John Denver was best known for his music, his lyrics and his activist worldview, but as a superstar of the 1970s, he was also famous for his sense of fashion — a mix of down-home Western, country chic and a bit of the psychedelic ’70s style that could probably be described as “Rocky Mountain high.” And now Rockmount Ranch Wear, the 69-year-old Denver Western-wear maker, is designing a special collection of four to six shirts — in conjunction with the singer’s official estate — to celebrate the former Aspen resident’s music and cultural legacy.
Denver, born John Deutschendorf, died in 1997, but he lived in Colorado most of his adult life and had a slew of well-known hits, including “Country Roads,” “Annie’s Song” and “Rocky Mountain High.” The last song became one of two official state ballads in 2007, after the Colorado Legislature approved the move.
“John Denver’s people brought us a lot of archival things to work from, both actual shirts and photos,” says Rockmount owner Steve Weil. Denver wore a number of Western-style shirts in denim, floral print and with embroidery, and “we vetted them for the ones we felt would have real meaning today,” Weil adds.
The first shirt is in production now and will be available this summer, but Rockmount and John Denver Estate Management are leaving it up to fans of both the store and the singer to pick the next one via an online survey. “We’ve never done that before, and it got a pretty strong response,” says Weil. “In fact, a lot of people wrote not just to vote, but to talk to us. John Denver is a Colorado guy and we are Colorado guys, and this is the kind of thing that makes it fun to come in to work.”
Rockmount has outfitted dozens and dozens of music and movie stars over the decades, from Robert Redford to Robert Plant, from Jack Palance to Jack Black. But the store has also created commemorative shirts for a variety of big names, including Elvis, the Grateful Dead, Hall & Oates and Eric Clapton. “The way it typically happens is that they approach us, and we love hearing from them,” says Weil, whose grandfather founded Rockmount in Denver in 1946 and is often credited with commercializing the diamond snap the brand is still known for. “They like working with us because we don’t exploit it. We treat them with care and respect.”
While the “fashion business is notorious for knocking off” brands and designs, Weil says, he promises he won’t do that. The archival patterns that Rockmount is working from aren’t in current production or were made by companies that are no longer in business, he adds.
And speaking of brands, Weil believes it’s important for older ones — like Rockmount and like John Denver — to keep themselves in the public eye in order to stay relevant. “If you don’t nurture them, they go away. An example of that is Roy Rogers. How many people under forty have heard of him?” Weil asks. “It’s a classic example of a brand that dropped below the radar, and it’s very sad.”
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