A designer at work:
Jonathan Cheung inspects a vintage pair of 501s.
When it comes to denim, you don't get more timeless or more egalitarian than Levi's signature jeans, the 501. "I can't name another single garment that can so easily be worn by men and women at any age, and it works in Stockholm, in Singapore or in Abu Dhabi—and do it for over 100 years," says Levi's SVP of design Jonathan Cheung. "That span, that kind of influence, is phenomenal." So how does a brand maintain such a legacy while staying relevant? By adapting. Since introducing its iconic riveted dungarees in 1890, the brand has cleverly tweaked the fit, fabric and features to suit the style of the time.
We recently met up with Cheung at Levi's new Eureka Lab—a veritable Willy Wonka factory for denimheads located at the brand's global headquarters in San Francisco—where the latest iteration of the 501 was designed and prototyped. There's a wall lined entirely with vintage jeans for inspiration, an indigo dyeing station and a tailor shop, where the new discovery was made. When Cheung and the team realized they were all tapering their own denim, and that it was one of the most requested alterations by customers, they started to experiment. "We changed up the pattern a bit," says Cheung. "Refining the fit and testing the updated designs here in the lab."
The result is an adaptable pair of jeans that can be worn in a variety of ways to suit a range of personal styles. Dubbed the 501CT (which stands for customized and tapered), the jeans have a narrower leg opening and a slightly lower rise at the waist. Size them down for a slimmer fit or wear your standard size for a more classic look. The jeans come in nearly a dozen washes, from softer washed and worn styles to a raw, rigid denim you can truly make your own.
It's almost crowdsourced. The style essentially manifested itself.”