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Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?
This story first appeared in the March 11, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A limited edition range of Evisu denim that pays tribute to the look and design details of some historic Levi’s jeans may prove that adage true — if it doesn’t cross the line of trademark infringement.
The Japanese label, which has its non-Japan business now based in New York, has introduced three limited edition styles for fall that overtly mimic the Levi’s 1944 501 jeans, the 1890 “Nevada” pair of jeans that were found in a Nevada mine and acquired at auction by Levi’s for $46,532, and the 1917 “Campbell” jeans.
Each pair of jeans, under the Evisu Private Stock label, faithfully duplicates the original’s design details, such as the buckle back and suspender buttons of the Campbell style, as well as the carpenter fit of the Nevada.
Only 100 pairs of the Campbell will be available, retailing for $758, along with 250 pairs of the Nevada going for $558 and 500 of the 1944 selling for $358. Each pair of jeans is packaged in an elaborate wooden box and will be available at top specialty retailers in August, including Barneys New York, American Rag, Fred Segal, Atrium and evisu.com.
“The Private Stock collection is a showcase for Evisu to retell the story of some of denim history’s most iconic jeans,” said Scott Morrison, chief executive officer of Evisu. “We’re not remaking a Levi’s jean, nor are we claiming that this is a Levi’s jean. We’re merely taking inspiration from our past and paying homage to one of the oldest, or historically relevant, jeans in existence, which in this case happens to have been an amazing pair of Levi’s. Denim has a wonderful story to tell and as denim designers you can’t help but find ideas for the future by looking in the past.”
Morrison explained that Evisu designers referenced the Levi’s product either via images or with actual vintage samples.
“In the case of the 1944 jean, we had an actual example to work with. With the “NV” jean, we studied photographs and met with trim and fabric suppliers which date back to the oldest manufacturers in America,” he said.
Homage or not, San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. has a reputation for zealously guarding its trademarks and has filed numerous lawsuits over the years against U.S. and foreign denim brands that encroached on its intellectual property.
“Our legal team is working to gather more information on this product line,” said Erica Archambault, director of publicity and brand marketing for the Levi’s brand, of the Evisu Private Stock product. “As the inventors of the blue jean in 1873, we at Levi Strauss & Co. are always humbled and flattered that fellow apparel makers look to us as a trailblazing pioneer and a constant source of inspiration. To make sure that flattery doesn’t hit too close to home, the company works on an ongoing basis to ensure that our copyrights and trademarks are respected appropriately.”