Amsterdam has been gaining a lot of buzz as of late with rumours spreading throughout the denim community that the city is fast becoming one of the rising stars in the global denim scene. The Netherlands strong economic climate and logistical location has influenced a lot of major players to set up their headquarters here, whilst the thriving denim culture amongst young locals has given birth to a gaggle of smaller denim ateliers and concept retail stores. The newly conceived House of Denim Jeans School is the latest indicator of Amsterdams investment in its ‘home-grown-talent’ in the next generation of denim artisans. With all this hype building around the scene, we decided to take a trip over to Amsterdam and touch base with the local denim brands and explore further into the recent denim developments throughout the city.
For our first stop, we were kindly invited by our friends at Levi’s® Vintage Clothing and Made & Crafted to visit their design studio and discuss their latest S/S 13 developments with the ever inspiring Design Director, Miles Johnson. Located in the extraordinary Olympisch Stadion (that was built for Amsterdams 1928 summer Olympic Games) the office provides a beautiful contrast between the vintage Americana interior and the historical sporting landscape that can be seen through the floor to ceiling windows throughout the office. The building is home to the team behind design, marketing, sales and brand presentation for its two elevated brands: Levi’s Vintage Clothing and Made & Crafted. As you would imagine from Miles and the Levi’s team, the office is a physical manifestation of the brands rich history and American denim culture with vintage memorabilia adorning the studio.
We sat down with Miles in their boardroom (complete with 50s surfboard inspired table) to find out his thoughts on the city and his latest denim developments for the brand.
What makes Amsterdam so key for denim?
There are a lot of people that have been attracted to Amsterdam for several reasons – mostly because there is an incredible tax break for companies, but also because it is a very central place within Europe to be able to conduct business. We can get from here to all our European manufacturers very easily. Personally for me, its a very nice city to be in because its very calm, anti-stress and fairly relaxed.
What was the decision for LVC to move from Belgium to Amsterdam? Why not San-fran?
At that time around 3 1/2 years ago, our then European president Armin Broger decided to take the premium section of the brand and put it independently in Amsterdam. I think it was a very smart choice because it gave us a lot of freedom – not that we didn’t have freedom to do things before but when you are working so closely with the mainline and red-tab you tend to get too involved in ‘how am I going to do this thing in premium that will filter down into red-tab’. So working with independence just makes you naturally grow in other directions that you might not of thought about doing. We are able to plough into new grounds, rather than create something for future commerciality, which is not really necessary what we should be doing for the premium part of the brand.
With a lot of the big denim brands set up here, whats the scene like and how does everyone know each other?
Yes, its a very small place that people call the big village. The scene is very healthy here though with a lot of events, openings and store refreshings going on every week and you often bump into other people from the industry. Its always good to connect with people and find out what they are up to and how business is for them.
Is there a particular denim style or look that is unique to Amsterdam?
I wouldn’t say that Amsterdam is on the map for trends. You very rarely see any sartorialist types of people around the city. However, there are a lot of creative people here, especially outside of the fashion industry. Architecture is very fundamental to how healthy Amsterdam is and product design is also very progressive here.
Whats your favourite place to shop for denim in the city?
There are nice shops here and there throughout the city, but there isn’t a particular district. Tenue de Nimes, Cowboys 2 Catwalks, 290 SQM are all good stores. Second hand is also very good here, there are some great places around the nine streets.
For the S/S 13 collection you took to silver mines in California as inspiration and teamed up with Michael and Charla Harris on a road trip. Can you tell us a little about the trip and how it inspired the collection?
The very reason we riveted the jean in the first place was because of the miner who was wearing out his britches too much. I was quite keen to relook at the 1870s because we’d never used the miner as a concept for LVC ever. There is something very beautiful about those early days and product that they used to wear back then. Through looking at archive photography from the era and also looking at Mike Harris’s personal collection we were able to discover quite a lot of things about our early days. Its a very lovely collection and we got very excited about the whole concept of Mike’s style of visiting old mines and seeing what we could find.
It was a very humbling experience, it was very hardwork, it was very dusty and dirty but it really just made you think about how hard people worked and endured life in the dark. We all wore rigid jeans and white t-shirts because we just wanted to see how they would wear in and because we spent the day on our hands and knees, dragging rocks across the front of our legs and wiping our hands constantly on the jeans, there was a lot of sign of wear from just one day. So even then you can imagine they were wearing them out fairly quickly. But the only other option was back to the old woollen britches, which were too hot, itchy and uncomfortable.
What’s your favourite piece from the collection?
The Gold Miners shirt is really special, especially in its pattern form as its not wasting any fabric at all. The two sleeves together make a square and then you have the body which is a square and the width of the fabric so you have the selvedge running down both sides. Its one of the most efficient patterns we ever made and its from 1874.
The second part of the collection is inspired by the 50s hot-rod scene. Do you feel this trend is growing in the mainstream or was it simply something that you thought was key to levi’s?
I think that with the 50s and 60s, when we look at that time and we look at how people started to wear the t-shirt and the jeans, it was a look that kind of never went away, it just gets reinterpreted all the time. So there’s a lot of relevance of how that looked and how it looks now. Fun things like Hot Rod are good to reference for how people used to dress, for the desert and the salt flat and the colors they used to wear. There’s a lot of depth to it and the graphics obviously help tell the story, but what I really like is the subtler details like simple capped sleeve t-shirts worn with nicely colored bedford cords. Its fun, and it was a fun time for Levi’s. People at that time were very much dressed in it, head-to-toe, so it was a nice concept again that we haven’t really done before. Working with Von Franco was a great collaboration too as he was from around that time period doing stencilled artwork and airbrushed designs that were iconic to that world.
What’s inspiring you in denim right now?
Its really funny at the moment because people are not talking denim, which is what excites me so much because I know something good is going to come out of it. Its like when someone has no money you know something creative is going to come out of it. So I’m seeing this as a great opportunity to create something new. Im also thinking a lot about S/S 14 and new stories to tell and revisiting the archives and finding out some things that I didn’t know about before, which is always really exciting to do.
Whats your involvement with the House of Denim Jean School?
The school came in as they wanted to see the office and how we work as a dynamic. We booked them into the showroom and I spent some time talking to them about the 501, explained to them about our history from 1873, the product and what it was, and how it has changed. I showed them an original 1920s 501 jean next to a modern copy so that people could see how close we are to the original and explained how we reproduced it.
We’d like to pass on a big thanks to Miles and Nana at the Levi’s XX for inviting us over. Readers, please keep track of the blog over the next few days as we have a denim packed week ahead where we will be visiting other major brands in the city as well as providing you with all the latest denim gossip and travel tips for Amsterdam.