Levi’s: Made & Crafted

On the back of their Hygge-inspired AW17 collection, Levi’s Made & Crafted designer Nick Rendic spells out the brand’s design DNA and what Iceland has got to do with premium denim

There are instances when a brand becomes the product they make. They define the market in such a holistic way that the brand name is synonymous with one product, even though countless other manufactures sell the same thing. Levi’s, and their world-famous jeans, is a prime example: known and worn all over the world, the jeans have been around since late 19th century, long enough to hammer home a message that simply says: jeans equals Levi’s.

Ironically, such dominance is not without problems and challenges. How do you move on from there? How do you continue to develop and improve the product? When you are world No. 1 it’s easy to rest on your laurels. In the case of Levi’s, the answer – or at least part of the solution – was to push on and elevate the brand. Levi’s Made & Crafted, which originally launched in 2009, is a premium line of Levi’s jeans and apparel that caters to anyone who wants more than a great fit from their jeans.

Like any fashion brand, Made & Crafted and its seasonal collections are built on themes and concepts. Each season, together with the design directors, menswear expert Nick Rendic and womenswear designer Nicolle Arbour look to the world for inspiration. Quite literally. Travel is a big part of the brand as it resonates with the nomadic 21st century lifestyle of its customers. For AW17 the duo went to Iceland and investigated the Nordic Hygge phenomena. The result is a collection of Levi’s staples with added ‘statement pieces’, the type of garments you need in order to add personality to the basic denim foundation of any wardrobe. Here, Nick Rendic explains the reasoning behind the brand and the collection…

What defines Made & Crafted, and makes it different from other Levi’s lines?

Levi’s Made & Crafted acts as a modern expression of the Levi’s brand that stands out as an elevated member of the Levi’s family through styling, price point and placement. We also make our jeans using more elevated construction techniques while making sure the collection is still rooted in classic Levi’s styling.

What is the design process like?

We travel to trendsetting destinations that inspire us to experience firsthand not only the (sometimes extreme) elements but to explore the culture, try the food, meet locals and immerse ourselves in the country. By doing this, we get such a strong sense of the silhouettes we are planning to introduce for each season as well as the textures and fabrics we want to use and how products can be styled. For us, each season, it’s an incredibly humbling yet satisfying experience.

How much is Made & Crafted a denim line, and how much a lifestyle brand? You obviously carry jeans, but it’s not the focus?

This is a collection with the soul of the Levi’s brand: it’s firmly rooted in California and builds on the Levi’s legacy by designing tomorrow’s classics. It’s design-obsessed. Levi’s Made & Crafted embodies artful construction and elevated details and of course denim is always a focus. 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. For example, our denim comes from Japan’s renowned Kaihara and Nishinbo Mills and the Orta Mill in Turkey and Candiani in Italy.

What was the thinking behind the AW17 season?

It started by exploring 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, which is known as the land of ice and fire.

What does Hygge mean to you?

For me, Hygge is the art of building sanctuary and community to create well-being, connection & warmth. Hygge is about celebrating the everyday in total ease and enjoying the good life – comfort as a whole.

How was that worked into the clothing?

We were charmed by the attitude of Hygge and Iceland captured our imagination with its mystical and otherworldly essence, so we poured that 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 that 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.

 

 

Made & Crafted is seasonal, but would you describe it as fashion, or style?

It’s a mixture of style and heritage! We take what everybody knows and loves about the Levi’s brand and celebrate it in an updated way. We utilise a heightened level of craftsmanship and mix it with more progressive silhouettes and premium fabrications. Artful construction, elevated details rooted in California. This is the mission of Levi’s Made & Crafted.

What item best sums up the season?

I wouldn’t go for just one item but a complete look to sum up this season’s collection: Our tack slim jean is my favourite. It’s such a great-fitting pair of jeans that 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 nostalgia and modernity.

Levi’s Made & Crafted A/W collection is available now

The World of José Parlá

Opening the doors to his studio, the Cuban-American artist discusses identity, underground culture and art as politics

José wears long sleeve tee and tack slim selvedge rigid denim Levi’s® Made & Crafted™

Artists’ studios are always personal spaces. Hidden in plain sight in warehouse lofts or behind pull-down steel grates, they don’t reflect their residents’ personalities and practices until you get inside and see what’s on the walls.

The studio of the Cuban-American artist José Parlá is no different. A single-storey industrial building in the southerly Gowanus neighbourhood of Brooklyn that’s surrounded by mechanics and manufacturers, the facade is completely nondescript. But once you’re in the door, everything changes.

Parlá, who bought the building in 2014, works in the centre of the space, a wide sky-lit arena hung with the artist’s vibrant, gestural paintings in progress, which recall urban walls as much as art historical reference points like Cy Twombly and Ed Ruscha. The paintings have been shown in galleries and museums from New York to Tokyo; a mural of Parlá’s can now be seen in the new One World Trade Center.

Above the studio arena off to one side of the space is what Parlá calls the ‘nest’: a lofted aerie that holds an office with a wide desk; a circle of sleek chairs; a couch for meetings; and a DJ setup currently spinning Marley Marl, an artefact of the energetic New York culture that first brought the artist to the city. Records spill on to the floor: Celia Cruz, the Last Poets, the Warning. ‘In terms of the quality of rhythm in my work, a lot of it is informed by music,’ Parlá tells me.

Below the ‘nest’ is a neat box composed of a library, bathroom, and full kitchen. Light is plentiful, even on a dull day, and the walls and fixtures are painted a warm industrial grey. Altogether, the studio forms a perfect machine for art, life and anything in between.

‘I don’t live here, but I pretty much feel like I do,’ the artist says (his apartment is in nearby Fort Greene). In his paint-spattered black jacket and jeans, Parlá looks as comfortable as he would holding court at home.

The studio’s design was the result of a collaboration with Snøhetta, the buzzed-about Norwegian architecture firm responsible for such structures as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s recent iceberg-like expansion, and the Oslo Opera House, which won the 2009 Mies van der Rohe award.

Parlá met the firm’s co-founder, Craig Dykers, at a Pecha Kucha slide-presentation event in 2010. The two appreciated each other’s talks and Dykers invited the artist to his office to see if they might collaborate. The first result of the partnership was a piece installed at North Carolina State University’s Hunt Library. The intention is to team up for spaces like a public library in Queens and the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. But Parlá’s studio is the biggest collaboration so far.

‘When I bought the property, I was having a beer with Craig and he started drawing right away,’ the artist says. The space’s openness, both in terms of scale and the presence of other cultural forms, is perfect for Parlá’s practice, which draws on influences as diverse as graffiti and the French situationists.  

Joaquin, Parlá’s studio assistant, brings two Cuban coffees, the kind that you can only get outside of Miami if you know someone who can make it for you. He serves them in espresso cups emblazoned with Cuban flags. ‘As a kid we weren’t allowed to go to Cuba,’ the artist says.  ‘I was born in Miami and grew up in Puerto Rico, so I understand the culture from the perspective of being a Latin American and of being from Cuban parents.’ The country itself was still off limits, however.

After President Obama opened Cuba to United States citizens in 2014, change came in earnest. The country’s cultural landscape is changing, too. Parlá is now becoming a public creative force in the homeland he didn’t know until later in life. He participated in the 2012 Havanna Biennial in a collaboration with his friend, the French photo-based street artist, JR. Parlá had just returned from Havana to work on new projects two weeks prior to our meeting.

During this gradual transformation, the Cuban identity has persisted. ‘Cuba’s still Cuba culturally,’ Parlá says. Not everything has changed, certainly not like the overhaul Brooklyn has seen since the artist moved here decades ago. ‘You see one or two hotels refurbished, some young people opening up their own restaurants. It’s not at the scale you see in the first world.’

However, Cuba is not the easiest political environment for artists. ‘There’s still a lot of tension. It depends on how far you take your message with the art, how much you can get away with,’ Parlá says. Making art there is an opportunity, however, ‘to go back and have a dialogue with my soul country.’

In 1980s Miami, Parlá was exposed to the nascent movement of street art and graffiti that was growing in New York and Philadelphia. Friends and family passing between the two cities would bring back photos and art books. He started painting walls when he was 10 years old, learning from older writers on the scene. ‘It was really important to be original,’ Parlá says. ‘We used to say, this guy “bit” somebody; somebody’s a “biter”. That was a big no-no, to copy somebody. If you didn’t have a respectful attitude, you might get beat up.’

José wears crewneck sweatshirt and chino pants Levi’s® Made & Crafted™

Parlá followed the trail of hip-hop and wall-painting to the Bronx in 1995, then moved to an empty loft in downtown Brooklyn in 1997, all the while writing under the name Ease. The energy had shifted downtown with DIY exhibitions. The scene, as Parlá describes it, became an international export. ‘I started out showing in galleries and doing bigger projects in Japan, Hong Kong and London,’ he says. ‘There was an appreciation for New York underground culture there. Here, the museums weren’t really trying to look at what we were all doing.’

Parlá doesn’t appreciate the label of “street art”. To him, the work is all part of an art historical continuum. The abstract expressionists were urban artists, after all, responding to the street. Parlá is as likely to reference artists like Joan Mitchell or Antoni Tàpies, as the graffiti legend Kase 2. As for the Banksy-style boom, ‘We got grouped in with artists who were painting a bunny rabbit hopping over a dragon. That was not the same,’ he says.

Today, the artist shows in estimable galleries like those of Mary Boone and Bryce Wolkowitz – the latter being the New York gallerist who walks into the studio during my visit to check on work for upcoming art fairs. Exhibitions are coming up in Italy and London, as well as a project at the University of Texas, Austin. Parlá is entrenched in the art world, reinforcing a now well-established path from graffiti to museums, just as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and KAWS have before him.

Yet Parlá is still focused on reaching a wider audience, particularly through his murals and other “public art”. ‘You’re having a connection with the public that’s different, than with someone who’s searching for art,’ he says. ‘They might discover that they really love art.’ One can easily imagine the next generation of painters arriving in New York inspired by Parlá’s work, just as the city once drew him in.

For its SS17 collection, Levi’s® Made & Crafted® has channelled the rich colour palette and flamboyance of Havana, with guaybera shirts, tropical prints and camouflage details all harking back to the nation’s enduring revolutionary spirit.

See more from Levi’s® Made & Crafted® here.

Photography by Mark Mahaney
Styling by Yety Akinola

Craft Works – Ollie Dabbous

Port and Levi’s® Made & Crafted™ meet Michelin-starred chef Ollie Dabbous to discover how he’s using simple techniques and unearthing unique British ingredients to shape the future of the food industry

Ollie wears Wool cashmere lined Type II Pile Trucker, Heavyweight 8oz cotton T-shirt, Italian selvedge chino pant in After Thought Levi’s® Made & Crafted™ – photo by Pani Paul
Ollie wears Wool cashmere lined Type II Pile Trucker, Heavyweight 8oz cotton T-shirt, Italian selvedge chino pant in After Thought Levi’s® Made & Crafted™ – photo by Pani Paul

In a technology-obsessed age, where over-designed furniture and deconstructed food dishes snapped from above can command more online coverage and ‘likes’ on social media channels, how do modern-day creatives resist the lure to overcomplicate things, while still continuing to develop? To answer this, we meet Michelin-starred chef Ollie Dabbous, who is styled in Levi’s® Made & Crafted™. Like Dabbous, Levi’s® Made & Crafted™ – the contemporary, sophisticated collection within Levi’s® – is creating tomorrow’s classics by building on a successful reputation for quality product, using meticulously sourced materials (like Italian hand-waxed leathers and proprietary selvedge denim) and state-of-the-art production techniques. Here, we sit down with the ‘chef’s chef’ and delve into his approaches to innovation.

Pea and mint – photo by Pani Paul
Pea and mint – photo by Pani Paul

When Ollie Dabbous first opened his eponymous London restaurant in 2012, he couldn’t have predicted just how successful his first few years in business would be, given that he was relatively unknown (despite having trained under Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir), in a crowded sector. Following gushing reviews from some of the UK’s leading critics, such as AA Gill, the bookings wouldn’t stop coming. But what made it all the more surprising is that he built such a rapid following with restrained, British cooking that refused to latch itself on to any food trends of the time. “It’s harder to be good than original. Anyone can be original; it’s easy to be original,” Dabbous tells me confidently, before explaining why he feels there’s more skill in making a classic lemon tart from scratch than placing the deconstructed elements on a plate. Sure, the latter may make for a better photo, but it’s unlikely to taste as good as the original. “I think nowadays people don’t really want food that’s ‘chefy’ and technique driven. I think they want something a bit more natural, a bit more seemingly effortless,” he adds. “Yes it’s nice to be wowed, but equally I think people just want a tasty plate of food rather than a showcase of the chef’s skills.”Earning a Michelin star just eight months after opening only strengthened his resolve, and in the years that followed, he has injected more and more British produce into his restaurant’s lunch, dinner and tasting menus.

Dabbous Restaurant – photo by Joakim Blockstrom
Dabbous Restaurant – photo by Joakim Blockstrom

“I’m happy to say we work more with British farmers and butchers ; you get a more tailored service,” he says. And the treatment of the ingredients after sourcing is, of course, just as important to Dabbous. “The more you process food, the more you can actually detract from it. If you get an amazing organic sand-grown carrot, and the flavour’s phenomenal, or an amazing rib of beef – just put it on the barbeque. You don’t need all this refining.” It appears to be a proven formula, given the accolades he’s received. But winning the plaudits of gastronomes and critics alike must bring with it a pressure to constantly develop new dishes, techniques and toy with the ‘new’. Not so, according to Dabbous. “A lot of young chefs are guilty of thinking they can kind of reinvent the wheel, but I think the role of the chef is to take great produce and make it better,” he says. “Sometimes you don’t have to do a lot to it. Sometimes, to make it as good as it can be, it might mean that you’re actually doing something quite classic.” And that’s because, ultimately great taste endures over great presentation.

Wild strawberry tartlet with camomile & rose petals – photo by Joakim Blockstrom
Wild strawberry tartlet with camomile & rose petals – photo by Joakim Blockstrom

“You remember great steak, great fish and chips, a great lasagna,” Dabbous continues. “None of these things are aesthetically pleasing or photogenic, it’s all kind of basic, but they’re things that give pleasure. And that’s a thing that people come back to – it’s why basic food, done well, will always going to exist.”

This self-assuredness and insistence on championing simple British produce is likely why Dabbous has become the ‘chefs’ chef’. But more than that, he seems to have a deep understanding of what really drives customers through his doors, week in, week out. “Whether now, whether in 20 years’ time, value for money is always going to be important to customers [as well as] friendliness and good service,” he says. “With food, yes everyone has different opinions on things, but there’s something quite brutally honest about flavour – something is either delicious or it isn’t.” Simple, really. 

Ollie wears Crewneck Jumper, Levi’s® Made & Crafted™
Ollie wears Crewneck Jumper, Levi’s® Made & Crafted™

Styling Scott Stephenson, Alex Petsetakis
Photography assistant Liberto Filo
Grooming Davide Barbieri at Carenusing Bumble and bumble

Levi’s® Made & Crafted™

This story appears in PORT issue 19, out now.