Several readers asked how my bespoke jeans, made by Levi’s in London, have aged in the four years I’ve had them.
To answer, I decided to do a shoot at the new Levi’s bespoke workshop on Great Marlborough Street, showing in detail the ageing of the two pairs.
When Levi’s introduced its service – known as Lot No.1 – in 2014, I had a first pair made in Japanese Kaihara 14.25oz denim (above).
These were high waisted and quite tapered in the leg.
A few months later I added a second pair, this time in Cone Mills 13.5oz denim – below.
I had found the leg of the first pair a little too slim, and widened them slightly (18cm at the bottom, rather than 17.5cm). These were a mid-rise.
Over the past four years, as I’ve worn the denims in different temperatures, I’ve never really noticed much of a difference between the two weights.
But their colours are certainly different.
As with many Japanese denims, the Kaihara ones were a slightly deeper shade of indigo, and this has become much more noticeable as they have been washed and worn.
(Each pair has been washed five or six times in those four years, with around six months of initial wear before they were washed – helping create those personal whiskers and creases.)
Above you can see the Japanese pair as they are today, laid on top of the original raw denim.
The blue has certainly come through strongly on the back of the knees, the seat and the cuffs, but there are also parts that remain a deep indigo (as ever, click on the image to enlarge).
A honeycomb pattern is clearly visible across the back of the knees, but it is not that pronounced.
The US Cone Mills pair, on the other hand, is noticeably bluer and the fading has been more extreme.
These have probably been worn more than the high-waisted pair, but nowhere near enough to account for the difference in fading.
However, these too are laid on top of the denim they were made in, and you can see that there was very little difference in the original raw denim.
This is hopefully useful for anyone looking to commission jeans in either – so much of the appeal of denim is how it fades over time, and this gives a rough idea of what they will look like.
But I’d also say it’s worth heeding the advice of Lizzie (Radcliffe, above) and the rest of her team at Lot No.1.
They’ve made a lot of these now (the 1000th pair was last weekend!) and they’ve seen how all the denims wear and fade.
Those two flat-lay pictures weren’t really direct comparisons of course, as the Kaihara showed the backs of legs, and the Cone Mills the front.
Below are some more direct ones. First, the top half, where you can see a lot of whiskering on both pairs, but far more on the Cone Mills.
Perhaps most noticeable is the way the rivets have faded the fly on the Cone Mills pair.
In terms of style, by the way, I’ve found that the Kaihara are slightly smarter by virtue of the their darker colour, and the higher rise means they leave less of a shirting gap when worn with a jacket.
The bluer denim of the Cone Mills is more casual, but is also nicer with navy, such as a navy crewneck sweater, worn above.
Below is another comparison, this time of the honeycombing on the back of the knees.
I had the belt loops taken off my jeans, by the way, soon after having them made.
I don’t need to wear a belt to keep them up of course – you rarely do with jeans, and particularly not with these.
I also generally prefer the look of jeans without a belt, and rarely wear one.
So it seemed silly to have the loops, and perhaps a subtle, idiosyncratic style point to go without.
I’m sure some denim heads would say this ruins the style of the classic five-pocket jean, but I like it and have never regretted the choice.
I’ve also found over the years that the high-rise cut fits me very well at the back, but is a little too high in the front.
Readers will know that I generally need a slight slope from back to front to be comfortable with a high-rise design, and my next pair (a canvas-like flecked cream) will be cut that way.
Lizzie didn’t have that much flexibility at the start of Lot No.1 to experiment with different designs or cuts, but that has slowly changed.
A straight cut across the top was very much the Levi’s house style, but it is now possible to vary some of these small points.
The range of materials available has also increased substantially over the years.
There are organic cottons now, a range of weights of denim from 8oz to 22oz, and a natural-indigo dyed cotton is coming soon.
Lizzie is fond of a ‘space weft’ denim that has a multicoloured back to the cloth, which comes through as the jeans fade.
That might be too much for me, but I am a fan of the canvas and chino-cottons, with my cream one a very natural-looking new addition. (Bottom, with a choice of rivets.)
The Lot No.1 team (recently increased to four) is now based on the first floor of a new Levi’s building on Great Marlborough Street, just next to Liberty’s.
It’s a really lovely space, with floor-to-ceiling windows and all the work being done on-site, next to the customer patterns and fitting rooms.
The previous area in the basement of the Oxford Street store was nice, but always a bit of an add-on to the main shop.
This is definitely a dedicated Lot No.1 area, as the sign on the wall proudly proclaims.
The bespoke service recently launched in the Champs Elysées Levi’s store in Paris, by the way, to add to London, New York (Meatpacking District) and San Francisco (Market Street).
I can’t speak personally for the other locations, but based on how good my experience has been in London, I’d say they’re definitely worth checking out.
The wait time for finished jeans in London is now around 14 weeks (including one fitting) and the price is the same as four years ago – £500, with every subsequent pair in the same style £450.
The only difference today is there are more expensive denims available, which increase the price.
In the pictures I am wearing a bespoke shirt by Luca Avitabile in our PS Oxford fabric, which as I said in that post, I think is the perfect companion to denim.
There are a couple of dozen lengths of that left (we made a lot!) on the shop site.
The desert boots (above) are Shanklins from Edward Green. There are socks hiding in there, just below the top of the boots.
Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man