Jonathan Cheung Levi's

 
Jonathan is perhaps my perfect interviewee. He knows his craft, he knows bespoke, and given his job, he’s very interested in the crossover between tailoring and more casual clothing. 

PS: Can you run through your background quickly for us?

JC: Sure. I studied fashion at Kingston University under a wonderful woman called Daphne Brooker. I got a job with Franco Moschino straight out of university – I finished and I was straight off to Milan, which was rather scary. I’d answer the phone and it would be this Como silk producer asking me questions in Italian…

When Franco passed away I started my own design agency, working with Iceberg jeans. Then I moved back to London, worked for brands such as Baracuta, and ended up landing a job at Armani through someone I met for a day in Hong Kong. He was leaving Armani to head RRL in New York, and recommended me to replace him.

I was there for five years, but when that same contact moved to Levi’s, he brought me with him to Amsterdam, in 2009. I’ve been at Levi’s ever since – on Made & Crafted, on merchandising, and now design.

Apart from the Levi’s bespoke service, what parallels do you see between what you do and more traditional, crafted menswear?

I think most of the parallels are emotional – the passion that people feel for product, no matter what they’re making, and the care that therefore goes into it. You can see that in many things: an artisan belt made in Mexico, or some hand-dyed indigo silk from southern China. Even though a lot of those products won’t be surrounded by the trappings of luxury, the emotional connection is the same.

I was at Cone Mills recently and was speaking to Brad Johnson, who’s the plant manager and been there 26 years. When I asked why he had been there so long, he said he remembered as a student seeing some cloth, and wondering how a fluffy ball of cotton was turned into that. He determined to find out, and has been involved with it ever since. I think that’s got a lot in common with the connection that tailors on Savile Row have with their product.
 

Jonathan Cheung Levi's INTERVIEW

 
Does tailoring have anything specific in common with denim?

Well there’s the partnership that founded Levi’s: Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, who was a tailor. When you look through the archive there are a lot of tailoring cues all the way through.

But there’s also a personal connection with both denim and tailoring. Both adapt and shape to you as a person, and you develop a very close relationship with them. Jeans aren’t usually made to you personally, but they show the way you wear them, in the whiskering, the wears and tears.

That’s why I’ve always found tailoring so interesting – and in particular the bespoke project we’re doing here with Lizzie [Radcliffe] in London. In fact we’re pushing that a bit further and she’s making me a denim suit [pictured] so we’ll see how that turns out.

How’s the suit being constructed? Tailors often seem to go to one extreme or the other – full canvas and padding, or nothing at all, with the latter often so it can be washed to get a more worn look.

It has a shoulder pad and canvas, but the pad is thin and the canvas quite light. I know Lizzie had originally thought about a heavier construction, given her Edward Sexton background, but I look rather Bryan Ferry 1975 with big pads.

There are patch pockets, imitating the Levi’s back pocket, and we’ll be able to see the selvedge on the inside.
 

Jonathan Cheung Levi's bespoke

 
I know you’re a fan of the blog. Have you always followed tailoring?

I’ve been following the blog for a while now, for a couple of years before we met in fact. I find it interesting how you investigate tailoring houses, and then sort of float above them, giving your view and then a guide to ordinary people that buy tailoring, or aspire to it.

In fact, if you don’t mind I’d like to ask you about your favourite tailors. Often you’ll bring up people that aren’t on my immediate radar, and it’s interesting to know how they compare. Do you have a favourite? Or is it more like, today I want Italian food, and tomorrow it might be Chinese?

That’s a good analogy actually. Styles of tailoring suit different moods, but also different people and different situations. So I’d always pick three or four – one Neapolitan, one English and one Parisian, and perhaps another Italian.

For what different styles?

Neapolitan for casual wear – probably the only one I’d wear with jeans. Cifonelli in Paris probably for a suit or overcoat. Always one Anderson & Sheppard, and perhaps something more dramatic for black tie or an evening suit – Edward Sexton perhaps.

Those are the two I’ve always thought I’d have. Anderson & Sheppard I love, particularly the double breasteds, and Edward Sexton. I like the client list with Sexton – Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger, Abbey Road, and then me! And with Anderson & Sheppard it always appealed that they were the civil tailor, and the history behind it of course, clients such as Fred Astaire.
 

Jonathan Cheung Levi's head of design

 
I notice you’re wearing a pair of Edward Greens with your denim. Do you often wear dressy shoes with jeans?

I think there are a whole range of things you can wear great jeans with – from the traditional workwear boots, to youth culture shoes like Stan Smiths, to a nice pair of Northampton shoes.

A lot of those shoe companies have succeeded by making the same thing for a very long time. How do you reconcile the Levi’s heritage with the pressures of being a fashion brand?

It’s tough – we all value where Levi’s has come from and we always want to retain it. People want to buy from a company that has an identity, rather than just a bland copycat. But companies have to evolve as well – we’ll see a great Italian company doing technical clothing, and want to do something with them. I guess it’s about changing at the right speed, and never forgetting your past.
 

denim suit trousers bespoke

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
39 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Andrew Bentley

Simon – which style of EG’s was he wearing ?

B

Simon, two mentions of Sexton here. Are you going use him for a bespoke project?

wp

Hi Simon- LOVE your work. Speaking of great tailoring: can you tell me anything about d’Avenza these days? I’ve purchased some from “the recent label” and I’m not sure what that means. They were from a supplier in NYC. I read that Cucinelli purchased d’Avenza’s facilities – but I don’t know anything more than that. Am I getting good prices – potentially – because no one in the States knows the name? Has d’Avenza been “licensed” and therefore, the quality isn’t what it once was? I know you interviewed Mr. Clay (whose father is tied to the company), but that was the d’Avenza of old. Any thoughts? Sincere thanks.

wp

Thank you – I’m also excited to get your book. You are one of the few sartorially-inclined (at the highest level) who also makes himself available to laymen like myself.

I understand what you’ve written -but how does one assess? I’m guessing d’Avenza is fully-canvassed (regardless), and so, what should I look for, generally speaking, to evaluate the quality of the two sport coats? Neither one came with buttons (they’re unfinished sleeves). Both are fully canvassed.

Nik Ismail almurtadza

Dear Simon Appreciate if you could forward me to Ms Lizzie’s contact address/email.

Nik

Nik Ismail almurtadza

Thank you.Kindlyy forward me to the London store contact address.

Nik

Nik Ismail almurtadza

Thanks.

Nik

Anonymous

Great interview Simon. I really enjoy these ‘crossover’ articles; perhaps because I’m one of your readers who doesn’t regularly wear a suit to work so tends towards the jacket/odd trousers side of things.

Anonymous

Simon – nice article. I found the mention of JCs denim suit both intriguing and interesting. I know it’s not your commission but could you find out more on this and report? I’ve been looking around for a denim sports jacket for some time now. I know there are some bespoke houses that cold make it but your piece above has left me wanting to know more about this project.

twitter_abitofcolor

This was a very enjoyable article. Glad to see, as one other pointed out, a crossover subject for those of us who don’t wear tailored clothing daily. And, thank you for greater insight into Jonathan. He has a remarkable appreciation for all apparel traditions and influences.

Mark

Simon, apologies in advance for sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, but I just cannot accept the appeal of denim for anyone over forty – that is definitely me, but is probably not a lot of your readers – except for the most casual wear around the house, garden or shed. It’s cold in winter and hot in summer and has absolutely no drape to it. And why would you want to wear the same cloth as the 80% of the population who have no sartorial interest? What next, fleeces?

John

Hi Simon,
This is a very interesting conversation indeed!
John

Sash

Dear Simon
I’m disappointed that you are taking a bespoke denim suit seriously. It’s gimmicky not stylish by any stretch. I’m seriously considering u subscribing. It seems you are doing an increasing number of pretentious interviews that really stray from true issues of classic style. I mean test it out, would you seriously pose the question, ‘what should you wear with a jean jacket?’ Please get back to basics: what is permanently stylish, how the rules can be bent, the art of menswear. The interviews, the dinner you held, the factory visits etc- it’s all so much fluff that is fast dragging a great blog into a cesspool of subtle marketing and empty aspiration

Sash

Dear Simon
I’m glad you can see why the denim suit idea is ludicrous. I didn’t like the dinner thing because it read like a series of pats on the back and dropped names. What was really said? The factory visits are pointless for similar reasons, although I sid find the Barbour one interesting; knowing the lengths they go to in order to repair and preserve garments adds a timelessness to the Barbour coat. But is it stylish? I don’t think so. How to wear it stories that discuss the finer points of classic style are much more interesting to me and to my colleagues. They create talking points and give us inspiration to push the rules and find a rich freedom within what appear to be set forms. What to wear articles is the most basic level of your discussion of such matters as colored socks, tan shoes, grey jackets etc. they are really a discussion about the fascinating tension between forces of permanence and forces of change. The art of dressing lies in enraging and reconciling these opposing forces, that’s what I get from your discussions. In comparison the factory visits and interviews are infotainment. Please, more about the principles of style

Mac

Hi Sash, I have to disagree! I think menswear and classic style can incorporate more than just the obvious into it. Permanent Style has evolved so much and it’s the best of its type. There’s still tons of menswear content!

I don’t love denim personally but many do wear it and denim’s not a passing fad is it? I’d agree that a denim suit is not a classic item but God forbid that we ever become too pompous about it!

Sash

Dear Mac
The word ‘permanent’ in front of style implies something timeless and therefore classic, on the order of the Greek column or the Roman arch. Permanent style should discuss the foundational basics and not bring up every fatuous variation or extrapolation thereof, which is what the denim suit is. Can I suggest you engage more deeply with sartorial questions rather than succumb to the empty pursuit of clothes fact collection? if I sound pompous I don’t apologise for this misconception

Mark

Simon, can I just say how impressed I am by your unfailing politeness and the calm way in which you respond to any criticism, even intemperate. There is a lesson for us all there – particularly in the anonymity of the web. Many thanks for all you do and the manner in which you do it.

Mac

Sash, the first rule of elegance is good manners. Best of luck with that.

Sash

Yes Mac, “as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another”

AMS

The pushback against considering denim on this blog is hilarious. It’s just a fabric! — with certain properties, and, yes, emotional associations. A NY friend who went to Columbia U in the fifties said he was ridiculed for wearing jeans. Who did he think he was? A cowboy? A field hand? Perhaps some commenters on this blog were his classmates. Back then, men had many kinds of suits but only one kind of jeans (if any). Nowadays, most men have one suit (lightweight, dark, shiny) but many kinds of jeans. In denim, sartorial culture lives. So what if it’s popular culture too? Levis has a history longer than most of the tailoring, clothing or fabric houses featured on this site. They even have a history of tailored clothing; Bing Crosby’s “Canadian Tuxedo” was recently re-issued by Levis Vintage Clothing.

http://levisvintageclothing.com/bing/

Unconstructed coat makers like Boglioli always feature denim twills. And if you want something made up, the Ariston SS15 Cotton & Linen book has a page or of denim as well. Denim is “permanent style” now, whether we like it or not.

Sash

AMS my objection is not about considering denim. Sure it has a place. It’s about considering a denim suit to the point of it being the centrepiece of a feature article. At best it’s just an empty innovation. I don’t think its rude to have this opinion. After all, blogs are about exchanging views rather than indulging in groupthink- that’s what makes them interesting

Sash

The real point here is, would anyone here actually wear a denim suit? A denim tuxedo? Yes Bing did, a few times, but it didn’t seem to catch on. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe the reason is that it’s a ridiculous concept. How about a long sleeved polo shirt that requires cuff links? Or steel capped patent leather evening shoes? I’m interested to hear if anyone would actually wear it

AMS

Sash: Your opinion is not ‘rude,’ merely entertaining in your view of the blinders you believe this blog should have. A denim suit to you is “empty innnovation,” when in fact people have been trying it for a couple of generations and who knows where it will lead. The point is not that it will, or should, sweep the nation. The point is that it continues to fascinate. Custom tailoring is relatively expensive, and few men devote this resource to inexpensive fabrics like denims or cottons of any kind. But some always will. Here is another denim suit, made up by the off-Row tailor John Pearse in a navy pinstripe for GQ’s “Style Guy” Glenn O’Brien:

http://www.thesartorialist.com/photos/style-profile-glenn-obrien-gqs-style-guy/

Sash

AMS now that I see the photo on the link you posted I am ambivalent rather than completely put off by the denim suit. I’m not past the contradiction of the informality and even roughness of the fabric in the context of a suit. It seems pretentious. People, as you say, have been trying it for generations and yet it hasn’t caught on as a suit fabric in the way that flannel for example, even corduroy have. Maybe that’s because it just looks wrong and so I reiterate my question: would anyone here actually wear a denim suit?

jamesB

@Sash
The article isn’t simply about a denim suit. More about 2 people sharing common interests.

Simon, it’s great when you mention what shoes and accessories your subjects are wearing. Do you know what watches he and Alessandro Siniscalchi are wearing?

Edgardo

Por favor que vuelvan los clásicos Levis 505 . (Please come back the classic Levis 505)