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.
More than an other category, denim inspires people to dizzying madness. Take for instance the North Carolina based Raleigh Denim; the husband and wife team behind the brand — Sarah and Victor Lytvinenko — who over the past year have quietly built a loyal following among denim lovers and retailers like Barneys and Steven Alan. I first learned about Raleigh a few months back when my buddy from Cone sent me a list of new brands for The American List that are using the mill’s denim. I was intrigued, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when Victor and Sarah stopped by my office to give me a guided tour of the product that I was really convinced. There are a lot of denim brands in this world and I found it amazing that all of the design, development, pattern making, sourcing and even the construction is done by hand by Victor, Sarah and a small staff from their workshop down south. The folks at Raleigh pride themselves on the fact that 98% of what goes into the company’s jeans are from North Carolina. In fact, Victor even seeks out the original machines that are used in the production, traveling around the North Carolina and Tennessee border looking for old factories and needle towns. And he is into it. Victor’s eyes would light up when talking about an old chain stitch machine or another vintage mechanical acquisition. It was like a kid talking about his baseball card collection.
Not too long ago — in an effort to insult yours truly — someone accused ACL of becoming “The History Channel’s” blog. The commenter was attempting to offend, but the remark accomplished only the opposite. I can think of a lot of worse things this site could be. History is the basis for everything that is ACL. With that said, when the opportunity arose to spend the afternoon with Lynn Downey the Levi Strauss & Co. archivist and historian, I could imagine of no better way to enjoy a summer day.
ACL: It seems like you have a pretty amazing Job, how does this come about, how do you end up becoming the archivist for Levi’s?
Lynn Downey: Sheer amazing luck. I heard that the company was hiring an archivist for the first time in 1989, and my bachelors degree is in History and my masters degree is in Library and Information Science, but I specialized in archival administration and I applied for the job and I got it in December of ’89.
Safe to say that the end of last year was probably not the ideal time to introduce a premium denim collection, but for the guys behind Tellason — a new San Francisco based men’s denim collection — it was “economy be damned” as they set forward on their mission to make their mark on a wardrobe staple, quality jeans.
Established in 2008 and shipping its first product in 2009, Tellason has already gained a loyal following among some of the best specialty shops in America. The strong stocklist makes sense when you consider the specifics. The first limited run of jeans (some 240 pairs; priced at $198) and made of Cone selvage denim from North Carolina with a leather patch from Portland’s Tanner Goods and all sewn in San Francisco with a strong attention to detail and make. Tellason’s Tony Patella took a few minutes to sit down and chat about the new collection.
It doesn’t get better for me than the Levi’s Vintage Clothing collection. The garments are produced to exact historical specifications, almost becoming new dead stock jeans. If you live in Europe or Japan it has been easier to get your hands on a pair of Levi’s LVC than if you live in the States. Well friends, times they are a changin’. LS & CO recently formed a specific group (called “XX” meaning “extra strong”) to consolidate the company’s premium businesses. This new division will be headed up by the well respected Maurizio Donadi, who is a veteran of both Diesel and RRL. Safe to say XX is in good hands. Along with the new focus on the premium market, you will see that LVC is going to have a more consistent presence in the land of the free, which is how it should be.