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Levi’s Vintage Clothing: Miners and Hot Rodders

The designers from Levi’s Vintage Clothing are know to go a long way to find sources of inspiration. For the spring summer 2013 collection they literally went all in to find the roots of the company’s rich heritage as they explored a silver mine that had lain disused for 130 years together with Michael Harris. The result is the pre-1900s denim workwear inspired Miners theme, the second leg of the season’s dichotomy is the slightly more commercial 1950s Hot Rod theme.

Normally the design team works in the office in Amsterdam and for reference and inspiration they frequently visit the Levi’s Archive* in San Francisco, but visiting the deserted mine was research on another level and it gave them a chance to get a feeling of the people for whom Levi’s clothes were originally made. After a long journey the designers arrived in the desert late at night and only caught a few hours of sleep in a trailer. They woke up early to the dazzling light of the morning sun coming over the mountains and with no time to waste they set off to the mine carrying helmets with flashlights and wearing rigid Levi’s.

*The Levi’s Archive stores over 20,000 rare and unique pieces of Levi’s clothing and artifacts dating back to as early as 1873. Everything is kept at an even temperature, wrapped in unbleached cotton, and only to be touched carefully while wearing white gloves. The Archive is also strictly reserved to help the designers at Levi’s create faithful reproductions and uncover secrets of the company’s past, and thus not open to the public.   

Once inside the mineshaft in the mountainside they had to crawl on their hands and knees. Then began the digging and scrabbling and moving rubble, basically all the normal detritus of a nineteenth century miner’s life. You hear a lot of talk about the workwear origins of Levi’s, but sitting in that dark mine somehow made the design team realise what that actually meant. “Those miners delved in the dark and the dirt in the hopes of treasure. They could never have guessed that the worn-out clothes they discard would be treasures for guys like us.” The season lookbook features pictures from the trip.

The female counterpart of the Miners theme is called the Miner’s Daughter and it draws on inspiration of how women living in miner’s camps dressed; much of their clothes was sewn togother from modified men’s shirts, pants, jackets, bibs and the like.

As mentioned above the second theme for the spring of 2013 is inspired by the clothes of sharply dressed Hot Rodders in the 1950s. The corner stones of the theme include ankle cropped corduroy Levi’s and the colourful short sleeved shirts.

The term Hot Rod first appeared in California in the 1930s to describe cars with large engines modified for linear speed, typically old Ford T-Models from scrapyards customised by young enthusiasts with little or no money but a D.I.Y. punk attitude. After WWII Hot Rodding exploded and became one of post-war Amercia’s biggest crazes. The cars were raced at tremendously high speeds on dry lakes or river beds. The cars were stripped of non-essential parts and fitted with Flathead engines, which had a simple design allowing virtually limitless performance enhancements.

By the 1950s sophisticated paint designs decorated the bodies of the cars and competition in customising became so fierce that top cars barely saw daylight except for drag strips and exhibition halls. Levi’s is honouring the popular art by including a very limited run of 25 printed white sweatshirt, each with a unique design made by the famous pinstriper and graphic designer Von Franco.

Long anticipated by indigo loving slim fitters, Levi’s now introduces the popular 605 fit in rigid. Other than that you have 9 options on rigid shrink-to-fit and made in the USA 501 jeans.

Another personal favourite is the 1978 501, which has been reintroduced for the fall of 2012. For spring 2013 it will be available in three original Levi’s washes that were made in the 80s; the one wash, the black overdyed, and the stonewash. These are the same washes that you’ll also find in any Levi’s store today. The 1978 has the lowest waist of all the 501s and since the fit is fairly new Levi’s still had the original drawings for it, and Cone Mills actually had the “recipe” for the fabric, which means that these jeans look exactly like they did in ’78.

“Fit like jeans, look like slacks,” pink pants and baby blue denim, the Levi’s Slim Fits is a subcategory of the White Levi’s line.

The Bedford corduroy are available in new vintage colourways, especially the bright green one is a collectors items.

Stars and stripes shirts, be sure to get both of them.

Printed on this t-shirt are Lockjaw Louie and Chattering Chuck, classic Hot Rod relics.

The back of this baseball tee says, “I’m lost to,” deliberately misspelled.

New for the season is the 40s Levi’s Strauss & Co. shirt in a green cast jaspe twill, which is woven with differently coloured threads that are twisted together.

For the first time a white sweat is included. The gray melange has been updated with darker details.

Spring 2013 also sees the return of the 60s loose t-shirt, which compared to the 50s tee is looser in the silhouette, has a wider neckline and is made in a lighter fabric.

The heritage branch of Levi’s is not only about vintage fitting exact reproductions of clothes that you sometimes have to know your history to really appreciate. With Levi’s Made & Crafted the designers enjoy more artistical freedom and are able to bring in new contemporary fits and shapes, which is especially noticeable on the women’s line. The 1950s colour inspiration is, however, still very dominating.

The weft of this nipped Japanese selvage denim is made of recycled fibres with a composition of 70% cotton, 16% acrylic, and 14% polyester.

Below are some of the non-denim highlights.

This soft women’s silk shirt will probably not be a hard sell.

Words by Thomas Bojer and Levi’s Vintage Clothing.