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Best-kept denim secret? The hottest brands are Canadian

In the breathless style of fashion publicity, a typical press release might read, "Cameron Diaz spotted wearing her Fidelity jeans on Melrose!"

Except that Fidelity isn't your average denim brand. While it's true that Diaz wears them (so do Megan Fox, Rachel Weisz and Rihanna), the bigger story for style-watchers is that the brand is one in a handful of the hottest denim labels right now – and all of them are Canadian.

There are varying degrees of Canadian- ness, of course. The hang tag of Vancouver-based Fidelity Denim reads, "Designed in Canada, made in the USA," while Naked & Famous, the three-year-old Montreal upstart helmed by 28-year-old Brandon Svarc, cuts its jeans out of Japanese selvedge denim but manufactures them in Montreal. Meanwhile, veteran labels Silver and Parasuco run their businesses out of Winnipeg and Montreal, respectively, and produce their garments offshore. Regardless, they're all Canadian-founded, and Canadian-based, success stories.

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Joel Carman, owner of the Toronto jean destination Over the Rainbow, describes Fidelity as a brand that has, since its launch in 2005, successfully carved out a presence in a crowded field. Nordstrom launched the line two months ago, and according to Fidelity founder Jason Trotzuk, the retailer had an unprecedented 40-per-cent sellthrough within the first two weeks (6 or 7 per cent is considered respectable).

"Canada has trained and equipped us to be a viable brand," Trotzuk says by phone from Vancouver, "and now we can play on a major level." Still, he expresses ambivalence about how he positions Fidelity. While proud to be Canadian, he says, "Do I start off saying 'Canadian brand'? No."

Another homegrown brand with buzz is the Quintessential Series launched last year by Eric Dickstein, who runs the store cum "denim library" Dutil, with locations in Vancouver and Toronto. His jeans cost $300 or thereabout and, like Fidelity's, are assembled in L.A.

"If a brand is going to gain credibility, it shouldn't be about where it's from," Dickstein says from Vancouver. "Being Canadian is just a side note."

There was a time when Montreal and Winnipeg were hotbeds of denim manufacturing. But the industry was hit hard by free trade and cheaper foreign labour. Salvatore Parasuco, founder of the super-trendy, 36-year-old Montreal-based Parasuco brand, says that for his first two decades in business, nearly everything was produced on Canadian soil. Today, he concedes that domestic manufacturing has all but died out.

"I have a sample room in Montreal, but I have to send the jeans to China to be washed," says Parasuco, whose denim runs in the $100 range.

"My design team is in Montreal, Hong Kong and Italy, and through the Internet, we make it work." He's all too familiar with the "You're Canadian?"

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reaction. "I let the product do the talking," he says from Montreal.

Michael Silver's namesake label is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year (although the original company started making jeans in 1921). As recently as eight years ago, Silver had 1,200 sewing machines operating in Winnipeg, where the company is based.

The challenge is maintaining a heritage spirit now that the jeans (priced in the $100 neighbourhood) are produced offshore. As Silver sees it, the product's Canadianness is more about how it's crafted than where it's made or how it's marketed.

But Svarc of Naked & Famous is out to prove that high-end denim can be made in Canada and affordably priced.

Born into a family of garmentos who made uniforms and workwear, he has parlayed access to the family factory into a denim brand with legs. Naked & Famous is now available to "denimheads" in tastemaking stores around the world, from Barneys New York to Printemps in Paris.

The men's styles – arguably more tongue-in-chic than the women's – include glow-in-the-dark denim and a new selvedge herringbone in addition to linen and cashmere blends; prices ring in at about $200.

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"I think Americans like that [we're] made in Canada because they still see it as North American. But it also helps us be different; so many brands are in New York and L.A. We call ourselves the crazy Canadian denim nerds."

Trotzuk, meanwhile, feels bolstered by the reality that demand for denim never fades. "I might have one pair of jeans in our repertoire for two years and we just make and cut it all day long," he says.

And while it may be a touch idealistic to suggest that the Canadian denim industry reflects our openness to diversity, Dickstein of Dutil notes that jeans connect us in a way that other apparel cannot. "Denim crosses every socioeconomic line. Everyone owns a pair of jeans. Think about another commodity that's that powerful."

Incidentally, Svarc, who prefers to think of his brand as "anti-celebrity," is now fielding requests from star stylists.

"We don't give away [our product] for free," he says defiantly. "The real trick is to make stuff cool enough that everyone wants to buy it."

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