We always ask our friends, “What do you pair with your denim?” For metal and glass artist Malu Byrne, born and raised in New York, it’s denim plus memories: ticket stubs, silver dust, ripped knees—all signs of well-loved denim that remind her of where she’s been. The history of that equation, as told by Malu…
The women I most admire are my mother and her friends. They have this wild confidence that’s been my compass, and this remarkable band of “godmothers” shares an aesthetic link: their silvery hair. I’ve always seen that as powerful, and it motivated me to dye my hair. Of course, the knowledge and wisdom they have comes from age and experience, so even with my new hair, I was still me: a baby face with a shock of silver on top. I quickly tired of the maintenance and went back to my dark brown roots, but I think that speaks to my approach to clothing and style as well: Don’t try to speed up time. Instead, enjoy the journey. And with clothing, you get to see the process unfold.
That’s why jeans are my staple. With denim, you can actually watch the indigo fade and feel the cotton soften over time. It’s best when it’s worn in. I like to think it carries your experiences with you. I’m an artist and wear jeans when I work, so they’re a dead giveaway to the medium I’m currently using. Right now, I’m working on a collection of jewelry, so everything I own is covered in silver dust. I really avoid overwashing my jeans, so there’s always something in my pockets, like notes or ticket stubs or fortune cookie fortunes. I started leaving them there on purpose, so I can find them later.
In that way, clothing can become like a time capsule. I’m lucky to have clothing from three generations: mine, my mother’s and my grandmother’s. Wearing a top or a pair of jeans they’ve passed down to me becomes a shared moment—it’s not just about what I felt like wearing that day. It’s awesome when my grandmother recognizes my clothes as something she wore at my age, or when I find photos of my mom, grandmother and me, all wearing the same thing, rocking it in different decades. I definitely feel a duty to honor those pieces of clothing and care for them so they last.
On the flip side, I love the freshness of new clothes too—something all my own—because I enjoy taking something from brand-new to loved and really worn. I love the process of discovering a new piece of clothing and wearing it until it falls apart. I find something that works and wear it as a uniform. Right now, that’s a really simple T-shirt or button-down with a pair of cotton high-rise jeans with a vintage vibe. My clothes have to serve the purpose of the day and take me from the studio to a bike ride to walks upstate when I escape the city. I’ll eventually move somewhere that’s surrounded on all four sides by nature instead of buildings, but I think my style—versatile and lived-in—will work just as well there. And knowing how much I love truly lived-in jeans, there will probably still be a little silver and city slick to remind me of where I’ve been.
Read other Denim Plus equations here.
Photography by Kate Owen.