Earlier this summer, Jean Stories took a field trip to San Francisco and devoted it to everything Levi’s: seeing headquarters, touring the company’s amazing Eureka Innovation Lab, where experiments in indigo and new designs in denim are tested and perfected; we visited the archives, getting thisclose to Levi’s’ oldest pair (they date back to 1879, btw). It was a bucket-list caliber adventure – a most inspiring pilgrimage for jeans lovers like us.
As exciting as the tours we took was getting to meet some of the seriously creative people behind the huge, storied name – the men and women, like Kaede Matsumoto, who are shaping the way Levi’s looks and feels around the world. As brand style director, Kaede’s job is a big one that, in a nutshell, is about storytelling. She nurtures Levi’s newest looks from their concept to the customer’s hands, lending her years of experience in visual merchandising to all kinds of projects – from presentations, to shoots and in-store experiences. The bigger lifestyle that Levi’s stands for – and that comes across loud and clear in the brand’s new, sexy-cool #LiveinLevi’s campaign – is designed, in part, by Kaede.
Aha, we thought pulling up to her bungalow in the Bay Area’s hilly Fairfax neighborhood – Kaede is the style she lends to Levi’s. It was all right there: Dirt road; red pick-up truck parked in the driveway; handsome, bearded fiancé making a plate of gooey, delicious cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery in nearby Point Reyes Station; blankets and textiles from trips around the world scattered about – and Kaede, all smiles, in some extremely covetable Levi’s 501s. She’d just had them tailored – leg slimmed, rise shortened – by the company’s master tailor (yes, such a person exists, and he is as cool as he sounds; you will meet him here at some point). Wearing them with Birkenstocks and a crisp cotton shirt from her favorite L.A. outpost Rth, she looked totally chic, laid-back, and, well, right at home.
As expected, Kaede knows her jeans. She’s worked in fashion, and specifically denim, for lots of years (with a break in between to travel the world – Morocco, Nepal, Japan…). We sat on Kaede’s deck surrounded by oaks and pillows galore, and with only brief interruptions by deer rustling through the brush below, talked about her life and love of denim.
You’ve worked mostly for denim brands. How come?
I think I’m drawn to denim because it speaks to my lifestyle. I’m pretty casual. I like jeans because they’re the perfect foundation. They’re totally versatile – I mean, I can wear them with Chucks one day, and Manolos the next.
Do you remember your first pair of Levi’s?
I do remember my first pair of Levi’s. I think they were 501s, and they were cutoff shorts. I must have been 11 or 12 when I got them.
Where did you get them?
Uh, oof. I don’t remember. I think they were my friend Kim’s sister’s. I think I stole them from her [laughs].
What about the one’s you have on? Talk us through their evolution.
These I’ve had for about five years. I believe I got them at the Rose Bowl flea market. And I probably got them from a Japanese vendor. I mess with my jeans a lot. I get them altered, I get them tapered – and so these have lived through different iterations. They were really big for a long time, just big, straight, and baggy. And then, just this morning, I got them tapered, and I had the crotch taken up and the butt taken in a little bit. They’ve been completely altered from what they were.
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How many pairs of Levi’s do you keep in rotation at one time?
I’d say about 10 to 15. I have my skinny jeans that I wear. And then I have my drop-crotch tapered boyfriends. It’s either one or the other. Once in a while, I’ll play with a straight or a boot, but I don’t feel as much like myself in those ones.
Time for some of the Jean Stories standards: Describe the ones you’re wearing in one word…
Wise. All these little details and imprints are mine. They carry this wisdom of who I am and of my experiences.
What do you need your jeans to be always?
If those jeans could talk what would they say about you?
That I’m easygoing, but I’m also uptight. I’m about juxtaposition.
Are you Gemini?
No, I’m Pisces. But I found out I’m a Taurus moon. Tauruses, I guess, are very aesthetic people, they’re all about the senses. I like beautiful things. I like things to feel good. I wouldn’t wear anything because it’s a trend. My jeans definitely know that about me by now.
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What’s the most memorable place you’ve been in the jeans you’re wearing?
These went with me to Peru. To Macchu Pichu.
What’s the weirdest place they’ve been?
Probably to a meditation center. I wore them on a retreat in New Mexico, where I meditated for a week.
Tell us what you love most about them.
The patches, the tapered leg, the casualness.
Is there something they reveal about the way you live on a daily basis?
It takes a certain confidence to wear them, but also a love of craft. These jeans, and me, we take a certain amount of time and care.
Who besides you has worn them?
I don’t know. But they must have had a previous owner.
Was there every a pair that got away?
I did have a pair of old 501s that were shredded to bits. They were light and faded…the crotch had blown out. I have a flat butt, but those always made it look good [laughs].
Was there ever a pair you should have broken up with sooner?
I wear so many drop-crotch, baggy jeans that are so not flattering! But I don’t care.
How many pairs of jeans do you feel you need to be satisfied?
I’m really trying to buy less stuff, but more quality [pause]. 15 pairs.
If you had to replace your Levi’s with something else, what would it be?
This doesn’t really do the same thing, but I guess…a pencil skirt, believe it or not. You can wear a pencil skirt with a tee, with a sneaker…it’s as versatile as jeans.
Fill in the blank: Without my jeans, I am ________________.
In my jeans, I am _________________.
See who else lives in Levi’s: