Today it's most famous as the distinctive blue shade of denim. Yet indigo dye has had a profound impact on clothing throughout recent history, especially when it comes to the uniforms of the British Royal Navy.
With the Submerged Collection drawing inspiration from the Allied navies of the Second World War, it's fitting that we incorporate the production techniques that made the Royal Navy uniform so distinctive.
Indigo became the dominant colour of the Royal Navy as Britain’s hold of India gave it access to large quantities of the dye. By the beginning of the 19th century Royal Navy crews wore either full white or blue garments, providing a degree of uniformity for the first time. But the blue was not only a popular choice because of the availability of indigo, but also because of the unique qualities of the dye itself.
Indigo is a unique dye due to its molecular characteristics. The dye does not form a chemical bond to fabric during the dyeing process, meaning that it does not penetrate to the core of the yarn. Instead, indigo dye builds in layers during application, a process that makes the colour far less susceptible to fading in direct sunlight. However, unlike other natural dyes indigo is also insoluble, making its colour much more resistant to bad weather and sea water than other dyes. These two factors made it a must-have for a hard-wearing naval uniform.
The trade-off is that indigo dye will fade under physical contact and friction, which means that a the indigo dye may rub off of the garment and onto lighter coloured fabric and upholstery. Over time this wear will gradually create the stressed, lived-in look that denim jeans are famous for.
So why continue to use indigo dye? All dyes fade over time, but with indigo it is an actual characteristic of the product. Indigo wears dynamically, reflecting the life of the wearer through the way that it wears. This is why it's frequently referred to as 'living colour'.
R/E do not use indigo just for the initial vibrancy of the colour, or for the way that it fades over time. Indigo dyeing is an authentic, original process with its roots in our military history, and it ties our garments ever closer to the naval uniforms that have inspired us.
That it happens to look so good is just another fortunate side-effect.