Denim 101

By Jeff Sanico

Photographs by Eric Sueyoshi

Buying a pair of jeans today is an arduous task. Unless you’re a diehard consumer of one particular brand and style, you might end up a frustrated mess in some isolated dressing room, drowning in a pool of designer boot-cut, hip-slung 12-ouncers. David Lim, who owns the high-end denim label Kasil (pronounced “castle”), is figuring out how to stay afloat in this ocean of durable cotton. He shouldn’t have a problem, though. Lim was born into this.

Lim, 35, is the son of Richard Lim, owner of High Society Custom Tailoring in Los Angeles. For the past 30 years, the elder Lim has been a tailor to the stars, custom-making suits for the likes of Tom Cruise, Matt Damon and Keanu Reeves, as well as designing dapper duds for movies like “Ocean’s Eleven.” Following in Dad’s footsteps, Lim’s line is also a favorite with celebrities. “Brad Pitt really loves our jeans, and so does Jennifer Aniston,” Lim says of his famous clientele. “So maybe our jeans can reunite them.”

The soft-spoken clothier comes off more artsy outsider than ruthless denim CEO. With a background in fine arts and painting, Lim never had aspirations of being involved in fashion. “It’s funny,” he says, sitting inside the huge loft of Kasil headquarters, just north of Los Angeles’ historic Chinatown district, “my original interest in denim wasn’t really the pants. I was more interested in using it as a canvas that I could paint on.”

Having dabbled in the movie industry as an assistant costume designer and illustrator after attending the Academy of Arts in San Francisco, Lim found himself bored and uninspired. “I realized I didn’t like that industry very much,” he says. “At that point I had nothing else to do.” After some experimental painting on scraps of denim he found in his dad’s store, Lim “slowly started to love the fabric and wanted to understand more about it.” He crafted his first dungarees shortly after that.

“I was sort of just playing around, trying to have fun and do whatever. I took some old jeans of mine and figured out how to make them. My dad has a pattern maker and sample sewers in the back and [I] just started from there.”

With his new interest, Lim acquired a job in brand development for a start-up denim line. At first focusing on the aesthetics, Lim eventually came up with the name and concept for the company. He ended up being offered a chance to invest money and become an owner. After witnessing Lim’s dedication and drive, his parents were willing to help him make the investment. Then tensions arose among the shareholders.

“They actually wanted to make [our product] lower-end and I was more geared towards the higher-end,” Lim says of the dispute. “[I was] lucky enough that they said, ‘Go ahead and take it.’ I took the name, the pattern and sample makers, and left.”

After developing the label out of his own home, Lim introduced Kasil for the first time at the Magic trade show in Las Vegas in 2002. He quickly became hooked on the instant gratification of filled-out sales orders. “I fell in love with the excitement of going to a show,” he says. “It’s taking all your hard work and displaying it for people to either love or hate.

“What’s even a better feeling is not when people order it, it’s when they re-order it. That means that consumers are actually buying it.”

With a list of Kasil retailers a mile long, there’s no doubt that people are buying it. The question is, what makes these jeans so special? According to Lim, the majority of denim brands out there boast of the best fit, finish and fabric. “Here, we don’t follow the three F’s,” he says. Instead Lim goes by the double D’s — details and design.

“I really look at detail. For me, it’s everything,” he says with certainty. “I’m a minimalist. I’m not into grabbing all the attention with fancy embroidery and jewels and gems flashing everywhere. I’m more about balance. I like to create clean lines and keep it simple and timeless.”

Starting at around 200 bucks a pair, timeless is a good thing. Especially when designer jean labels seem to endlessly pop up in the “denim capital of the world,” as Lim calls it.

“There’s so many brands coming out of L.A.,” he says. “The funny thing is that the majority of the people actually making these jeans are all Korean — 60 to 70 percent of the brands that are out there. It’s insane how many Koreans are out there making jeans.”

The garment industry isn’t all love, though. “There’s a lot of people in the Korean community that don’t help each other out,” says Lim, who envisions a united stance of Koreans working together to eliminate their stereotype of offering bootleg products and shoddy workmanship. “We’re really the ones who are making these premium jeans in Los Angeles. We could actually put our names out there and produce high-end product.”

Until then, the young denim guru relies heavily on his own close-knit staff. “It’s a very young, small company and it’s growing very fast,” says Lucy Melton, 25, Lim’s prized assistant designer who admits to wearing Kasil jeans six and a half days a week. She and Lim go shopping once a month to check out the scene. “When it comes to premium jeans, you have to know your competition. It’s a matter of being familiar with the market, not necessarily a matter of studying another brand’s jeans,” Melton explains. “At home I have one drawer for Kasil denim and one drawer for competing denim. I don’t mix my denim.”

In the future, Lim plans on expanding Kasil into a lifestyle brand by constantly evolving the identity of its main ingredient. “It makes sense for me to start making other things [out of denim], like nice tailored jackets because of my dad’s background. It’s just an easy transition,” says Lim. For now, it’s all about the jeans and Lim’s passion for designing them. “Everybody in the United States wears jeans,” he says excitedly. “Everybody wears jeans everywhere. It’s something that will never die.”