elizabeth Beiser is a Contributing Writer and Project Coordinator at My Modern Met. She has a background in American Cultural History with a special focus on Modern art and democratic community building. She received her B.A. in history, with a minor in Studio Arts, and her M.A. in history from the University of Rochester. She has worked on multiple political campaigns, as well as in non-profit operations and direct service. When she’s not writing, she’s experimenting with all varieties of arts and crafts. She also enjoys spending time with four-legged friends and exploring her hometown of Boston.
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