Evisu comeback: Interview with CEO Scott Morrison
Media coverage touting Evisu's first collection designed by their new CEO and creative director Scott Morrison has been hard to miss. Looking back to the pre-WWII selvedge Levi's and Hidehiko Yamane's obsession with them that originally inspired him to found the brand in 1991, the widely-circulated story is the good ol' brand heritage angle—one that boils down to Morrison's return to a less embellished but still highly stylized look.
In efforts to regain the market that ditched Evisu when it, "got overly colorful, got cartoonish, [and] started showing up in Hype Williams music videos," as Men.style.com put it, Morrison refines the cuts of the original Evisus and introduces meticulous distressing for a perfectly worn-in look that involves days of hand finishing including using vaseline and baking them in ovens, among other techniques.
When asked about the inherent irony in the of-the-moment pre-distressed look, Morrison replies, "It's a double-edged sword because in an ideal world, I'd love to just offer Henry Ford models to everyone, so you can get raw [denim] or fuck off. But at the same time I know it's not going to work. You're trying to do both things."
While applying high-concept fashion to the humble American classic isn't new ground, the former Paper Denim & Cloth and Earnest Sewn designer brings expertise, a passionate knowledge of his field and knows where to give due credit. Morrison recently took some time to tell CH all about it—from the early replica movement to his vision today—at Evisu's revamped Soho showroom.
Now completely disassociated with Evisu Japan (when ownership shifted three years ago, they bought the worldwide trademark minus Japan), Morrison started by stripping out the gold columns, red and black walls with dragons and logos in favor of a more pared-down aesthetic. "We tried to whitewash everything literally and figuratively," he explains, the idea being to put the jeans first, rebuilding "from that foundation to make the best denim products in the world."
The approach starts with a subtle modification to Evisu's recognizable back pocket gull in tribute to the ones Yamane hand painted on his first 14-pair collection, which themselves referenced the wartime rationing that led to the lack of stitching on the 1944 501s that started the whole thing. (Stores in Japan still hand paint them today.) Morrison's gull of course mimics what happens as it fades over time, "something that I would actually enjoy wearing rather than something that's really in your face" and staying "true to the story of what a jean would look like had you bought it abroad and then worn it over time."
Playing this idea out throughout each pair, the new collection applies a lot of hand processed 3-D washing to achieve the effect, an approach that has been "pretty synonymous with brands I've been involved in," Morrison explains. Other than updating the silhouette with a lower rise and slimmer legs to "bring it up to speed with the 21st century," the rest is about applying concepts that mimic particular types of wear for a vintage aesthetic.
The new collection uses both selvage and non-selvage denim as canvasses for distressing inspired by examples Morrison found in his extensive research. Continuing in the spirit of the precursor of premium denim, the late 1980s replica movement which is part of Evisu's DNA, a forthcoming line called Private Stock will go so far as to reproduce the three most influential pieces in denim history per season in a limited edition. Possibilities include an Evisu take on Levi's Nevada jean, the oldest known jean that dates back to the 1890s.
Interestingly, while the recently-launched women's collection, a small capsule range, features all of the vintage feel and hand-processing, it veers more directly towards the Italian side of the denim world. Super soft stretch denims and the like cater to the general lack of interest in selvege denim from that market.
With three new tiers of denim, Evisu, Evisu Genes and Private Stock, as well as a more fashion-oriented line called Stylecraft, bag collaborations with Mandarina Duck and more, it will be a busy year for Morrison. For now, he says, "new fits, new silhouettes, great new washes—and just that alone, and downplaying the back pocket design, has spun everything in a real positive direction."
by Ami Kealoha