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Basic blues: Going forward, Levi’s and Gap look to the past

  • Los Angeles Times
  • Published Monday, Sep. 9, 2013, at 12 a.m.

— While some denim brands are pushing the trends this fall – giving blue jeans motocross details, quilting finishes or leatherlike coatings – two of the biggest players are looking back instead of forward. Levi’s and Gap are both mining their archives and leveraging a nostalgic longing for decades past.

The most high-profile effort is Levi’s relaunch of its Orange Tab collection in mid-August. Produced from 1969 through the late 1970s, the line was created as a less expensive offering for the burgeoning youth movement of the time. According to company lore, the lower price and a manufacturing process that allowed Levi’s to quickly adapt to changing styles (first slim and skinny, later with flared legs) made a huge success of the jeans, which bore a Levi’s orange tab logo affixed to the pocket in place of the traditional red one.

For the re-created version, the company has gone to great lengths to duplicate every exacting detail from the original manufacturing process, from the fabric “recipe” (a specific 14-ounce, wide-loomed denim made by Cone Denim in North Carolina) to forgoing its famous rivet details in favor of bar tack stitching. Perhaps the only detail of the collection that isn’t duplicated is the lower price point: Orange Tab 2.0 is positioned as a premium product, with five-pocket jeans retailing from $205 to $225 at launch. T-shirts are priced at $98; button-front, western-style denim shirts are in the $180-$198 range, and a 1970s-era trucker jacket (the priciest of the inaugural offerings) clocks in at $288.

The silhouettes are simple (a 1960s’ skinny leg designated the 606, a 1970s’ regular fit called the 615 and a 1970s’ bootcut called the 607), the range of washes uncomplicated, and there’s nary an embellishment to be seen.

In a zen-denim way, it’s precisely what’s not there that Levi Strauss & Co. hopes resonates with today’s denim consumer.

The Gap, which opened in 1969 at the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco and has long leveraged its roots, recently announced it, too, would be looking to the past with a fall ad campaign called “Back to Blue.” According to Gap’s global chief marketing officer, Seth Farbman, the campaign is about “getting back to what matters most, our truest selves, when we are most comfortable in our own skin.”

The campaign includes tapping 24 “influential millennials” (bloggers, reality TV stars, stylists) to share their stories “about what it means to be one’s most authentic self” in short video clips, photos and animated GIFs in support of a fall collection grounded in Gap’s 1969 denim program. The collection is a range of simple, slim-fitting jeans for men and women (retailing from $60 to $90), button-front chambray and denim shirts and a variety of denim jackets.

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