Levi's Is Taking You Back To 1999
Charli XCX and Troye Sivan recently sang that they wanted to go back to 1999 and, well, now they can (sort of) thanks to Levi's. The masterminds behind the denim brand has jumped back into its archive once again to bring back an old favourite, the Engineered jean.
Back in 1999 Levi's Engineered Jeans line was seen as progressive and revolutionary. The twisted fit was like nothing seen before, especially the 501 and 502 iterations. They were favoured by everyone from Britpop lovers to R&B fans.
Now, the design team at Levi's is pushing the boundaries of denim even further by reintroducing the line 20 years on. This time around the jeans (which include the 502 Regular Taper and 512 Slim Taper Fit for men) are being produced using 3-D knit technology and four-way stretch fabrication.
We spoke to Levi’s global head of design, Jonathan Cheung, about the reintroduction of the line and the future of Levi's.
What made you want to bring back Engineered Jeans?
Jonathan Cheung: It's actually the 20th anniversary so I think within the company there was buzz for it. When we meet Levi’s fans and super denim-head fans, there’s always been a demand for Engineered Jeans. We have had designs on the table for a bit, but felt it was a good way to celebrate 20 years.
Are they the jeans that people ask for the most?
JC: I don’t know if they are the most, but people do ask a lot. That's within and outside of the company. They seem to have a special cultural place in everybody’s hearts.
Why do you think the twisted silhouette is relevant today?
JC: I think it’s just a test. We will see if it is still relevant today. I do think it is nice, because it is a little bit different. The way the stuff is designed is very contemporary and they look like they will fit into sneaker-head culture pretty seamlessly. We have different silhouettes – there’s a much more baggy taper fit, like a 570, and then there’s more skinny shapes.
How are you keeping at the top of the denim game?
JC: I do think there has been a Levi’s resurgence. It’s got a much broader appeal. When you look back five years ago, Levi’s was fundamentally an older man’s jean company, but now you see our clothes on teenagers, teachers and truckers – you name it. So I think that’s a reflection of Levi’s being relevant. I think for us its vital to think of ourselves as being engaged with culture. I think that’s where Levi’s resurgence and success has been, because we have become more culturally relevant in the last few years. A lot of that has been to do with working with young people. The younger generation is the future. They are the early warning signals of culture and they will be the future culture. A lot of our collaboration work with Off-White and Supreme helps us stay in touch.
Are there going to be more collaborations?
JC: Yes, there is no end. Lots more is coming. The Supreme collab is constant. Supreme and Junya Watanabe are our oldest collaborators and then we had a very successful one with Nike Jordan late last year.
How has the 3-D knit changed your design process?
JC: The technology has been around for ten years and it was about ten years ago that I started to experiment with it. I was trying to make a jacket in one go and it was partially successful. The technology was young and it had a high fail rate. It would take ages and then for every four attempts you would have to throw away one, so it wasn’t commercially viable.
Now we are at a point where we can do it and I would say it is one of the avenues which could be the future of jeans. It adds a different type of feel that embraces this giant athleisure trend and then there’s the sustainability factor – you just knit what you use, there are no off-cut scraps from the work bench. We are exploring a future "knit on demand" model. One day, hopefully, you will be able to walk into a store and get a knitted pair of Levi’s there and then.
What does the future of denim look like?
JC: The interesting thing about the future is that it is volatile and very hard to predict. I think the best preparation for change is to be super open-minded and to run a lot of experiments, so that you are able to react to both positive and negative opportunities. I think one challenge would be the technology behind denim regarding the stretch, the softness and comfort.
The most important one is to stay culturally connected, because if you don’t then you run the risk of becoming irrelevant as a designer. Fashion is just an expression of people’s values and expectations. What people expect of a coffee shop is not what they expected ten years ago. The values of equality, sustainability and gender neutrality are the expectations of this generation that is coming into play now and so those are the values that Levi’s absolutely must reflect upon.
Since you joined Levi’s what has been the biggest change that you have noticed?
JC: When I joined Levi’s I remember getting briefed on where Levi’s was at at that time and it was really famous for being the original jean, but really its appeal was for older guys and it was not considered fashionable or innovative, appealing to youth or women. I think all of those things have dramatically changed.
How do you keep Levi’s relevant to today while still keeping in touch with its heritage?
JC: Authenticity is important. It’s important for brands to have a clear and consistent identity. The word "icon" is thrown around pretty loosely, but I think the Levi's 501 is the most significant piece of clothing design in human history. So I think building that as your backbone of your collection as well as engaging with culture is how you make those piece relevant for today. Working with Off-White, Vetements or Supreme helps keep that connection to today's generation and you see so many musicians, artists sports stars wearing Levi’s.
Who, to you, is the Levi’s customer?
JC: Oh, my goodness. It’s really broad and I am glad I have to think about that question, because I think it is nice there is not a single muse. I honestly don’t have one.
Virgil Abloh is in part one expression of Levi’s. He has always loved Levi’s and he wrote about Levi’s in "Vocabulary According To Virgil Abloh" for his debut Louis Vuitton show.
He grew up with Levi’s and he wears our Trucker Jackets and jeans all the time, despite the fact he is creative director of his own stuff. He has a genuine authentic relationship with Levi's. He epitomises a broad appeal. He appeals to everyone from young Chinese sneaker-heads to high-end Vogue fashion editors. For me, that positioning is where Levi’s is and where we would like it to continue to be.