Levi’s Hot Rod Rally Revs Up in Berlin

Company’s Vintage Clothing unit next plans for Motown 1964 exhibit.

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Fast cars, cool shirts and a Fender guitar.

This story first appeared in the March 27, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The spirit of 1953 made a pit stop in Berlin last week, courtesy of Levi’s Vintage Clothing. The retro-denim specialists’ traveling exhibition, a tribute to the hot rod and the culture associated with it, pulled into denim-focused retailer 14 oz. on Friday night to deliver a glimpse of a time when reconditioned roadsters were all the rage and distressed denim a by-product of wear rather than production.

On display were original images from Life magazine showing the rise of the drag race, a short film looking at the day of the drag strip by artist Aaron Rose and a look at the era’s do-it-yourself aesthetic, which promoted customization of cars and clothing. Created especially for the display were a pair of showpiece pants with a battered leather pocket and a vest with Jalopy embroidery and leather trim. A reproduction of a 1957 Fender electric guitar was also on display, antiqued to give it the same look of gritty wear-and-tear.

A vitrine showed 35 custom-made airbrushed sweatshirts by Von Franco, which will be sold in select boutiques after the exhibition has finished its tour. The homage to hot rod is designed to coincide with Levi’s Vintage Clothing’s spring line of archive-influenced looks including jeans, bomber jackets and fitted ringer T-shirts printed with stars or stripes — classic Americana with an edge.

Martin White, European sales director for Levi’s, described Levi’s Vintage Clothing as “reissues” rather than “reproductions” of the brand’s classic looks. The next exhibition will be centered around Detroit 1964 with a focus on early Motown.

With jeans priced at $250 in the U.S., and 249 euros, or about $323 at current exchange, in Europe, the line is selling authenticity to an aware audience. “We let consumers make up their own minds. A lot of denim companies tend to preach a bit,” White explained. His view is that Levi’s has been seen as a blank canvas for creativity and subculture, evident in the customizing craze of the hot rod era currently under the merchandising microscope.

Along with London, Paris, Stockholm and Milan, Berlin is one of Levi’s five European hubs. With progress in Russia, he’s hoping to see Eastern Europe gain traction, too.

The exhibit has already hit Los Angeles, Brooklyn, N.Y., and London and will remain parked in Berlin at 14 oz. until April 6 before heading to the finish line in Tokyo.

Levi’s Vintage Clothing will be back in town this summer for Berlin’s Bread & Butter trade show, exhibiting in the Lock section.

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