Q&A | Miles Johnson of Levi's Made & Crafted
I'm so excited to have had the opportunity to interview Levi's Made & Crafted and Levi's Vintage Clothing designer Miles Johnson. I first met him a few weeks ago when he was in town for an event and I was honestly taken by his pure passion for Levi's. He's been a Levi's collector and enthusiast since he's been a teenager growing up in England—and how great is it when you meet someone who is doing the thing that they should inherently be doing for a living? It's pretty powerful. Levi's Made & Crafted continues to grow as a dynamic brand and it's been fun to follow the progress of such an interesting label with deep roots and a strong vision forward.
Lizzie Garrett Mettler: It seems like whenever I'm standing in line somewhere, a pharmacy, a concert, a bar, I see a pair of Levi's. As Levi's has evolved it has been able to straddle so many defining communities of fashion (i.e. Levi's Vintage Clothing is a purists dream, Made & Crafted is forward thinking, Red Tab is classic and accessible), how can you explain all the differences to someone who isn't a Levi's aficionado?
Miles Johnson: Thanks very much! I think you just did a pretty good job of it yourself. It is, in fact, quite complicated, but the basic story is that Levi's Vintage Clothing is about our history and heritage; Red Tab is about the present day and how now feels to us; while Made & Crafted is how we see the future.
LGM: Levi's is seen by many as a standard issue American icon, it's unfussy and basic; do you ever try and hit that note while designing the more aspirational/forward-thinking collections, specifically, Made & Crafted?
MJ: Yes. It's almost the target to keep things as unfussy and classically Levi's as possible. Where Made & Crafted does its thing best when its focus turns to special fabrications, clean constructions and fit, there're so many ways to move designs on as a brand like Levi's without reinventing the wheel.
LGM: How do all of these brands still stay threaded together under the big umbrella of Levi's? In other words, what do all of Levi's products still have in common?
MJ: It helps having an extremely clear identity. Our categories are different, but our approach is consistent. By applying the values we've inherited we can get to a diversity without losing sight of Levi's qualities.
LGM: One of the reasons I love Levi's is because it doesn't feel like a heritage brand that has recently added a space for women, it feels like an American brand that has always catered to both genders. I assume that probably isn't true though, when did women start wearing Levi's en masse?
MJ: Our first women's designs were in the 1930's. There's an amazingly glamorous article in Vogue in 1935 promoting Levi's jeans for women. The illustration is very movie star like. Before that time of course women would wear the 501, which I always promote as the best fitting Levi's jean for women anyway. I still think it's amazing though that we had decided that women in denim was a trend that needed addressing at the same time as most people wore them to work.
LGM: Besides cuts and shapes, as a designer of both men's and women's clothing, is it harder or easier to design for women?
MJ: I love designing for women. I wouldn't say it's harder to design for them. It's just there's a broader perspective and a much fussier audience, but if you stick true to the way women have worn Levi's jeans, especially over the last 60 years, and not try and chase denim fashion trends you'll keep assuring women that you're committed to a true denim look. Good quality stretch skinny jeans is a basic these days. When I look at how women wore their skinny jeans in the 60's, it hasn't changed that much really.
LGM: You're at the helm of Levi's Vintage Clothing and Made & Crafted, which in my opinion are two of the most exciting brands in fashion right now. They really speak to the American tomboy. From your lens, who is the Levi's Made & Crafted woman? What's she like?
MJ: She is a bit of a tomboy, one who likes good quality clothes. So many women feel comfortable and confident in Made & Crafted style. It's about being able to express your tomboy side without being anti-aesthetic. It's about things being easy to wear and still looking like they're worth wearing.
LGM: While Levi's Vintage Clothing is very literal, Made & Crafted honors the past while still looking forward and still feeling like Levi's, can you describe how the Fall 2013 M&C collection does both?
MJ: We're always looking forward and get as excited about that, as we do our past, but when we are looking for fabrics, it needs to be right; reflective of our brands values but offer something new, combined with interesting color ways and considered washes.
LGM: Any favorite pieces from this Made & Crafted collection?
MJ: I'm really pleased with the women's chambray shirts, which are powder blue finished and soft, but still have that classic work shirt look. The finishes on the empire skinny fit look great this season too.
LGM: Any men's Made & Crafted pieces that you've been seeing the girls wearing?
MJ: The men's denim shirts look great on women worn open, almost as a jacket; the regular fitting t-shirts, especially the new zig-zag ones. I also like the oversized sweatshirts as well. You sometimes just need to cut the sleeve to the right length.
LGM: I know you're a big Levi's collector and have been for a long time, what are your desert island Levi's items?
MJ: In the summer I just live in a pair of 1960's cut offs, which are oversized and wide in the leg. I love it that they don't fit properly and are completely sloppy. If I wear them with a big white shirt, I feel a quite presentable.
All photos of the Levi's Made & Crafted Fall/Winter 2013 collection by Chloe Aftel.