In Conversation: Levi's Made & Crafted

In Conversation: Levi's Made & Crafted

When it comes to denim, the brand that instantly comes to mind is Levi’s. Grounded in a Californian sensibility, the household name has dominated the denim industry for decades with its quintessential indigo pieces. But the lesser known Levi’s Made & Crafted deserves more attention. An elevated offshoot of the mainline Levi’s, LMC is a specialist, modern expression of the infamous brand, making premium quality, selvedge focussed denim and a curated selection of accompanying ready-to-wear, crucially only stocked in selected independent boutiques.

On the launch of the latest Levi’s Made & Crafted collection, we managed to talk to the brand’s San Francisco based Design Directors, Nick Rendic and Nicolle Arbour. Covering what working for the brand means to them, the research trip to Iceland that informed this season’s direction and what makes the LMC line stand out, we caught up with them both to learn some more about Made & Crafted.

Above The Highline Trousers in Caviar shot for the AW17 campaign

Can we start with the basics? How would you describe Levi’s Made & Crafted to a newcomer to the brand?

NA: This is a collection with the soul of the Levi’s brand: it’s firmly rooted in California and builds on the brand’s legacy by designing tomorrow’s classics. It’s design-obsessed.

NR: Levi’s Made & Crafted embodies artful construction and elevated details: we have our own proprietary Indigo selvedge and our own sundries – a blue tab, distinctive back patch as well as a hidden arcuate which reveals itself as you wear in the denim: it builds upon the notion that denim gets better with age. We also use the finest construction techniques and materials are sourced, for example our denim comes from Japan’s renowned Nisshinbo Mills and the Orta Mill in Turkey and Candiani in Italy.

How does the Levi's Made & Crafted line differ from the main collection?

NA: The line acts as a modern expression of the brand that stands out as an elevated member of the Levi’s portfolio through styling, price point and placement. We also make our jeans using more elevated construction techniques than Red Tab while making sure the collection is still rooted in classic Levi’s styling. 

Above Levi's Made & Crafted Design Directors, Nick Rendic and Nicolle Arbour

Can you tell us more about why you both choose to work for the brand and what designing denim means to you personally?

NA: I’m drawn to Levi’s because of it’s genuine rich history and values as a company. It’s important to me to spend my time creatively contributing to something I believe in and Levi’s has been a perfect place to do this. It’s incredibly rare to design for a brand that invented such an iconic style and as a designer, it’s a dream to be empowered to push that icon forward. To me, designing denim is a labor of love. I find unique inspiration in the many personalities I can convey through indigo as well as the personality each individual can bring to it themselves.

NR: Levi’s has been dedicated to doing the right thing on social issues and making change since its very beginning. At this point in my career, its imperative to me to be a part of a company that values its workers and understands the importance of giving back to the communities that we operate in. Levi’s dedication to social justice and worker’s rights is the deciding factor for me to continue my career there. Creatively, denim is the ultimate fabric to work with. Its nuance and ability to age and capture the spirit of its wearer in so many unique ways keeps working with it fresh and exciting. It is truly an honor to be working for the original jeans brand on a collection like Made & Crafted.

Above Vast landscape shots taken whilst researching the latest collection in Iceland

The latest collection for FW17 is here; what was the inspiration behind this season?

NR: It started by celebrating the art of the everyday and its attitude: Hygge, a Nordic term evoking a sense of total ease and community rooted in coziness. Exploring this further, the collection sought inspiration in Iceland. With its contrasting natural landscapes it is known as the land of ice and fire.

We travelled to Iceland to experience firsthand not only the – sometimes extreme - elements but to explore the culture, try the food, meet locals (human and animal!) and emerge ourselves in the country.

NA: By doing this, we got a such a strong sense of the new fits and silhouettes we wanted to introduce, of the textures and fabrics we wanted to use and how products can be worn by layering them to showoff the finer details and stay warm at the same time.

How did that directly translate in the designs for the collection?

NA: We were charmed by the attitude of Hygge with Iceland capturing our imagination with its mystical and otherworldly essence which we poured into the collection. From mossy hills and steaming springs to volcanic terrain and soft, snowy glaciers, these are some of Iceland’s awe-inspiring extreme elements which are reflected in the colours and textures of the collection. Icy blues and crisp blacks set the tone for a beautiful range of denim with heavyweight fabrications for an authentic feel and wool blends add texture. In tops, cotton cashmere knits and fleece exemplify premium quality and luxury fabrication. Further Nordic details come from organic indigo dyed embroidery that mimics the snow flowers of Iceland.

Above The LMC team exploring the varied landscape in Iceland

A few years back I travelled around Iceland for a month and found it was so much more than it is typically known for. What is the importance for you as designers to travel for inspiration?

NR: It is so important! While we’re based in San Francisco – which has been the hometown of Levi’s since its creation in 1873, and our design studio is in the company HQ too - we seek seasonal inspiration by traveling around the world to connect with cultures and trends, experiencing vastly different landscapes, foods, music and needs which are brought to life in each collection. For us, each season, it’s an incredibly humbling experience.

What are the technical considerations for this collection?

NA: We first visited Iceland in January 2016 and it was pitch-black all the time, it was snowing, it was sleeting sideways. This influenced not only the visual side of the line but also helped us think through each piece and how it needs to work with the elements.

NR: This collection was really fun as it allowed us to look at using natural shearling to make things warm and brought in a functional perspective not necessarily through technology but with natural yarns and natural cashmere sweaters. We’ve also used wool-infused denims to add natural performance. Just because something is performance doesn’t mean that it has to be synthetic. And we’re finding out as we do research for the collections, lots of times, the universe already kind of gave you a lot of what you need. You know, wool is antimicrobial, water-repellant and completely natural. And the shearling is the same thing, like, that is one of the warmest things you can possibly put next to your body.

Above The Shawl Collar Trucker Jacket, now in store in a charcoal 'Kimora'

Can you tell us more about the key Made & Crafted pieces for this season?

NR: I think I’d probably have to say our tack slim jean is my favourite. It’s such a great-fitting pair of jeans which sits at the waist with a tapered leg for an exceptionally clean look. On top, our cotton cashmere T-shirts – I never want to take them off, they’re so good – and the shawl collar Sherpa Trucker fuses nostalgic and modernity while the wool blend long overcoat in grey herringbone is masculine, refined and purposeful.

How do you continue to modernize a brand with such historical underpinnings?

NA: We take what everybody knows and loves about the Levi’s brand and celebrate it in an updated way with a heightened level of craftsmanship and mixes it with more progressive silhouettes and more premium fabrications.

As a global company, what is important for you in the future? What do you think the future of the denim industry look like?

NR: If you think of the Levi’s business as a whole, we’ve been crafting, innovating and making jeans since 1873 – it all started with the 501, a simple blue jean that has gone on to inspire countless variations and essentially changed the way the world dressed. People change, culture changes. It’s important for all companies to make sure that they stay in touch with modern times. Made & Crafted is a modern expression of the Levi’s brand but our core values and purpose is the same and our products reflect this but with a more contemporary lens on the design aesthetic.

Words by Rebecca Field. Shop our pick of the Levi's Made & Crafted new season collection online now.

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