NEW YORK — In the age of collaborations, Levi’s and Nike’s Jordan Brand have caught the bug. The two apparel icons—Jordan as the face of basketball gear and Levi’s as the denim king—are expected to announce a partnership today that will yield a limited-edition set of jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt.
The co-branded collection, called 23/501, will have a run of just 2,323 kits (23 was Michael Jordan’s basketball jersey number), each of which will include a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans, an Air Jordan Retro 1 style sneaker and a brushed cotton T-shirt featuring a graphic mix of both brand’s iconic imagery.
“This is a great way to bring together two classic, authentically American brands,” explained Douglas Sweeney, director of consumer marketing for the Levi’s brand. “We both share a passionate fan base and we both own clear leadership positions in our respective categories.”
With a release date of March 1, the 23/501 collaboration incorporates details from both Levi’s and Jordan into each component. Levi’s raw selvedge 501 denim is lined with Jordan’s iconic elephant print and includes such features as Jordan “Jumpman” embroidery on one pocket and six gold rings—symbolizing Jordan’s six championships—on the inside of the button fly. To protect sneakers from the raw denim bleed, the bottom hem is lined with a leather sneaker guard.
The Air Jordans are similarly adorned with Levi’s details, like reverse-side denim (also printed in Jordan’s elephant pattern), denim stitching and the Levi’s red tab. Both products, along with the collectible T-shirt, are encased in a large keepsake box, decorated with graphics from each brand and containing acrylic placards with Levi’s and Jordan’s respective histories. Each box is numbered to ensure authenticity.
“Collaborations are a dime a dozen,” said Fran Boller, business director of apparel for the Jordan brand. “But this product goes above and beyond just slapping two names together. Everything, from the items you are buying to the packaging they come in, is a collectible.”
With a $395 price tag, the 23/501 is fit for the increasingly savvy streetwear customer, a guy who Jordan already targets, and with whom Levi’s has lately found tremendous success. Many streetwear retailers report that classic Levi’s styles dominate their denim categories, thanks to a backlash from the over-embroidered looks that have categorized young men’s denim in the past.
The 23/501 collaboration will hit that demographic squarely, with retail distribution at high-end streetwear and sneaker shops, specialty chains and, of course, selected Levi’s and NikeTown stores. Scott Collins, GMM of Downtown Locker Room, will offer the 23/501 kit at several of the chain’s stores. “The execution on this and the attention to detail are tremendous,” he said. “Each item can stand on its own or be worn together. But out of every 10 that are sold, nine are never going to get worn. It’s a brilliant collectible.”
The market for collectible collaborations has exploded in recent years, from high/low combinations, like H&M and Roberto Cavalli, to underground streetwear pairings, like Penfield and Maharishi. While Levi’s has thus far joined forces with several small brands and artists, including Alife and Damien Hirst, its Jordan collaboration is the first mega-brand Levi’s has aligned itself with.
Meanwhile, Jordan, although owned by collaboration-happy Nike, has shied away from partnerships. Explained Boller, “Most companies would get more of a benefit from our brand than we’d get from them.” Thanks to its iconic brand name, though, Boller contends, the Levi’s partnership is an effective way to forge its first collaborative relationship with another apparel company. “This sets the platform for future collaborations in apparel and shoes,” she said, intimating that a high-end designer pairing could come next. “There are endless opportunities out there for us to get involved.”
As for the Jordan/Levi’s pairing, Boller hopes to keep Jordan involved with the denim kingpin, with possible biannual limited-edition releases and, eventually, a Jordan staple style in Levi’s line of denim.
“Levi’s has a lot of the same qualities that we have,” she said. “We’re really doing something very special here.”