LEVI’S TAKES TO THE STREETS

Byline: Janet Ozzard

It was after midnight in the East Village, and Caroline Parent was on the prowl.
Parent, design director for Levi’s women’s wear jeans, was surveying Avenue A looking for unconventionally clad young girls. She wanted to interview them for a video she put together that will be part of the fall 1996 product presentation back at Levi’s San Francisco headquarters.
“There’s one,” she said to Rose Frisenda, the camerawoman on the project. Frisenda and Janine Misdon, a partner at Sputnik, the multimedia firm that produced the film, approached the girl. They asked if she’d like to be in the video, and Misdon commenced a string of questions.
“We ask them about their general life, and how that general life influences the way they dress and shop,” explained Parent, who hung back and snapped photos during the interview. “We ask who their favorite band is, and what they want to do with their lives, and what they think about. We also ask them product questions, like whose jeans do they wear, what do they like about them, what would they change, do they want color, and so forth.”
Parent, who works in the San Francisco offices, came to town soon after the first of the year, partly for this project. Before combing the East Village, she said, the team went to the Upper East and West Side neighborhoods. There’s a big difference, she said, between uptown and downtown.
“Uptown is more of a Red Tab customer,” she said, referring to Levi’s more classic label. “Downtown is a Silver Tab customer. Downtown girls live for their music — they’ll say, ‘I can’t get through the day without hearing Green Day.’ Uptown girls listen to music, but they don’t live for it. They wouldn’t shop in a thrift store because they think the idea of wearing someone else’s clothes is kind of gross. But that’s where downtown girls buy a lot of their clothes.”
But there is one unifying factor, Parent said: “They’re all in love with Brad Pitt.”
Eventually, the footage will be edited down to a series of montages that will help the Levi’s sales force better understand the consumer, and therefore be better able to sell the line to their accounts, explained Cherie Power, assistant advertising manager for women’s wear.
“This is supposed to be an eye-opener,” she said. “What we want them to take away is a sense of who the target is, the fit concept, and what kids are looking for in terms of denim. Basically, it’s background on what influences the kids. We’ll also include the kinds of music they’re listening to — Barry White, Green Day — and there’s an interview with Caroline in the video where she talks about her inspirations.”
Parent also uses these expeditions to chart emerging trends — currently, she said, she’s seeing girls “pairing,” where two best friends dress identically down to their shoes.
“They don’t talk about doing drugs or going partying,” she said. “They talk about things like friends and family, and inner beauty, and that’s why they don’t need to wear make-up. And their hairstyles are almost ugly. Those little barrettes — I mean, it’s not exactly pretty. But they’re also interested in femininity, too. They wear their jeans loose, but it’s with a tiny top. They mix up the different messages, and they change from day to day.”
Parent said she’s developed a pyramid model for teens: “There’s the explorers, the visibles and the followers. The explorers are the first to do things; they’re out on the edge. They’re the first to get a tattoo or wear something weird. They shop the flea markets, and they’re the ones responsible for the Sixties and Seventies revivals, because that’s what’s in the vintage shops now.
“The visibles follow the explorers, and sort of take the trends mainstream, and the followers get it about a year later.”
With her jet-black hair, white skin and multiple silver earrings, Parent looks like an explorer herself, but she collects data on all the groups. And the video won’t just be about New York’s young and groovy; Levi’s has already shot in Seattle, Wash., and Austin, Tex.
“You would think that a place like Austin would be more mainstream,” said Parent. “But what we’re finding is that the more rural and somewhat isolated the place is, the more outspoken the kids are. The views and ideas that we heard in Austin were very similar to what we heard in New York.”
She also learned about where and how kids shop.
“A lot of these kids shop in thrift stores not only because it’s less expensive, but because they can find something different. There’s only one of each thing in a thrift shop, but when they go into a department store, there’s 200 of the same thing, and they don’t like that. They might go to a boutique or department store to see what the trends are, and then they go to a thrift shop to try to find that for less money or adapt something. Or if they can’t afford what’s out there, they’ll change what they already have by cutting it up or trading with their friends.”
But with thrift stores getting more expensive as well as picked over, Parent said, she’s not sure where the next explorer trend will come from. Some have started going into mass market stores and buying clothes there and then styling them for a more individual look.
Meanwhile, Frisenda hit gold — she found a group of 12- and 13-year-olds walking down Avenue A after seeing the new movie “Higher Learning.” All are wearing baggy jeans with oversized rugged outerwear.
“Whose jeans are those?” Parent asked.
“They’re Levi’s!” the kids shouted, turning around to flash their labels.

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