“The main vocalist of the Checkers, Mr. Fumiya Fujii, once said, ‘At the end of the day, the most stylish outfit is a pair of jeans and a plain T-shirt.’” Nigo tells GQ in an email. “I still believe this is true today.”
It’s a full circle moment, then, that in the year the iconic 501 jeans turns 150, Levi’s has partnered with Kenzo on a Fall 2023 capsule collection designed by Nigo. “When I started designing clothes, I generally designed the outfit with the assumption that the outfit would be paired with jeans,” Nigo says. “The 501 is a big influence [on what I do].”
The designer reveres Levi’s enough that in his own considerable archive of American denim pieces, the original jeans created for cowboys and miners are some of the most treasured pieces. “By actually holding the vintage items in my hands, and turning them inside out, I can see the craftsmanship and the details especially in the early styles,” Nigo says. “By looking at them in the order in which they were made, I find something new every time. Even today.”
For the collaboration between Kenzo and Levi’s, he reached deep into his influences but also the Japanese brand’s founder Kenzo Takada’s. “I reviewed and studied the denim archive Kenzo-san made,” he says. “I used the inspiration from that archive, and also the motif and detail that is true to Kenzo style, to come up with these new designs.” And true to form, the Kenzo stamp is all over the collection, from the iconic Boke flower embossed on metal Levi’s shanks to the jackets inspired by archive pieces from Kenzo’s ‘80s Jungle line. Composed of around 20 pieces crafted mostly in Kaihara premium Japanese denim, the collection is a true meeting of Eastern and Western practices around the hardy workwear textile.
And for all he has accomplished, for the many pairs of jeans he himself has created—for A Bathing Ape, Billionaire Boys Club, and now Kenzo—Nigo still concedes to those 501s. “Levi’s is the original,” he says. “No one can ever become Levi’s.”
The entire collection drops today, October 4, in Kenzo boutiques worldwide, selected Levi’s stores, and on Kenzo.com and Levi.com.