A new collaboration brings together the iconic American denim company Levi’s with Virgil Abloh, founder of Off-White—a brand with the mission to create elevated streetwear. For this impressive capsule collection, Abloh collaborated closely with Levi’s head of design, Jonathan Cheung, and the result is a little floral, a little ’90s-inspired and entirely covetable. We spoke with Cheung at LA’s Levi’s Haus about the project origins, working with Abloh and how ’80s graphic design from Manchester influenced the collection.
One of the catalysts for collaboration occurred last summer with a chance lunchroom interaction. During a quick meal at Levi’s innovation lab, Eureka in San Francisco, an intern walked over to speak with Cheung. “His name is Hector,” Cheung tells us. “He stands right in front of me and says, ‘You should work with this guy, Virgil.’” The next day the enterprising intern showed up in Cheung’s office with a giant document detailing Abloh’s biography and creative life—including his degree in civil engineering and masters in architecture. Soon after, Cheung—who had been following Abloh’s career through social media and his retail locations in Asia—reached out to invite him to Eureka to discuss a collaboration.
Right away, the project was off to a good start. “He felt like one of us. He is down-to-earth and curious. He’s really collaborative. And he loves wearing Levi’s,” Cheung says. For their first project, Levi’s sent Abloh vintage denim to customize for his Paris fashion show. Later they worked on a special custom project at Eureka, creating one-of-a-kind jeans in-house. The front of each pair were worn vintage, made-in-the-USA 501s from the 1990s, while the backs are modern Made & Crafted. “We put those together. That was pretty tough as well. The 100 pairs all got snapped up by ssense,” Cheung says.
He felt like one of us—he is down-to-earth and curious
Next they worked together at Eureka to make the prototypes for the current collaboration. This line of jeans and jackets reflects the duo’s take on classics, and have been subverted through proportion and cut. The collection features plenty of light blue denim, which has a certain retro vibe. “Virgil has this nostalgia for this color growing up,” says Cheung. “That’s his—close your eyes and… Madonna and Kurt Cobain. We were very keen to reproduce that, and it is fundamentally Levi’s. All of this is super-tough. It looks technically easy, but to get it to this color, you have to put it in the machine and you have to wash it for a few hours with stones. You have more challenges. You have things not shrinking at the same rate. It is kind of tricky.”
To achieve the look, they experimented with exaggerated proportions for the jackets and trench coat and the cuts of the jeans. Several of the 11 pieces feature large color-blocks of white and yellow. “Virgil is very influenced by art—in particular an artist called Peter Saville,” he says. Saville is best known for his cover art for Factory Records, which was at its peak in the late ’80s. (Most famously for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and New Order’s “Blue Monday” which required a three-step die-cut process that cost more money to make than to sell in stores.) Cheung continues, “It’s those bright colors. You can see the DNA between Peter Saville and Virgil. And where he draws his sources from.”
Abloh’s point of view and unique styling is evident in the collection’s details. The trench features striking raw hems, the faux fur looks natural and luxe, the color-blocked seams have precise and sharp edges. Some of the zippers are Abloh’s trademark; highly visible, exposed, and industrial-looking with a ring pull, while others are so invisible that it’s a challenge to see them on the garments. “Virgil can be very improvisational. He does not come in with a set design on paper. He comes with general directions and starts riffing on them and building on them. It’s been fascinating for me and my team to work with him,” says Cheung.
The Levi’s Made & Crafted + OFF-WHITE c/o Virgil Abloh collection is now available online, with prices starting at $691.
Images courtesy of Bibi Cornejo Borthwick