PARIS — Denim artist Ian Berry has taken over Paris’ Place de la Republique with a massive mural to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Levi’s iconic 501 jeans.
Levi’s is also hosting an ephemeral exhibition to detail the original jeans brand’s history inside the square’s Fluctuât Nec Mergitur café, before the mural moves to Milan and Madrid.
The piece is 13 feet high and 33 feet long, and made out of pre-worn denim. Berry conceived of the work in his North London atelier and assembled it on site in Paris. The mural depicts iconic style through the ages, including hippy, punk, biker and cowboy, with a banner reading “Legends Never Die.”
Berry, a pioneer of denim murals and gardens who has been working in the medium for 15 years, had to change some of his traditional techniques to fulfill the large dimensions. It reads as a painting from a few feet away, before you can see the texture up close.
“People don’t realize it’s made of jeans,” he told WWD, “and I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Berry said it’s always been a dream to create a project of this scale but that while other companies had approached him in the past, he’s declined. He’s never wanted to be associated with just one label and preferred to stay denim agnostic, but decided to take on this project because of the brand’s big birthday and its public exposure.
“This one was exciting because this is a really cool location, and I want people to be able to see my work in real life,” he said as skateboarders performed jumps and turns in front of the piece. Berry notes that his work is usually exhibited in galleries and museums and the most democratic of materials should be seen by the public.
“As I got more into the history and the founding story of 150 years, it is something to celebrate and to get into for art reasons, not just something commercial,” he said.
Inside the exhibit, Levi’s not only showcases its history, but walks through the process of creation, showing cotton plants and and other raw materials that go into textiles.
Normally Berry said he works on project for six months, but this required a tight time frame which resulted in some sleepless nights. “If you saw my studio right now, it’s an absolute mess. I’ve never been through so many jeans,” he said.
He sorts through washes and fades to find the right shades and gradients to bring together a piece. Pressed to number how many pairs went into the mural, he estimated between 90 and 100 contributed to the work, which is then laid on a stretched denim canvas.
Berry, who traded a career in advertising for art, said that he has considered other textiles but finds denim to be the most inspiring and he’s devoted to the fabric. He notes that after a decade and a half of working with denim, the style has been widely copied at fashion events and trade shows. He’s now forming a collective to work together with other textile artists whose style has been replicated.
After taking the Levi’s mural around Europe, Berry will be curating an exhibit at the Catto Gallery in London with his work and that of other textile artists. Mark Evans, who works with leather, is on the roster, as well as works made from packing tape and trainers.
Berry will continue to create new works. “Everyone wants to do it now, but I think I’ve still got a lot of legs in denim,” he joked.
The Paris exhibit will be on display until March 19. The mural will move to Milan on April 17 and Madrid on May 4.