Tucked away in an alley in Tokyo’s Aoyama neighborhood (a very fashionable part of town I might add) is the newish Levi’s Vintage Clothing store — one of the few places in the world that you can get all eight archival variations of the Levi’s 501 and a huge selection of the other normally reclusive LVC goods. This Levi’s Vintage Clothing store in Tokyo closely resembles the Cinch store I checked out in London this past spring, though the store in Japan is much much bigger. It has been a little more than a year since Maurizio Donadi was brought in to help reorganize the Levi’s premium business and these new LVC retail outposts are a clear reflection of Maurizio’s vision. Before Donadi was in the picture, LVC was sort of stuck in limbo between the Levi’s labyrinth of different offerings and retail stores. These days the collection is much more accessible (in terms of consumers being able to find the product), but the goods still carry a significant price tag. Though, I should say it is an understandable price structure given all that goes into the development and production (made in USA, etc) of the product.
Launching today — for all you denim loving patriots — at the Levi Strauss & Co. flagship store in San Francisco (Union Square) is the Levi’s Tailor Shop, a one-of-a-kind customization area with special goods and services. The LS&CO folks have outfitted the Tailor Shop with a chain stitch machine, an embroidery machine and a darning machine (for repairs or maybe just to get the repaired look). At the tailor shop you can also make your own buttons, choose vintage patches, screen print to fully customize your jeans.
Generally, I buy about two pairs of jeans a year and price is usually not an issue. I don’t have a problem spending up to $300+ per pair. I justify that sort of expenditure by the ridiculous measure of cost-per-wear. The way I figure, I’m going to wear these jeans at least 300 times. So I don’t mind spending $1 per wear on them. Denim is the workhorse of my wardrobe and accounts for 95% of my daily attire (pants). For the past 5 years I have mostly stuck to wearing jeans from Jean Shop, RRL, and previously, jeans from a french brand who’s name sounds like ABC (a company who will remain nameless on ACL from now until eternity). Spending that kind of money on jeans is just something I do and something I can justify and afford. It is certainly not for everyone.
Jeans and tee shirts. All that you need and nothing more. That seems to be the concept of the recently freshened-up Cinch store in London’s Soho. When you swing open the frosted glass door and step foot into the sparsely merchandised space you are enveloped into the world of Levi’s Vintage Clothing. The funny thing is, there isn’t much to “envelop” you at that store, which is why I liked it.
Coffee and denim, that is what consumed my recent Sunday afternoon in Amsterdam — not a bad way to spend a weekend. I’m in town for a quick trip and a few meetings, and one of the stores I absolutely had to check out was the denim-centric shop Tenue de Nîmes. It stocks a great mix of brands, classic jeans companies like Lee (which is actually Lee Europe which is head and shoulders better than Lee in the States), Iron Heart, LVC, Atelier Ladurance (among many more) and other good stuff like Nigel Cabourn, The Hill-Side, etc. I really enjoyed the shop’s product mix, between hardcore Japanese brands and more contemporary lines. I don’t think there is a store in NYC that is even doing it the way Tenue de Nîmes is. Maybe Blue in Green or Self Edge, but both of those are more Japan focused — not that that is bad, just different. Plus, neither of those stores can’t lay claim to such a nice collection of Buddy Lee dolls.
It doesn’t get better for me than Levi’s, and meeting with Lynn Downey the Levi Strauss & Co. archivist and historian was an interesting an informative glimpse into the history of one of America’s most iconic companies. The second half of our conversation is below.
ACL: What was the highest amount you have paid for a pair of Levi’s?
Lynn Downey: The most we have ever paid was $46,532 and that was for the “Nevada Jean” which is — it’s not a 501 — it’s like a carpenter jean from the 1880s. It has a pocket for a folding ruler on the left thigh. Somebody found them in Nevada somewhere, and because we lost everything in 1906 in the earthquake and fire in San Francisco we didn’t know the original name or lot number, so we just decided to call them the Nevada Jeans, because they were found in Nevada.