by Michela Guasco
Collectible DRY met Jonathan Cheung, Design Vice President of Levi’s and one of the world’s biggest denim experts and aficionados, in Paris during the Fall Winter 2016 presentation of Levi’s Made & Crafted, the brand’s premium collection. He doesn’t really look like a VP in black t-shirt, norm core hightop sneakers and, of course, black 501’s. British from Grantham, after graduating from Kingston School of Fashion, he has worked with Franco Moschino and Giorgio Armani just to name a few. He didn’t tell us his age but, doing a little bit of math, we can say that he looks pretty good.
We asked him a few questions, about jeans of course.
DRY: I guess you have many pairs of jeans, do you know how many?
J.C. I am sure I had over fifty before I started working for Levi’s and then I stopped counting, now it is different because I buy them for research and I need to test drive the ones we design.
Now and then I go through my collection and reluctantly give some to charity stores mostly because I think they deserve a better life than the one I am giving them. But I wish I had kept all the vintage selvedge 501s that I wore in the 80s.
DRY: Please tell us about your oldest and favorites.
J.C. I bought many many pair of vintage jeans for research and reference, but the oldest ones that I own and I actually wear is a pair from the late 60s but I bought them vintage, so it doesn’t really count.
The oldest pair that I bought new is a pair of Levi’s 501, that I consider “The Jeans” , the ultimate classic, from the nineties. I bought them in NY while I was living in Italy working as a fashion designer there (he has worked with Moschino and Giorgio Armani). They were the most basic 501s ever, no selvedge, no indigo, just an honest pair of jeans that I have worn for about ten years. Then I packed them away when I moved to England and totally forgot about them, they were somewhere in a box. In 2001 my then girlfriend and now wife got pregnant and they became her pants for both pregnancies. After the babies where born we packed them away and forgot about them, again. When we moved to San Francisco we fond them in a box. They still fit! I had them tapered , to give them a more modern fit, here at Levi’s and I asked my kids to draw something and I had the drawings embroidered on the pockets. They came a full circle and I am sure that one of my kids will wear them eventually. They are emotionally my most precious pair of jeans and at the same time the cheapest I’ve ever bought, 20 dollars! So my oldest and my favorite are the same pair.
DRY: What is the extreme luxury in the denim ?
J.C. Made & Crafted is our premium line that allows us to spend more time, money and care on each garment to make it special. We use the best Japanese or Italian denim, we work n our “staple” pieces like the trucker jacket or the 501’s trying to make them more modern and more pleasant to wear. We call it “Sensory luxury”.
But the most extreme luxury would be Lot 1, our made to order service. It’s available only in 3 shops in the world: San Francisco, New York and London. They take your measurements, and you can choose, cut, fabric (we have some cashmere blend too), rivets, stitches …everything is bespoke. Elisabeth Radcliffe, our London cutter has been trained by and has worked with Edward Sexton, the legendary Saville Row tailor that has made suits for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and that trained Stella McCartney. She will take your measurements, cut and stitch your bespoke Levi’s. One person does everything. Cut, quality and details are absolutely impeccable. It takes from five to six weeks and costs 500 pounds. I have a pair and I absolutely love them
DRY: Now that gender isn’t an issue anymore, is age the last taboo in fashion?
J.C. It’s our duty as fashion people not to make it an issue. I don’t believe in age demographics. And I believe that this blur of taste, aggregation or consolidation is very interesting. I’ve read in consumer studies that grandparents and they grandchildren share a great part of the same playlist on their iPods. My kids love Harry Potter so do I and my parents. it has more to do with taste, we build tribes around what we like more than around our birth certificate. and that will break down gender and age stereotypes. 50 if the new 30.
DRY: If one day you’d end up working in a corporate environment where they don’t allow jeans, what would do you wear?
J.C. it’s very difficult to see myself wearing something else. If I would really need to force myself to replace them I would pick a tailor suit from Saville Row or a neapolitan tailor. It’s because I am very interested in the craftsmanship in the story that they tell. A suit would be just a different way to express that interest. It’s very nerdy.
I am extremely curious. I need to know the story of what I am wearing, where it comes from. Even where its name comes from. For instance i discovered that the word selvedge it’s dutch and means something like a self edge. But, really, if I had to choose between jeans and a new job, I am would choose jeans. That’s who I am.