Levi’s® Made & Crafted™ collides the old with the new, exposing the brand’s rich history to the current zeitgeist to bring the brand into the now. Meanwhile, Virgil Abloh’s OFF-WHITE specializes in fusing subculture with art, creating new forms of fashion.
Together, the two have created a forward-looking take on Levi’s classics that’s both nostalgic and contemporary. Past, meets present, meets future: as far as collaborations go, it doesn’t get much better than that.
»The term ‘streetwear’ for me is a genre of art and design that revolves around principles of irony, DIY and pop-culture. Levi’s is a perfect premise to play with all those concepts.«
»Levi’s Made & Crafted has a little more room to play on the fashion side of things. I like to think of it as the Levi’s take on luxury. Think luxury with a small ‘L’.«
Read the interview with Jonathan Cheung(JC)—Levi’s Head of Design—and Virgil Abloh(VA)—designer of OFF-WHITE—to know what went into this truly contemporary collaboration. Scroll down to read more.
What endears you to a brand like Levi’s as a whole—the history, its role in subculture, both? Something different?
I could wax lyrical for hours about what I love about Levi’s, but let’s start with these:
A) Its connection with culture. There are so many special moments in history where something culturally significant has happened and Levi’s has been the clothing of choice. Anything from the beginnings of rock & roll, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Steve Jobs pulling 1000 songs out of his 501’s. Anyone can make jeans, but nothing and no clothing brand has so many important cultural moments.
B) The Design. Specifically, the 501. It’s the ultimate design icon. It’s been worn and tested by more people than any other piece of clothing on earth, and its DNA can be seen in every pair of jeans. It’s the one piece of truly great design that anyone with an interest in design can, and should, own.
Very much both. I love the premise of our generation of designers having the freedom of advancing historic brands. Levi’s is at the epicenter of the history of the denim jean. It doesn’t get any more iconic than that.
In your opinion, what makes Levi’s Made & Crafted different than the classic Levi’s brand?
It has a little more room to play on the fashion side of things. I like to think of it as the Levi’s take on luxury. Think luxury with a small ‘L’. For example, take a pair of Levi’s Made & Crafted jeans and turn them inside out. You’ll see how beautifully clean the construction is compared to other premium jeans. As my old kung-fu teacher said, “the way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” That’s our approach with Made & Crafted.
Levi’s Made & Crafted has an eye towards the future without resting its laurels on the past. The team working on Made & Crafted is very smart and insightful.
How did this collaboration come about?
That’s an interesting story. In July 2015, an intern came up to me while I was having a quick lunch in our canteen. He told me that we must work with this guy—Virgil Abloh. I’d been noticing OFF-WHITE for a while, but it was that intern who prompted us to get in touch. As it turned out, Virgil had been looking to work with Levi’s as well, so it all fell into place naturally. We sent him a bunch of handpicked vintage Levi’s for his show last October, and then started working to create something from scratch shortly after that.
It came about pretty organically, Meetings and emails make the world go round.
Explain the unique design process. As two men who are constantly on the move for a variety of reasons—especially for work—how did both parties collaborate?
[Laughs] I don’t know how he does it. Virgil has this zen-like capacity to multi-task. I think he’s working in a parallel space-time universe. Virgil’s been a regular visitor and comes in for a couple of days at Eureka at a time. He’ll send us ideas in advance, which we’ll kick back and forth with him. He’s hands-on. As we all travel a lot, much of the communication is done by text.
I love the process with Levi’s, design sessions are in person, and efficient. Almost everything we release comes within 48 hours work sessions inspired rather than limited by parameters. Working within their Eureka Lab makes the process possible because almost everything can be made on site.
Levi’s products always maintain quality, even down to the smallest details. Speaking on an up-close level, what specifically do you love about Levi’s—including small embellishments, fits, or details?
Yeah, we’re a stickler for quality. Even our more experimental stuff—like the OFF-WHITE collaboration—is very well built. I’m really nerdy about details. For example, did you know that about 1 in 10 tabs don’t have Levi’s written on them? They just have a ® symbol. When I buy my own Levi’s, I often look for the circle “R” tabs. The Levi’s Made & Crafted x OFF-WHITE jeans have a very special tab too. It’s double sided. One side has Levi’s written on it, the other side has the OFF-WHITE stripes. You won’t know unless you flip the tab over. I love secret stuff like that.
The evolution of the fits, the rivets, the buttons, the fact that no two pairs of jeans are alike all contribute to the mystique of a perfect pair of jeans.
Jeans are synonymous with nearly every subculture, as unique as each may be. As subcultures unify and become “pop culture” the work of OFF-WHITE reflects that fusion of multiple influences. How did you bring that mentality to this collaboration?
Multiple influences is definitely a way to describe the collaboration. I think that creativity starts with open mindedness and then the courage to challenge and change existing paradigms. I’d describe our collaboration like that too. Right from the beginning, Virgil insisted on calling it co-creation. He’s very open-minded, and will solicit ideas from anyone around him, but then he’ll make something that bears his personality. Maybe it’s his DJ background. He’s a remixer. He learns super quick too. He’s one of the most talented designers I’ve ever worked with.
I myself ask who would wear this, and try to create a style that this person would wear.
What are the influences and time periods referenced in this collaborations?
Virgil and I spoke about a particular time period—his youth. When he was just getting into skateboarding and fashion. We talked about the starting point—the denim and what came to mind when you closed your eyes and thought of Levi’s. For Virgil it was this particular denim shade—late 80’s – 90’s, Kurt Cobain era. That’s the base.
For me it’s a very 90’s grunge thing revisited, but looking at that period of time in an artisanal way.
Sometimes people have dismissed OFF-WHITE and the label’s aesthetic in the catch-all term of streetwear. Considering how a pair of Levi’s are staple with casual and streetwear roots of their own, How does this collaboration take streetwear staples and meet it in the middle with OFF-WHITE’s high fashion perspective—all without being too fashion-y?
I think it’s the OFF-WHITE fashion perspective that makes this collaboration interesting. There’s a friction between the fashion elements—the exaggerated proportions, the color blocking—and the familiar simplicity of Levi’s. That’s what makes it work. If it were just strange proportions and color blocking without the ‘realness’ of Levi’s as a base then it wouldn’t be as interesting.
The term “streetwear” for me is a genre of art and design that revolves around principles of irony, DIY and pop-culture. Levi’s is a perfect premise to play with all those concepts. Denim inherently has a reality to it, regardless of fashion. It’s pure workwear.