You Nguyen – Levi’s Visionary




What does Levi’s represent? Levi’s(R) is the embodiment of timeless cool, rooted in classic American utilitarian design. To use a Greek metaphor, it could be described as the phoenix of youth fashion – a brand built on purity and simplicity of vision and expression that is reborn new and yet the same, season after season.

How difficult is it to stay loyal to the tradition of Levi’s and at the same time follow fashion trends? We always try to anticipate trends, rather than follow them. And in this, our 135 year history of denim design and innovation is an extraordinary advantage – fashion evolves is a cyclical manner and I believe that when you know where you come from, it’s easier to choose the right way forward. The starting place for our creative process is always a visit to our Archives in San Francisco – one of the biggest fashion collections in the world, which includes Levi’s(R) jeans from 1873 to date. From then on, the sensibility and curiosity of our young and talented design team ensure that all designs are contemporary and relevant for today’s urban lives. It is possible to marry tradition and innovation and come up with designs that are radically new yet familiar – just think about our LEVI’S(R) ENGINEERED JEANS(R), as they are in essence our 501(R) jeans reinterpreted for the urban lives of a new generation. Their celebrated design is still amazingly avant-garde after 10 years!

What is the biggest competitor of Levi’s? It really changes from country to country – there is no jeanswear brand that has a presence similar to ours, consistently strong across 110 countries! There are many interesting brands that may challenge us in one or a handful of markets, but are virtually unknown in others. This is why we have a focus on people, rather than companies – if we can design great clothing that appeal to young people and make sure it is sold where they shop, then we know we are on the right track!

What is the song that best describes the philosophy of Levi’s? That’s a great question! We had a debate at the office and had great fun trying to find one song that could really convey what we are all about! We couldn’t really find one but agreed that it would have to be a big rock anthem – the Stones’ “Satisfaction” maybe? We always try to create perfect jeans and we are never happy with anything less! That’s what keeps us young! Or perhaps “The Times They Are A’ Changing” by Bob Dylan, which captures the strength of youth through tumultuous times – the Levi’s(R) brand has always been at the heart of youth movements through the ages. I think we’ll talk about this for weeks!

What’s the relationship between fashion and music? Both are minor “arts” and the expression of their time – there is an intangible connection between the two that goes a long way back. The link is especially strong between music and youth fashion – jeanswear in particular… Think of the iconic look of bands and singers across the decade – looking the part is as important as sounding right for the success of an act. Rock music and its variations have traditionally been the soundtrack of Levi’s(R) – from the songs that inspire our creative design process, to the bands that choose Levi’s(R) jeans as their “uniform”, there is a very strong mutual admiration. That’s one of the reasons why we chose musicians as the embodiment of our brand –Josh Beech, frontman of alternative rock group Snish appears in our Levi’s(R) 501(R) jeans campaign and the amazing Cat Power will be featured in our Women’s communications next Spring. She told us she loved a particular style of Levi’s(R) jeans so much that she bought 9 pairs so that she would not run out!

What are the newest tendencies and trends in the denim industry? There is a big trend in society towards a greater respect of nature and creative self expression born out of necessity that is also reflected in our industry – through design, styling and shopping experiences. For certain, biotechnology and nanotechnology allow us to create fabrics and colors that would have been unimaginable only a couple of years back. Modern technology also helps the environment, be it though the production of bio-fibers which perform as well as traditional fibers, or even through synthetic fibers that can paradoxically have a greatly beneficial impact on the environment.

Who/what do you consider the biggest success in the fashion industry at the moment? The economic situation is particularly challenging, so this question will be best answered in a few months’ time. This is a time when consumers will truly decide what brands will be around in the future or what others will not. Even painful times are part of progress. Five to ten years ago, the high street chains redefined the fashion world with cheaper versions of designer clothing, available at faster rates than ever before. Now I think there are some very interesting digital retailers that have become veritable brands and are changing people’s relationship with clothing and fashion shopping possibly forever. I am particularly humbled and pleased to have discovered this week that WGSN – the leading global research and trend analysis service to the design and style industries – elected Levi Strauss & Co. as one of the most successful company reinventions of the decade. It’s great to hear that all the passion, innovation and hard work we have been putting into the Levi’s(R) brand is being recognized.

What are your dreams for Levi’s? What are your personal aspirations? I wish the Levi’s(R) brand the ability to continue touching people’s lives for many years to come – through jeans and clothes we hope you’ll have amazing experiences in, or maybe with the inspiration you may get discovering all the musicians and artists we are proud to be associated with and affectionately call our ‘Heroes’.There are quite a few Greek talents on! My personal aspiration is quite simply to continue working with some of the best talents in the industry – designers, photographers, illustrators and many more. It’s the most enriching experience and a true privilege to witness the drive and creativity of so many young people.

How would you judge the Greek consumers in comparison to other Europeans? Greek consumers are very Mediterranean on one side, and almost Nordic on the other – it could be a reason for the fact that so many people in the Greek fashion and fashion publishing industry seem to have very close ties with the UK. There is a big part of you that is extremely progressive – just look at your own magazine, which could stand up to comparison with some of the best publications in the so called ‘big fashion markets’. We get it every month and it sits comfortably on our tables next to the big international titles!