A few years ago, the LVC range was suffering from a simple lack of TLC; there was inconsistent supply, and the clothing itself was often repetitive and occasionall uninspired. In the last few years, though, I think they've got their groove back.
LVC's relatively new policy of supplying a much wider range of clothing has annoyed some diehards, principally because of the "reissue" of fictitious items such as, say, last season's Navy Smock - an item never produced by Levi's. In contrast, though, we've recently seen some of the most accurate, intriguing reissues of LVC's history, like last year's beautiful Triple-Pleat Blouse. I think this year's Spring Summer collection is every bit as intriguing, and I particularly love the emphasis on non-denim items. So, here's a quick run-through of what I reckon are some of the highlights.
While I'm personally not a devotee of washed items, this range includes some shirts which I think take washed finishes to a new level. In particular, I loved this 1910s Pullover Sunset Gingham Shirt.
Gingham was a hugely popular fabric in late 1800s USA - it was also, incidentally, very popular in Japan. I don't know if this is a reissue of a specific shirt from the archives, somehow I doubt it, but it's a beautiful shirt which resonates with many vintage items I've looked at. The wash is one of the nicest I've seen on a repro shirt, and gives a great impression of being bleached by an unrelenting sun.
Several items are straightforward reintroductions of items we've seen in previous LVC ranges, like this pair of Lot 66 1920s Bib Overalls. I'm not sure of the source of 2 by 1 denim; Cone have supplied similar fabrics to LVC in the past. These are quirky items with beautiful detailing, in particular the bib straps. It's good too see these back in a raw version. Click for a bigger version of the picture.
One major new step for LVC is the reintroduction of the women's range. For a brief period around 2003, LVC produced some beautiful customised, womens' items - what we have here is in a similar vein, such as this pair of Koveralls, in a customised cut and finish, called Gravel Bank.
Along the same lines is the women's cropped Type 1 jacket, with three quarter sleeves and a customised A line shape.
This is a new wash, named Bodie, of the original XX or Nevada jean - once thought to be an alternate version of what became the 501, it's now believed to be the precursor, with more workwear-style detailing, such as the pliers pocket on the left hip, and more widely-spaced stitching on the back pocket. It's a good wash, although to my mind now quite up to the level of some of the landmark LVC by the (mysteriously disappeared) Bart Sights.
The 1874 Closed-Top Cotton Duck Jumper was one of the most historically-significant recent LVC repros; this is a similar one-pocket version, which IIRC was at one point repro'd by Levi's Japan. This version uses a Cone 2x1 9oz denim in a distinctive wash (if you can call a process that makes fabric dirtier a wash). Like the duck version, this will be a baggy fit, good for layering over other shirts.
I'm not certain of this, but I believe there is a revision to the details of the raw 1966 501. On the left is the rinsed version, on the right is the raw. The raw had a new arcuate shape, not as shallow of the old one, which to my mind exaggerated the flatness of the original. 1960s arcuates did vary widely in shape, as the tooling used to make them was worn, hence we can't say there's on definitive shape, but I find this one more convincing than the previous version. It's this 1966 jean, of course, which features Cone's evocation of the original slubbier 60s denim, caused by the Magnadraft process.
In addition, I'm told there's a new, simpler wash to replace the old Rough Rinse. Rough Rinse 501 used Cone fabric but were sewn in Turkey, and given a tinted wash. The new version, Rough Rinse, applies to the 1947 and 1954, and loses the tinted wash - which is a big improvement.
Other nice items; a White Tag pants and 507 jacket (note the absence of rivets), in a paler Sky Blue denim, a late '60s (or early 70s) Laundry Bag (with oversized pocket) and, going rather further back in time, a Shield Front Henley.
I'm told that 2012 was a high watermark year for LVC, partly due to the James Bond effect; Daniel Craig wore a Menlo jacket in Skyfall, which caused a massive spike in sales (as did Bond's wearing a beautiful pair of Crocket and Jones Islay). It appears that only recently did a Levi's employee notice that one Menlo jacket in their archives is actually fully reversible. Hence this new version.
Now for more of my personal favourites, followed by a quick peek at the fall look.
Anyone who follows this blog will know that I'm intrigued by Levi's early cotton duck items. The very first riveted pants ever made by Jacob Davis were sewn from white duck; and recent research has brought new insights into the fabric used on early Levi's duck items - the wide selvage line suggests the fabric was probably made for ship sails.
Now it appears that Levi's and Cone have developed a new shade of the tan cotton duck, to try and provide a better match to some early samples (it is of course impossible to be completely definitive about fabric colours, due to the ageing process). There is a Youth's Waist Overall in the Levi's archive in a more brick-coloured tan; a second variant of this fabric, it appears, was in a more mustard shade. This is used in a new version of the Single Pocket Duck Waist overalls. Note that this pair feature a double stitched yoke (some early examples had only single stitching or, in some examples, no yoke whatsoever). Note the wide selvage, visible either side of the busted seam. These are very nicely-made items, sewn in LA I believe.
Secondly, we have two beautiful variants of the Triple Pleat Jacket I featured last year. This is one of the simplest, most attractive and indeed earliest Levi's jackets; I was hoping they'd introduce a duck version, and here we have it, in the new Cone fabric. The unadorned, low, riveted pockets give it a very different look from most other blouses; plainer, more utilitarian and to my mind, drop-dead gorgeous.
It's not as abounding in selvage lines as the Duck Jumper, but they're still a beautiful part of the detailing:
This second version was comparatively unexpected; a Triple Pleat in a lighter, indigo gingham. It's like cross between a jacket and a shirt and would probably work best over a simple T. I'm wondering if this might be a Nihon Menpu gingham - I know they're worked on similar fabrics and supply some shirting fabrics to LVC - but whoever made it, it's unusual and, like the closed top shirt earlier, the wash complements the indigo-and-ecru fabric.
We know from Mike Harris's discoveries that workwear makers often used fabrics they had to hand, such as ticking, so there's historical precedents for this, and I'm told that there are indications Levi's produced early items in ginghams. So this is an interpretation of what might have been available. It's an extremely quirky item - and hence, like a couple of items here, it's possible it will only be stocked at Levi's own XX stores, like Cinch.
FInally, a sneak peek at the Fall range. The big news here will be the re-appearance of Orange Tab, all made in the USA.
Orange Tab items were priced slightly lower than the 501, and often came in more fashion-oriented cuts. They also tended to use Open End yarns - this gave a very different look. From the 90s onwards, Rin Ring yarns have become so popular that the Open End versions, once cheaper and hence more mass-market, are consequently becoming more esoteric. Open End yarns can give great fades - not necessarily worse than the classic 50s look, just different. The "new" fabric comes from Cone, and I believe the new range will include, for men, the 606 Super Slim (Ramones jeans), 605 regular fit, and 607 bootleg. The women's jeans comprise a customised skinny 606, and a bell bottom 648.
The samples I saw are a brilliant evocation of the little e Levi's era, and they come at a time when the originals are prohibitively rare and pricey.