Evolving Denim and Exploring Iceland, We Talk to Levis Design Directors

© Levis® Made & Crafted®
© Levis® Made & Crafted®
Photo of India Doyle
4 December 2017

Working with a heritage brand such as Levis holds a nexus of challenges: how to stay relevant, how to innovate, how to inspire. For a brand that has existed since 1873, Levis is doing okay. That is to say, they’re checking the boxes and staying above the general furl. One such success story is their Made & Crafted initiative – a premium design that sits above their main line.

Denim heads are increasingly obsessed with detail and authenticity, so having a brand that plays into the desire for premium denim, sourcing luxury materials (cotton from Turkey, leathers from Italy and selvedge denim from Japan) and imbuing the pieces with a strong and clear narrative, is a smart move.

Led by Nick Rendic and Nicolle Arbour, Levis Made & Crafted designs draw inspiration from different locations across the world every season. While mainline Levis speaks to nostalgia, Made & Crafted focusses more on adventure – with the pair travelling across the globe season on season to bring unique stories into the heart of their designs. For AW17, this meant Iceland – and given how textured a landscape the country holds it’s surprising that the country isn’t tapped in this way more often. We caught up with Nicolle and Nick to get their guide to Iceland, and find out how such a wild and extreme landscape informed their precise new collection.

Culture Trip (CT): Tell us about Iceland. How did you decide this would be the best place for the latest campaign?

Nick Rendic (NR): We travel a lot to find inspiration for the new collection to explore the culture, food, meet locals and emerge ourselves in the country. For FW17 it started by celebrating the art of the everyday and its attitude and we were initially really excited by the idea of hygge. We love the idea of closeness and how what you wear is such an integral part of that. We’re big fans of Scandinavian aesthetic – Finland and Norway are capturing our attention right now and we have visited Sweden and Denmark before but we decided that Iceland was the most extreme place to influence not only the visual side of the line but also help us take our denim and make it cosy and a little more luxurious, like the mountain coat and the shearling trucker.

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CT: How did Iceland inform the aesthetic of the collection this season?

NR: By exploring Iceland and digging deeper into our inspiration, we got 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.

Nicolle Arbour (NA): We were charmed by Iceland, it really captured our imagination with its mystical and otherworldly essence that 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 that are reflected in the colors 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.

CT: What most surprised you about Iceland when you visited?

NR: We first visited Iceland in January 2016 and it was pitch black all the time, it was snowing and 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.

© Levis® Made & Crafted®

CT: In an internet age, do you still think this level of research is important for the brand?

NA: It is so important! San Francisco – which has been the hometown of Levi’s® since its creation in 1873 – is where we live and work, it’s a fantastic city and our design studio is in the company HQ too. But it’s important for designers to 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.

CT: What were your favourite spots to visit?

NA: The Blue Lagoon is wonderful! I’m a huge spa lover and appreciate that something so connected to the land and environment is a part of life here.

NR: The geyser is really something to see and experience firsthand as well as the waterfall Gullfoss – it really is one of those things that makes you put your life into perspective.

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CT: What are your favourite pieces from the collection, and what do you hope wearers will take from them?

NR: My favorite pieces are the Tack Slim Fit – it sits at the waist with a tapered leg for an exceptionally clean look, and the new Draft Taper, a modern cut with a mid-rise and cropped and tapered leg. On top, it’s all about artful construction and considered design details: the shawl collar Sherpa Trucker fuses nostalgic and modernity while the wool blend long overcoat in grey herringbone is masculine, refined and purposeful.

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NA: Using the art of layering, this is a collection that fuses contemporary silhouettes with luxurious design details for statement pieces that fit into her everyday life. My favorite pieces include the silk lounge dress. In pristine white it looks incredible when styled over a pair of black Spliced Sliver High Skinnies and our boxy trucker jacket with indigo Kimora embroidery.

© Levis® Made & Crafted®

CT: Denim has always been a fashion staple, what is it that makes the material so interesting to you?

NA: Levi’s® Made & Crafted is a collection with the soul of the Levi’s® brand: it’s firmly rooted in California and builds on the Levi’s® legacy. It is design-obsessed embodying artful construction and elevated details. With proprietary Indigo selvedge and sundries including a blue tab, distinctive back patch as well as a hidden arcuate which reveals itself as you wear in the denim, building upon the notion that denim gets better with age. The finest fabrication and craftsmanship is also sourced: Levi’s® Made & Crafted denim comes from Japan’s renowned Nisshinbo Mills, the Orta Mill in Turkey and Candiani in Italy.

© Levis® Made & Crafted®

NR: To me, designing denim is a total joy. 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. 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.

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