How Levi's and Reese Cooper Turned 'Mutual Respect' Into a Damn-Cool Collab

A look behind the scenes at the development of the 10-piece collection.
IMAGE COURTESY

Reese Cooper says no to a lot of collaborations. See, when your name is also the name of a brand that has the industry buzzing, a lot of people want to work together—but their true intentions tend to be both obvious and self-serving. Cooper’s had “more than a few” of those types knock on his proverbial door. But then he got put in touch with Levi’s. And for the first time in his relatively young career, the designer said yes.

“This is the first one where it felt like it was a proper collaborative effort, versus a large company wanting to work with a young brand for marketing,” Cooper says. When it’s all about the marketing, he explains, you get asked to winnow down your ideas. With Levi’s, it was different. “The reason I said yes is because I pitched the original idea once we got connected and they were like ‘That's great, but let’s expand.”

The result is a 10-piece collection that deftly blends Cooper’s own creative vision with Levi’s aesthetic and materials, and we're chatting about it at a pop-up shop in Paris dedicated to its release. On one of the walls, copies of a 60-page zine line a bookcase made of bare wood. “And, context, I’ll show you this real quick,” Cooper says, walking me over to the zines, and opening it to the first spread. “For the book we put together: first email and final campaign photo on the same page.”

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Photo by COURTESY.

The email is simple: “Reese–meet our friend Hector, who’s crushing it on collaborations over at Levi’s. Hope you guys get some shit popping.” It’s from Archie Lee Coates, cofounder and partner at the L.A.-based creative studio Playlab, Inc., and it’s dashed off with the kind of casualness you’d expect from a note sent by one friend to another. Makes sense; that’s exactly what it is.

“The initial connection was a couple years ago,” says Karyn Hillman, Levi’s chief product officer. “We met through a friend. A few people got together and said, ‘You guys should meet.’ It was just that simple.”

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Levi's x Reese Cooper Straight-Fit Jeans

$188 AT LEVI

Of course, if you take a look at the date stamp on that first email, you might notice that it wasn’t that simple. Cooper connected with Levi’s just as Covid was crashing down on the U.S.—and though both he and the Levi’s team concede that it changed the way they had to approach their collaboration, there was a silver lining to be found, too.

“I'm pretty thankful, honestly, that it happened when it did, right at the start of quarantines and Covid and all that. Because we all just had a lot of time on our hands to really think about all these ideas,” Cooper says. “I feel like the normal process would've just been: we have a weekly meeting or something, review, go back. But I was on FaceTime with the head of graphics over there sometimes for four hours a day for a week, just as if it was a homie. Just looking at stuff every ten minutes, being like ‘Yeah, yeah. No, that’s sick. All right. I'll bounce you this, give me that.’ Just super collaborative.”

A glimpse into how the specially designed Levi’s x Reese Cooper patch came together.
Photo by COURTESY.
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Hillman agrees. “It was just an easy back and forth of creative teams,” she says. “It was across digital and across phone calls and video chats, but it was quite fluid.” She puts that down to a shared vision, noting the love of workwear and utility and purpose-driven clothing that sits at the core of both brands. “It all comes down to mutual respect,” she continues. “We love their work, and they love our work and when we co-create, you can see both sides come through the experience or the product. That's when it's the best.”

In terms of the product, that translates to cropped riffs on the Type II trucker jacket and matching jeans in duck canvas in a natural colorway or Cooper’s signature hunter green—the natural set opened the Reese Cooper runway show in Paris the day before the pop-up opened—plus tees, sweatshirts, and one patchwork-y denim chore coat that Cooper sees as an encapsulation of the entire project and the time in which it came together.

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Levi's x Reese Cooper Chore Coat

$288 AT LEVI

Just as the pandemic was settling in, Cooper made a video showing how to make your own chore coat at home. It was a hit. “And so, it just felt super full-circle to be able to offer, ‘Hey, here's how to make one of these [with the video],’ and then a version that's made really fucking well two years later,” he explains. “Because that's something that I feel like a lot of people discovered the brand from, was that DIY situation. And so to be able to do a chore coat out of their materials, their classic washes, their language—but then have my framework, with their language coming through on it—I think that's the thing that stands out most.”

The chore coat (and corresponding jeans) in development.
Photo by COURTESY.

Well, that and the chance, after countless hours spent connecting over phone lines and screens, to actually hang out with the folks that made it all happen. “It's mostly just about the people involved in this,” Cooper says, looking out over the room in Paris. “This is also my first time hanging with all the Levi's people since it's been fucking Covid. I've been on no less than 300 phone calls with everyone in this room. And it's like, this is the first time where we actually get to hang out and high five. It's amazing.”

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FromEsquire US

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About The Author
Jonathan Evans
Jonathan Evans is the style director of Esquire, covering all things fashion, grooming, accessories, and, of course, sneakers. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son. You can follow him at @MrJonathanEvans on Twitter and Instagram.
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