As a heritage brand, Levi’s take pride in their legacy repeatedly striving for ‘authenticity’ and an ‘anti-corporate’ approach through their imagery and shared narratives.
Their archive contains an iconic leather jacket that Einstein bought whilst in the process of becoming an American citizen. Their website states that ‘our community is at the centre of everything we do’ and stressing connections to modern subcultures. They’ve aligned themselves with sustainability and slow fashion in an attempt to capture the zeitgeist…
But whilst the social life of the brand is carefully constructed, its interpretation is not static.
“Levi’s is a half-submerged cultural myth for Gen Y – something you heard was cool once. It owns the brand space marked ‘authentic’ and ‘heritage’, but it mines it so ruthlessly that its own self-awareness has become a turn-off.” This quote from a piece titled Why The Vice Generation Have Gone Off Levi’s finds that Levi’s strategy needed refreshing.
Developed by Google, Project Jacquard allows Levi’s to find an avenue for retaining their relevance by embracing the ‘economy of knowledge’ within their more traditional design. The technology has been specifically designed for mass manufacture, utilizing the pre-existing infrastructure to embed a middle layer of conductive yarn within the garment’s structure. Google’s strength against its main competitor Apple is arguably its access to information and there’s a utopian hope within the jacket’s transformative possibilities and promises of total knowledge: “wear this and you will always know where you are, you will always know where you are going.”Designers and citizens will be able to use Project Jacquard fabric without acquiring knowledge of the ‘networking membranes’ beneath the surface. The human body can become a ‘bodynet’ (Viseu) with our physical capabilities expanded through connection to apps, data and the cloud. Smart materials are a physical space for contemplating mind and matter’s interaction without needing to ground discussion first by defining ‘humanity’ (Kuchler). Boundaries and objects do not emerge fully formed. Matter is agentive bringing about not only new things but new worlds (Barad).Even the use of the ‘Project Jacquard’ title illustrates this intention. It’s emblematic of an increasing autonomy within technological development – the original jacquard an addition to looms considered one of the most important innovations in the history of weaving and the use of replaceable punched cards to create a pattern was a building block in the history of computer hardware. It brackets the algorithms responding to simple gesture within the jacket with these established aids to efficiency.
Engineering sees the denim jacket as a pre-existing network where it can attach or “naturalize” itself. The ubiquity of the denim jacket as an artefact is its very strength, making an alien technology banal.
Gwyther, M (2016) “How Levi’s fell out of fashion” Management Today, http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/levis-fell-fashion/reputation-matters/article/1408022 [Accessed 03/03/17]
Kuechler, S (2008) Technological Materiality: Beyond the Dualist Paradigm. Theory, Culture and Society 25(1):101:120
Viseu, A. (2013) “Wearable computers and the Informed Informational Body”. In D. Bulatov (Ed.), Evolution Haute Couture: Art and Science in the Post-Biological Age, Vol. 2: 122-135. National Center for Contemporary Art: Kaliningrad, Russia