You often hear about designers taking "inspiration trips" to fuel their creativity for the latest collection. Tales of exploration and discovery, which lead to new ideas, details and colors that end up in the final clothes you see in stores. Of course, no one ever really sees how it actually happens. So when Levi's invited us to retrace the steps their concept team took to develop the fall line—based on oceanic craftsmen—we jumped at the opportunity. The bonus? Our drive along the rocky Maine coastline was being led by Jay Carroll. One of the heads of the concept team, he's also the man behind One Trip Pass and a master road tripper. We met him in Portland, Maine and he took us to all the places that influenced the old world details, rich colors and rugged ethos in Levi's fall men's collection. Here's a visual diary of what we learned.
Maritime historian and collector Steve Bunker (seen below, with his pet parrot) has been selling historical and nautical artifacts for three decades. A favorite of fashion folk and movie set designers alike, he's a down to Earth guy who loves to talk about the provenance and importance of every piece. It's a chaotic, discordant collection but the stories alone are worth a visit.
We were told by a handful of locals to ignore the famous lobster shack across the street (with huge lines) and check out Sprague's, where you can actually sit on the dock and enjoy a true Maine lobster roll, packed with an entire lobster's worth of meat.
"This is just a really inspiring place," said Jay, as we approached the rustic barn-turned-workshop on a hilly stretch of US Route 1. Inside, a gentleman in a worn canvas apron was painstakingly handcrafting solid wood furniture inspired by American antiques.
511 Sta-Prest pants, $78
The Levi's team was drawn to this up-and-coming foodie haven—situated on several lush acres overlooking Penobscot Bay—for its sustainability, simplicity and abundance of rich coastal colors. Offering everything from farm-to-table cooking classes to foraging excursions, they treated us to some local cheeses and vegetables picked from the garden that day.
Inside this 18th century farmhouse, they're making high quality wool blankets and scarves the old fashioned way—using wool from locally raised sheep, dyed with natural pigments, washed only with organic soap (to retain the natural softness) and loomed by hand on vintage machines. We watched as they tested out various natural indigo dyes, outside in an old cast iron pot. Limited edition scarves made for Levi's are now available at the brand's neighborhood stores in Malibu, New York, Newbury and San Francisco.
A study in craftsmanship, sustainability and innovation, the Levi's team drew a lot from this secluded art school's focus on craft, creative spirit and philosophy: Simple structures, no distractions and beautiful surroundings. In fact, the Levi's designers went back to design a portion of the Fall collection here. When we were visiting, we got an impromptu lesson on the Japanese art of dying with indigo—a process called shibori.
Proprietor Tim Whitten sells vintage sailing gear along with unique knotwork—from traditional bellropes to more modern pieces like necklaces knotted around rocks from the nearby water. His attention to detail inspired some unexpected refinements and hand-knotted details in casual pieces in Levi's fall line.
Rope and leather belt, $139