What vintage things are you collecting right now

An interview with Levi's Vintage Clothing - chief designer Paul O’Neill

Fräulein met the chief designer of Levi's Vintage Clothing, Paul O’Neill, exclusively for an interview in London. He talked to us about his love for vintage clothing, his source of inspiration, about goals for the future and wallowed in childhood memories.

1970s orange tab shirt, 1967 505® jeans

Levi's Vintage Clothing aims to revive the zeitgeist and legacy of American working clothes from the past 140 years. The American jeans cult brand produces and reinterprets fashion from bygone times twice a year.

We spoke to the chief designer of Levi's Vintage Clothing, Paul O'Neill, about the new "Rockers" collection. Inspired by Jamaica in the 70s, this collection is a skilful combination of bright colors, corduroy and of course jeans. As part of their research in Jamaica, Paul O’Neill and his team met inspiring personalities who were also immortalized in the lookbook of the autumn / winter collection in the form of portraits. The collection pays homage to the international creative influence of Jamaica, to the movie "Rockers" and to the heroes from Paul O'Neill's childhood. This is what distinguishes Levi’s Vintage Clothing: the authenticity and the personal touch.

Miss: Paul, do you remember your very first piece by Levi's?

Paul: Yes, in any case! I still know exactly when and where I bought my first 501’s. It was just before Christmas, I was 12 and I was walking into a shop in Dublin with a friend. At that time we only listened to heavy metal and were dressed accordingly. That was long ago…


Miss: What kind of jeans are you wearing right now?

Paul: An original Levi's from the 60s. I have no idea who used to wear these pants, but I like to deal with things like that. For me, vintage always has a special beauty, a special story. These pants, for example, are unique. You can of course have a pair of jeans that are similar, but the color will be different or it will have a stain somewhere else. This is exactly what fascinates me about vintage. Basically, I actually like everything that is vintage. For example, I collect records and always try to find the original record. I'm a little geek for that ...

Miss: What exactly is Levi's vintage clothing?

Paul: Levi's Vintage Clothing is a small collection that is part of the Levi's brand and in which we reproduce the history of the brand. Levi’s has always focused on quality and has set itself the goal of producing durable clothing, although there are of course also fashionable items that are up-to-date. Levi's Vintage Clothing is a little different: Our goal is to produce fashion as it was originally produced. We have an archive in San Francisco with over 20,000 collected garments from the 1870s to the present day. Every six months we want to tell a new story with the parts available to us from the archive. Every piece of clothing is reconstructed stitch by stitch, so there is a lot of work in each piece.


Miss: How come Jamaica became the subject of the current collection right now?

Paul: Actually, I've always been fascinated by Jamaican culture and music. The current collection focuses on Jamaica, the 1970s and was intended as a kind of homage to the rocker scene. There is a fantastic 1978 film called Rockers that served as the starting point for this collection. Basically, the current collection is about the way American fashion has been reinterpreted by other cultures. Just as Jamaicans transformed American R&B music into ska, and soul into rock steady and ultimately reggae, they have also reinterpreted American fashion. When I came to Jamaica, I first heard stories about the Caribbean people who settled in New York. They filled barrels full of clothes and tried to ship as much clothes or whatever they could buy in New York back to Jamaica. Then in Jamaica everyone tried on the clothes and put their outfits together. It was, so to speak, their own take on the American and British styles. By the way they combined the clothes, they represented themselves and their culture in a unique way. And that was exactly my idea behind this collection. In the past, we at Levi's Vintage Clothing have dealt with the cowboy era or the California surfing movement of the 1940s, for example. This collection is the first to move outside the US, dealing with how American fashion has been interpreted in other countries. In my opinion, this is a particularly exciting approach to American fashion. Somehow it just felt right to make Jamaica the theme of the collection now.

Miss: You already mentioned the subject of music - do you take your inspiration from your personal life?

Paul: Yes absolutely. The inspiration for the current collection, for example, has its origins in my childhood: I saw the film “Rockers” for the first time when I was 14 or 15 and was immediately blown away! I really wanted to have a Jamaican top hat like the one everyone wears in the movie. Of course, he would never have confessed to me (laughs). But I've always thought that the guys in the movie look great. So this is one of the ways I get my inspiration. On the other hand, I can also read a book, visit an exhibition or talk to someone. I just try to educate myself and also to educate others through the collection. Our goal is to find something interesting that maybe not everyone knows about. We're trying to get a message across, rather than just taking a commercial approach.


Miss: Do you find it difficult to select pieces for a collection when you have such a large archive of 20,000 pieces of clothing available?

Paul: Now that the archive has been digitized, it is no longer that difficult. We used to have to search box by box. But this method also had its advantages, as one often stumbled upon real treasures by chance. Basically, the concept has to be in place once, then the search will be a little easier. For example, it can happen that you have seen a certain item of clothing umpteen times and always found it uninteresting. Then suddenly it catches your eye and is exactly the right piece for the collection. In the next season, if the concept is different, this piece of clothing would then no longer fit in at all. Our goal is not to follow fashion trends, we want to show relevant fashion and stay fresh.


Miss: How much room for creativity do you have with this approach?

Paul: We try to get as much as possible from our archive, but there are also pieces in the collection that are not reproductions from our archive, but rather that we add to complete and round off the collection. On the one hand, creativity comes into play, on the other hand, it is also the selection of the individual parts. Basically, my main job is to authentically curate a collection.


Fräulein: If you could choose an era that has not yet been reproduced with Levi's Vintage Clothing - which one would it be?

Paul: I would be interested in the 80s and 90s. This time is currently very popular in fashion, but that wouldn't be the reason why I would choose this era. Back when I was a kid - that was in the 1990s - the 60s were "vintage" for me. So an era that was more than 20 years ago. Today the 1990s are more than 20 years ago.


Miss: Are there any goals that you still want to achieve with Levi's Vintage Clothing?

Paul: I would like to make the concept accessible to a wider audience. We should draw more attention to this brand, which has such a great history. New jeans brands are appearing everywhere that cannot keep up with our history. But we have this fantastic legacy and we should celebrate it. Nobody else can claim to have produced jeans 140 years ago.

The current Levi's vintage clothing collection for women and men is now available online and in selected stores.



Contribution: Penelope Dützmann
Images: PR

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