The design director and David Hellqvist discuss what makes a garment ‘vintage’, how much of LVC is based on replicas and why we assume people didn’t wear loud colours in the 1930s
Fashion is often all about looking back in time; there are very few new garments left to invent and discover. Like the old explorers, previous generations of designers have already tried and tested most of the potential sartorial delights – and nowhere is that as true as with menswear, a gender division of fashion already restricted by many boundaries. American denim giants Levi’s, then, are lucky that so much about the brand is based on garments and wardrobe staples with a stellar history and a never-ending archive of classics to reproduce in updated versions. It’s not all about the past of course, and it would be unfair to say that Levi’s is only focused on yesterday, as opposed to tomorrow. But, especially when it comes to such a fabric as denim, the original way of producing – championed by Levi’s since its 19th century incarnation – is still miles ahead.
Having settled in San Francisco, Levis Strauss, a German immigrant, and Jacob Davis, a Latvian refugee, famously patented their denim trousers held together by rivets, making them durable and suitable as work wear, in 1873. Today, over 140 years later, the Levi’s denim garments aren’t just used by cowboys and construction workers, but everyday people living everyday lives. It’s the fabric that, arguably, best defines the post-modern and pop cultural society we live in today. Obviously, the denim torch was handed over from Strauss and Davis generations ago, and today – at least as far as the Levi’s Vintage Clothing and Made & Crafted lines are concerned, the creative responsibility lies with design director Miles Johnson.
As a former costume designer, Johnson’s way to the Levis European HQ in Amsterdam was helped by the fact that his MA graduate show from Central Saint Martins focused on denim. Shortly after, Johnson was snapped up by Levi’s and he’s been heading up both the retro-focused Vintage collection and the more trend-led Made & Crafted line since 2003. Meeting in the Levi’s Vintage Clothing store, or Cinch as it’s also called, on Newburgh Street, just off Carnaby Street in London’s Soho, we’re surrounded by the current SS14 collection. “This vintage collection is based mostly on the 1939 World Fair, which took place in San Francisco – it was a big celebration of American culture and it was an amazing event that happened on an island built out in the bay,” Johnson explains. The design team looked at old images of people visiting the fair for inspiration: “The visitors dressed in that typical 1930s way, with beautifully slicked hair, tucked-in neat T-shirts, suspenders and high-waisted denim trousers,” he says.
But, in between printed Hawaii shirts and college sweatshirts, it’s the Levi’s slacks in strong primary colours that stand out from the current season. In green, yellow and red, the colours are not what we expect people to have worn in the 1930s. “Well, actually, funnily enough they did [wear those colours] – we’re so obsessed by black and white imagery because, of course, that’s all we have – but when you see the original garments we have in the archive from the 1920s, there’s neon T-shirts that came with matching berets… It’s easy to think everything was black, white and grey,” Johnson says, himself decked out in a mismatching cacophony of loud colours. But go back and put Levi’s in a geographical context and it all makes sense: “At that time Levi’s was still very much a California-based collection mostly for Californian people, so this would have stayed quite close to home. So in context I would imagine it was for people in leisure.” The trousers now available in store are an exact copy of the ones Levi’s produced in 1958, made out of cotton satin and with a tapered ankle-length fit. “The whole idea of it was a collaboration that we did with the Jell-O company – they came with a little box of jello with either lime, orange or lemon flavours.”
The Levi’s Vintage Clothing brand was founded in 1999, just a few years before Johnson joined. Since then, for 15 years and 30 collections, Johnson and his team has borrowed heavily from the Levi’s archives. “I’d say 85% is actual Levi’s archival reproduction and 15% is kind of a mix of general vintage and adaptations of Levi’s designs,” he says of the collections. Is there any risk of that creative well ever drying up, how much is there left to look at? “There’s still a lot we haven’t done yet. It’s strange with the archive, every time you go there – because, of course, we go there every season to start off our research – it’s like someone turns on a different set of lights because some of the things we’ve been looking at for many, many years and they’ve not just been right… until now. At the moment we’re looking for all these patterned Western shirts, and there are some incredible ones, but I wouldn’t have looked at them two years ago. Now I am.”
Johnson also looks after Made & Crafted and, as mentioned, it’s more modern and contemporary in its design approach. Whereas the Levi’s Vintage Clothing is about re-appropriating the old classics for today, Made & Crafted is less about replicating and more about inventing. But the two lines are connected: “It’s like two sides of a coin for me, that’s why it’s nice to work on both. You’re working on telling the history of the brand but also doing something for the future, so one thing informs the other. It’s nice to have learnt so much about the historical ways to construct garments, or to have observed the classic pieces, so that if we ever want to do a modern version for Made & Crafted, we can base it on that.”
Another aspect that Johnson has to take into consideration is what really constitutes ‘vintage’ and how you, from a timeline perspective, define the term. Johnson says there are unwritten rules within the company that a Levi’s Vintage Clothing garment can’t be based on anything later than 1983-85. “That was when the last original selvage fabric that we produced with Cone Mills was made,” he explains. When LVC was set up in 1999, Levi’s went back to the legendary North Carolina mill with the original logbooks and managed to get them to reproduce the exact same fabric. But the cut-off date makes sense in more ways than one: “We’ve got so much history that if we brought out a Levi’s Vintage collection that was just 1990s pieces I don’t think we’d have the same reaction if we do a collection which just celebrates pieces from the 1920s or 30s. I think people are much more interested in the really old stuff, because you just cant get that from another brand.”
There’s a wealth and breath of product from the 1920s leading up to the 70s that deserve to be celebrated, and Miles Johnson makes sure those celebrations are spread out each season. “Yes, it’s important that we have pieces from the 70s in there, as well as the 20s and the 50s – you cant just go for one decade in a collection, we have to make sure we mix it all together in a look that will appeal to someone today.”
On the back of yesterday’s leaked images, Nike and Parisian fashion and sports communityPigalle today launch their first capsule collection, hitting the shops on April 26. Consisting of two Air Force 1 trainers (a high and a low top) shorts, a top, a hat and a basketball, the collection builds on a decade long relationship between the sportswear giant and Pigalle’s creative director, Stéphane Ashpool, which saw them renovate and reopen a local Pigalle basketball court in 2009. “I’m the unofficial Mayor of Pigalle,” Ashpool says, “so the collection is a mixture of community, sports and fashion.”
The trainers come in a grey and brown color choice, both of them with a very distinct patina pattern. The aged leather look symbolizes the used and scuffed trainers worn by players on basketball courts: “We designed them with passing time in mind. With the many layers of colours, it’s an ongoing process—every pair will look different depending on how the you choose to wear them,” Ashpool says. But as satisfied as he is with the trainers, Ashpool is also very happy with the way the basketball turned out. “Im very proud of it, it’s black and white so it will look cool in the air when it’s spinning,” he says smiling.
In line with his take on the importance of a local community (his best friend lives above the Pigalle shop and his mom takes on the odd shift in the store), Ashpool and Nike have made sure that the trainers are affordable. We want them to be accessible for the community through reasonable prices—it’s a project for the community!”
Sitting somewhere in the twilight zone between high-tech sportswear and luxurious fashion, the Pigalle trainers feature a “thicker sole with extra layers and lunar insole cushioning for comfort and knee protection.” The trainers take their cue from Nike’s hardcore performance products fused with Pigalle’s lifestyle and community values. “Turn them over and you’ll see basketball coach details inscribed on the sole, it’s a reference to my love of basketball.”
Fashion can be a complicated business, especially when it comes to choosing creative partners. A successful collaboration requires all participants to bring something new to the table – creating a unique combination of knowledge and expertise, and therefore a unique product. Missoni, the Italian luxury brand which just celebrated its 60th anniversary, managed to achieve that not once, not twice, but thrice for their Spring/Summer 2014 collection. Predominately famous for her knitwear, and especially the zigzag pattern, Angela Missoni – the daughter of founders Ottavio and Rosita – has created a whole sartorial universe around the brand through a full collection shown during Milan menswear week. But Angela knows, in order to achieve niche perfection, she might occasionally have to ask for help. And for SS14, she drafted Jean Machine to produce the denim; Converse contributed with Jack Purcell trainers and Scottish raincoat specialists Hancock collaborated on the outerwear – all of them using characteristic Missoni knit details.
All three are unique, but the Hancock collaboration is noteworthy for featuring a fabric developed especially for this occasion. “We have introduced a special loom knit fabric that has been made with an exclusive rubber-coated yarn, and that’s featured in our special partnership with Hancock of Scotland,” Angela Missoni says of the pieces. The Hancock brand is only three years old, but the technique is ancient. Thomas Hancock invented and patented the vulcanisation process in 1843. “These hybrid articles are handmade using our rubber-bonded cloths and signature Missoni knits to create a garment with unique tactility and movement. Our SS14 outerwear collaboration features split-panel Missoni knit backs, hoods, sleeves and collar trims for a modern luxury aesthetic,” Hancock co-founder Gary Bott explains. None of the brands could have accomplished this without each other, and that’s the definition of a happy sartorial marriage.
Belstaff & The Greasy Hands Preachers
"Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul." As far as film slogans go, it’s both inspirational and enthralling. It makes you want to put on a sturdy leather jacket and hit the road on a vintage motorbike straight away. Watch filmmakers Clement Beauvais and Arthur de Kersauson’s feature-length bike documentary The Greasy Hands Preachers and you’ll just about feel the wind blowing in your hair while experiencing the unique sense of freedom that comes with bike riding.
It was that shared mentality – combined with the durability of their leather jackets and waxed cotton coats – that made British heritage brand Belstaff sign up as sponsors for the film. The French duo filmed bikers using 16mm film, wearing Belstaff and cruising dusty roads last summer, some of them travelling to Scotland’s Isle of Skye and others competing in the Bonneville race outside Salt Lake City in Utah. Back home in Britain, Belstaff – who started making waterproof jackets in1924 – also designs a specific Goodwood Revival capsule collection in honour of the motor event in West Sussex. Two wheels and a biker jacket make so much sense.
Film and fashion go hand in hand; after all, they’re both about characters with individual style. Cinema often influences designers, but it’s a two-way street. Film directors regularly commission fashion brands to help create imaginative and well-crafted clothes and accessories, and rarely have the collaborative forces been as creatively well matched as in Wes Anderson’s latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Madame D, the film’s leading lady, played by Tilda Swinton, has been kitted out with a specially Prada-designed luggage range comprising of 21 luxury artisanal suitcases. Channelling the extravagant decadence of the 1930s, Miuccia Prada based the line on vintage Prada bags from that era, featuring wooden frames wrapped in soft vachetta leather, peach-pink sateen cotton lining and antique brass details. Anderson and Prada recently collaborated on another project, Prada’s short film ‘Castello Cavalcanti’, and last year the Italian brand designed outfits for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, together with costume designer Catherine Martin. Prada, it appears, has as much silver screen appeal as catwalk charm.
When Timberland boots first appeared 40 years ago, you were most likely to see them on a building site. But now the yellow boots are enjoying a revival spearheaded by trendsetters such as Kanye West, Rihanna and Cara Delevingne.
The first Timberland factory is still standing in New Hampshire more than 60 years after Nathan Swartz founded the company. But it wasn’t just the New Hampshire workmen who popularised the style.
For Timberland and its seven-hole waterproof leather boot, it was the New York rappers of the 1990s who put it on the map. The likes of Wu- Tang Clan, Mobb Deep and DMX wore them on album covers and the streets of Brooklyn. Today, the baton has been passed on.
Timberland’s creative director, Chris Pawlus, says he’s well aware of the current fascination with everything 1990s. ‘Whether it’s hip hop, punk or ’90s culture in
general, it was just the right time for it to come back again,’ he says. ‘Timberland fits within that and, for us, it’s a beautiful compliment. There’s a strong sense of loyalty but also a wave of re-emergence as a new generation discovers the boot. But, interestingly, today’s customers are wearing the boot on their own terms.’
The company was originally called Abington, after the village where it was founded. Swartz’s son, Sidney, developed the yellow Timberland workwear boot in 1973 and, because of the waterproof boot’s popularity, Swartz adopted Timberland as the company name. Since then, trends have come and gone.
‘There’s talk about a seven-year cycle and that connects to generational change,’ Pawlus says. ‘Now it’s up to us to see how the company’s future can be shaped by this interest. There have been ebbs and flows in the past 40 years and there will be even more in the next 40 years as well – but that’s what makes it so exciting.’ But even though interest in Timberland boots – or any footwear, for that matter – fluctuates, there are some who never lost interest in the boot. Jeff Carvalho, co-founder of streetwear and fashion blogs Highsnobiety and Selectism, says: ‘My dad was a foreman at a construction company in Connecticut and Timberlands were his go-to boot. ‘Not only are they affordable but they’re also sturdy and last for years. For me, I was more attracted to them because of the strange colour, this uncommon yellow shade.’
For Carvalho, the boot has ageless qualities. ‘A generation of hip hoppers picked them up as a staple but, unlike many other boots and brands looking to revisit their heritage for a throwback hit, Timberland’s yellow boot isn’t a throwback – it never went away,’ he says. ‘It’s timeless.’
The appeal may not be universal but the boots are certainly universally recognisable. Marcus Ross, editor-in-chief of men’s magazine Jocks & Nerds, says: ‘I like the aesthetic of it. It just looks very good. I like that it’s simple, with no excessive detailing. It’s not over-designed. The colour is great and Timberland owns that colour now. You see people in fake Timberlands and you can tell because the yellow shade isn’t spot on.’
To understand the trends of tomorrow, look at what people wore yesterday – fashion fads are predictable. ‘Footwear has gone through a few phases of late,’ says Ross. ‘A while ago it was all trainers and sportswear, now there’s a reaction to that and that’s where the yellow boot fits in. It has a retro heritage feeling about it that fits with the workwear trend.’
'Whether in Brooklyn, Tokyo, Middle America or Europe, people have strong relationships with the boots,’ adds Pawlus. ‘They make them feel strong, tough and indestructible – it’s an emotional connection that empowers people, and it goes beyond gender and region. There’s a human element to the boot.’
As Hideto Suzuki’s cycling brand open up a pop-up store in London, brand manager Luca Bertoncello talks David Hellqvist through a few key garments
Black and white. Ying and Yang. Italian and Japanese. Cycling and lifestyle. Hideto Suzuki and Luca Bertoncello. PEdALED is a brand with two souls. Born out of the Japanese designer Hideto Suzuki’s desire to wear stylish but cycling-appropriated clothing, PEdALED has spent years trying to find the balance between technical sport details for life on the road and functional lifestyle products for those off-the-bike moments. But the brand is not suffering an identity crisis. PEdALED knows that, even the keenest cyclist, will spend more time off as opposed to on a bike. Therefore the clothes are more focused on details that reveal themselves at the pleasure of the wearer: zips that hide reflexes or extra material that will give more room for movement, extra large hoods that cover bicycle helmets or longer jacket sleeves that go all the way down to your hands, even when stretched out on a bike – small details that makes life as a cyclist easier.
Run by the Italian-owned Brooks brand, a saddle and bag manufacturer with a factory in Smethwick, PEdALED is the ultimate in sartorial cycle gear. It isn’t fashion, far from, as it’s the function of the garment that defines it. “For us the first focus is on the products. So, we are not trying to market ourselves in a specific segment of cycling,” says Luca Bertoncello, PEdALED’s Italian brand manager. “We love cycling in its pure form, so when we develop a product, of course we have a cyclist in mind but it’s not like we are just doing clothing for road cyclists or motorbike cyclists or commuters. We kind of approach the way we develop the product in a more spontaneous way, as we are cyclists as well.”
Like all the best performance brands, the PEdALED products are developed by the team themselves. “We cycle during the week as commuters and during the weekend we do road racing or we do play
bike polo, so each garment has its own specific attitude. That’s how we develop the styles; every design choice we make is really based around a purpose, it’s not just about the aesthetic reason,” says Bertoncello. But PEdALED’s dual purpose concept is organic and part of the brand DNA, according to Bertoncello: “There are hidden functions in some design elements and it takes in both the riding line and the living line. You can see similar styles that run through both collections; the style is the same, the comfort is the same but we use different fabrics or different solutions in some part of the garments for a different approach to how you use the garment. So we develop it in a more technical fabric or in a lighter fabric, for performance and a warmer material, or a more natural material, for a more casual use.” As PEdALED open up a pop up shop in London, next door to the Brooks store in Covent Garden, we asked Bertoncello to explain a few of these crossover items…
“This is a packable jacket made out of a water-resistant material, and it comes with a pouch which you put in your backpack or bag. When it starts to rain, or get windy, you can easily put it on, but it’s also smart enough to wear at a meeting. It’s a light-weight nylon and cotton blend, so it’s soft to touch, and at the same time it has the performance of a technical shell. The same style comes in linen for summer and wool for winter. For summer we chose linen because it’s the fastest natural material to dry. Also, linen is wrinkle free, so again it has the same features of the technical one, just in a more casual style.”
“This jacket won an award at Eurobike last year. It’s linen bonded together with a three layer membrane. It’s incredibly light, has a natural touch on the outside but a really technical skin on the inside to help you to survive heavy rain. The same jacket comes in 100% cotton that you can wax to make waterproof or keep it natural to gain a lighter jacket for lifestyle or casual riding. So, again, one is part of the more technical line and one is more for the casual line.”
“We developed this one with different wools and cotton fabrics – it’s our first award-winning jacket, which won the gold award in 2012. We have one that comes is brown checked wool, that looks really trendy, and then we go into a more plain wool with a heavier composition, so it’s more suited to really cold weather. Then we have twill yarn cotton, bonded with three layer membrane, which makes it lighter. We believe that once you find a nice cut, a good style, a good design, you don’t really need to change it. You can improve it, or change the function by using different fabrics. You don’t really need to design something new every time.”
“It’s a wind proof jacket which is simple and packable – it actually goes into your back pocket. When it’s windy you take it out, and there are two kinds of sizes you can choose from; one is the more fitted size so that when you’re riding it doesn’t really move in the wind but then when you jump off the bike, and you may want to look more casual, you can open it and close it on the second zip to give you more space. This way we can really use the jacket for the entire year because in winter time when you have more stuff under your coats, you can use it anyway because you can use the jacket’s larger size but it’s not too stretchy.”
Born Again line
“It really fits our philosophy to re-use garments in a different way. So this, for example, is made with Brooks L’eroica jersey that we re-used in a different way as a patchwork on the back, and so aesthetically it looks like a one-of-a-kind jacket, but at the same time the material helps you dry fast, it’s more stretchy on the back so when you bend over the bike, you feel more comfortable. We have other garments where we use military fabrics or textiles from military tents from the Czech Republic army for example. For the aviator jacket we used parachute material that provides a function as a wind proof jacket on the front.”
Photos by Iona Wolff