24 April 2014

Levi's Lot No. 1

Image courtesy of Levi's

A little while back the lovely folk at Levi’s were kind enough to invite me to their flagship Regent Street store to meet their master tailor, Elizabeth Radcliffe, and to learn about the Lot No. 1 made-to-order jeans service. I actually enjoy factory and workshop tours far more than most fashion shows...sacrilege I know, but I really like seeing things made. So, needless to say, I was like a kid in a candy store (and to those who know my obsession with sweet shopping that is saying something!).

For those who have never visited the Regent Street store, imagine a factory space with lots of glass, metal, concrete and, of course, a ton of denim. I rather like the idea of factory-chic, even though in most instances it is rather heavy-handedly applied (I’m looking at you All Saints). Thankfully Levi’s manage to hit that sweet spot with a nicely attractive store space. From the ground floor you can see down to the basement, and there, behind glass and metal, you catch a glimpse of the master tailor’s workshop. This is the workshop where the Lot No. 1 jeans are made, from the starting blocks of selvedge denim, loose threads and rivets, to the finished product presented with its own selvedge denim bag. Given the way the production and consumption of clothing has changed in recent times it seems odd to think that the jeans are made there on Regent Street, in the heart of London, from start to finish.

When it comes to anything made-to-order parallels to Savile Row spring to mind and so it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that Radcliffe started her career as an apprentice on Savile Row. But as she pointed out when we spoke, the process of making jeans is somewhat the opposite to that of making a suit. That being said the made-to-measure process in itself is very familiar, and something that to my mind carries a certain romanticism with it. In today’s society we are taught to try and make our bodies fit the clothes, rather than making the clothes fit our bodies. There is a certain luxury to be found in getting some off-the-peg garment altered to fit just right, whether it be something simple like changing a hemline, or something more drastic. I am very much of the opinion that your clothes are your clothes, so you should change them and wear them how you will (a museum curator’s nightmare I am sure, but I leave it to collectors to buy garments to leave them untouched and, sometimes, unworn).  

Men are used to the tailoring process where suits are concerned, for every off-the-peg suit of whatever price is usually altered in some way. But then again not every man wears a suit, and those that do ordinarily require several for practical reasons. Jeans on the other hand are paradoxically at once a more egalitarian and a more exclusive garment. You wear jeans, your mother wears jeans, your neighbour wears jeans, your local politician wears jeans, everyone it seems wears (or at least owns) a pair of jeans. But not all jeans are created equal - there is a difference between stonewashed bootcut jeans from the supermarket and tapered rainbow selvedge raw denim jeans that have developed whiskers and honeycombs naturally over time through your wear. Spend a little more money and you can own a pair of raw denim jeans that you could easily wear every single day for a year (there are countless internet threads and forums should you be interested in this).

I do not believe in the phrase “investment piece” (whilst reading the phrase “statement piece” makes me want to hit something). Instead I think that there are the clothes you wear everyday (a coat, a pair of shoes, a suit, etc.), or the clothes you wear on special occasions (a tuxedo, a ball gown, etc.). In between the two is the majority of your wardrobe in whichever order - the fewer clothes you own the more likely you are to wear the same garments again and again. However I feel it best to buy the best you can afford where both ends of the spectrum are concerned (and it should be noted that this most definitely does not mean the most expensive). How made-to-measure jeans fit into this framework depends on how you personally wear and use jeans. They could be something you wear every day without fail, or they could be something you only wear on the odd occasion. Regardless the price to value ratio is dependent on you. They are either an everyday luxury or something special to be worn once in a while. Personally I side with the former, because while it is nice to own special pieces you wear once or twice a year, I do not really have the money or inclination to buy those pieces yet - I am more concerned with buying the best for everyday wear.  

When it comes to Lot No. 1 the client has a whole range of choices and options to create their jeans. The process starts with selecting the denim the jeans will be made from, and there were four samples on display - American Cone denims in blue and black, blue Turkish denim, and blue Japanese denim. The weight of the denim ranged from a lighter 13.5 oz to the heavier 14.5 oz Japanese denim. Personally I found the darker blue of the Japanese denim the nicest, but then I have never particularly been a fan of the bluer, more “classic”, Cone denim. You are also able to get a general idea of how the denim will fade with examples of each denim after an increasing number of washes. Of course where raw denim is concerned, in order to develop the best personal fade patterns, the chances are that you will not be washing the jeans that often. Indeed I believe a minimum of six months daily wear before first wash would be the most conservative estimate, with most wearers usually reaching the year, or year and a half, mark before first wash (and then options vary from sea soak to Woolite wash to just shoving them in the freezer every now and then).

Button and rivet options

Thread options

Pocketing fabric

Patch options

Inner tab options

The details are where you get to geek out, with a choice of twenty threads, seven styles of buttons and rivets (the open top is a vintage style, while the closed top is more modern), and twelve patches to chose from (including a nice vegan option). You have the ability to choose a singular colour for all the stitching from the button holes to the arcuate, or you could always mix things up. Similarly there is a choice of pocketing fabrics, from a heavy cotton to a nice herringbone, and also a choice of rear pockets (I prefer the larger size, because I use all my pockets). The red tabs used for the rear pocket are unbranded, which I thought was a nice subtle addition to such a classic style.

When it comes to the fit of the jeans the client can try on standardised pairs with three different rise styles in waist sizes 28-40 inches (half sizes can be made). Once the general style the client likes most is selected the jeans are then pinned to size and patterns made based upon these measurements (all of which are kept on file for ease of use when the client returns for their next pair of jeans). The denim requires 24 hours breathing time, whilst the making of the jeans from start to finish is all handled by Radcliffe herself, using 13 different machines, and taking around 16 hours in total. The actual order time from initial appointment to finished jeans is roughly five to six weeks. Everything is done on-site and in full view of customers perusing the store, a rather romantic touch, celebrating the art of making jeans.

The price for a pair of Lot No. 1 jeans from Levi’s is £500. Perhaps not a price your average high street shopper may necessarily pay, but then I do not think Lot No. 1 is aimed at them. This is for the denim enthusiast and for them I think Lot No. 1 is a pretty cool idea. For my own part, if they ever introduce a black overdye Japanese denim, they can expect a call.

30 year old machine - "They just don't make them like they used to!"

Example button holes and rivets


1 comment:

  1. Usually ,this kind of studio (factory?)is messy.But this master tailor's studio is so clean and neat (my studio is always very mess.I don't know how to organize :( ).I enjoyed to take a look each photos .Jeans is not just jeans.