Caroline Calvin

Finding the thread of Levis through history and design.

Caroline Calvin’s office walls are adorned with denim. Behind the desk of the Senior Vice President for Global Design at Levi Strauss & Co., jean jackets blend with belts and vintage 501s  as if they were a part of a collective story told in weathered blue, green grass stains, patches and broken zippers.

If this particular collection were to speak of Calvin personally, it would probably start when she was just a young girl in seventh grade stealing her brother’s Levis when he wasn’t looking. It would tell tales of her moving, on a whim, to New York and after a series of odd jobs, landing a gig designing for the French firm of Marithé et François Girbaud and being recognized by Levi’s for her innovative approach to design. One would hear how she brought a bold new vision to the brand with her infamous Levi’s Red and Levi’s Vintage Clothing (LVC) lines. And somewhere there would be stories of surfing in Costa Rica, traveling to small grocery stores in search of local packaging and overseeing one of the sharpest design collectives in the fashion industry. Of course, as in any pair of jeans, there would be rips and snags, but when it all came out in the wash, all of the jeans on this wall would have one singular common thread—they were in good hands.

You have found great inspiration from your travels around the globe. What do you find yourself drawn to when you are in someplace new?
I have this automatic pilot when I go to a new city. I think I try to find the home of a city and I tend to be drawn to the local neighborhoods, particularly local grocery stores.

Why grocery stores?
I am really fascinated with regional packaging. Like hand soap, shampoo, cigarettes and toothpaste—things that you know in your world, but are repackaged and reshaped to the local market. I’ll walk around, buy stuff and set up my own kitchen at my hotel, so to speak.

When you say “home of a city” I can’t help but think of that idea in regards to your work with Levis and how you found such a distinctive voice and pulse within this company. Where do you see Levis’ home?
The home of the brand is the 501 Jean. When we get lost in shuffle of trends, the first place we start is with the purest expression of the brand and filter all of the other trends that are happening out there through the lens of Levi’s. When I see somebody drawn to a pair of Levi’s, there is something that says, ‘They get it.’ And sometimes ‘it’ can’t be put into words. On one hand, they are wearing a product that has originality and roots, but it is also current and holds future nostalgia.

So, you look at history to…
Compel forward.

Like a reference point?
Right. History attached itself to Levi’s, rather than the other way around. Like when the Berlin Wall came down or pictures of Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan wearing our jeans. Levis was
always there.

So, what’s your personal history with Levi’s?
Seventh grade. I remember my brother was out riding motorbikes and I would steal his jeans.

That would make you around 13-years-old. Out of curiosity, how you would describe yourself at 13?
Oh, I was very awkward.

Well, how different are you from 13 to now?
(Long pause) I’m actually about nine-years-old right now.

How’s that working?
It works great. I’m actually nine and Peter, my husband, is 12.

So, is that weird for him? That’s a huge difference at that age.
It’s OK. Because I guess, he’s always been three years older. But you know, in my heart I am nine when I am mature and probably four-years-old when I’m having a tantrum (Laughs).

So, was there ever a cognitive ‘ah-ha’ to take that jump into the design world and go to New York for instance? I understand that you threw a dart at a calendar to decide when to leave?
Yeah. I threw a dart because I didn’t want to make a rational decision about when to go. At that moment, I wanted to find a way to have the courage to make a choice without any interference.

– Patrick Knowles

Reading by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Caroline Calvin.

1. Both delicate and intense. Fortunately, the delicacy is of aesthetics and perception, rather than physical delicacy, so they are likely to survive the kind of adventures and situations their intensity gets them into.

2. Emotionally sensitive, with a fairly hair-trigger startle reflex.

3. Dreamy at times. Practical at times. Can be practical when focused.

4. Depth of love. They will love deeply and fully. She puts her whole heart into it and tends to be at least serially monogamous.

5. Because of the intensity of the relationships this person will form throughout life, they will have a strong need for physical privacy—retreats, cabins in the woods, etc., to give them a vacation from their own heart.

6. This person will keep things. They will be able to save money, like old bathrobes, found items—and retain old dear friends.

7. Their emotional intensity is moderated by a lack of impulsiveness and a good ability to plan. This is a fortunate combination as it will allow them to emotionally survive a complex and interesting life!

8. Wildly independent in the kind of things they think up. A very original thinker. Able to think outside society’s norms and come up with wild ideas that they wouldn’t actually dream of putting into action.

9. Extremely fond of travel, with a strong attraction (both as friends and as lovers) for people from other lands and other cultures.

10. Extremely civilized. Aware and able to see the needs of others and, when not suffering from either their temper or their love, life will behave with utmost kindness and consideration.


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