At first glance, Sydney-sider Mikhail Zenon seems like any other 26-year-old. Only he has vintage sewing machines on his balcony. In fact, they’re in four rooms of his house and have now, through necessity, spilled out on to the balcony.
Why? Mikhail is an unashamed denim enthusiast and tinkerer. Six years ago, he became fascinated with denim and has since worked tirelessly to better understand jean construction.
“It became an obsession trying to learn how to manufacture,” he says.
“I would start getting jeans and deconstructing them and trying to learn about each stitch. The interesting part was how each industrial sewing machine has its own single stitch.
I started looking into machines and where I could get them. I ended up having to drive out countless times to the country where a little old lady who used to work in a factory had a sewing machine I could buy.”
And so little by little, Mikhail collected over 30 industrial sewing machines, some dating back to the 1800s.
Today, Mikhail uses these rare, space-invading machines to meticulously repair end-of-life jeans and provide high-quality alterations.
“I just thought Sydney needed it,” he explains.
“It almost seemed sacrilege to denim owners in Sydney not to have a place to take their jeans and have them properly taken care of. They get thrown away or they get messed up or butchered by people don’t understand how to work with denim.”
Mikhail, on other hand, is a veritable denim whisperer and jean doctor. Not only has he studied design at FBI Fashion College, he has literally every machine for every stitch needed in jean construction.
“I’m all about the details,” he says.
“I can get quite anal with altering. If it were up to me I wish no one would alter their clothes. I don’t like to alter original construction so I always try to provide something that is close to the original.”
But he can be flexible with client requests. As well as “invisible” alterations, he also creates aesthetic finishes and practical additions like pockets for tools.
Each task is different just as each jean story is different.
“Once you start wearing in your jeans, it starts showcasing your life,” he explains.
“You might skate so you might have specific wear patterns. It always correlates to how you wear your jeans.
“You can tell if someone has something very specific on their jeans, what they might use the jeans for, what they do for a living.”
Since launching in 2008, Mikhail has seen a lot of stories, many of them Levi’s.
“Levi’s is the grandfather of denim,” he says.
“I deal mostly with the Levi’s vintage clothing line. I think that line requires a certain level of workmanship.”
Mikhail is more than up to the task. His clients come from around Australia and New Zealand to seek help from the denim mending sage.
Lacking a commercial space however, Mikhail does most of his business in person or by mail, a situation that can lead to some funny scenarios.
“I’d like to start taking picture of clients in the weird places I meet them.
“When it comes down to it these people have never met me, they’ve read something online or they’ve been recommended to me by a stranger. They’re potentially giving their jeans to a stranger they’ve just met on the side of the street.“
Fortunately, clients have no need to fear – their denim is in safe and capable hands. Mikhail approaches his work with the dedication of an artist.
“There’s nothing better than seeing that bloody perfect stitch and knowing you’ve kept something alive, an old art form alive.”