In 1915, Levi’s and Cone Mills made what’s called “The Golden Handshake”, an agreement saying Cone Mills would produce all of Levi’s’ proprietary XX denim, more widely known as their “shrink-to-fit” denim. With the apparent closure of Cone Mills’ White Oak plant announced late 2017, it seemed as though White Oak’s part in the agreement had run out. And soon, so would their famed American selvedge denim.
To pay their respects to the mill synonymous with American denim, Levi’s Vintage Clothing (Levi’s’ vintage reproduction sub-label) has brought all those years of denim together for a very limited set of 1955 501 Jeans and a 1953 Type II Jacket. Both the jeans and the jacket come with a wooden box (coffin) made of actual white oak wood as well as a certificate of authenticity (death certificate). Both retail for $600 and are limited to just a run of just 150, which is extremely limited considering many of their other limited releases see a run of 501 pieces. It’ll be interesting to see how these will look once they shrink since the different fabrics will shrink at different rates, not to mention the fades.
What’s more interesting, though, is that it took a lone person to say they wanted to save the mill, instead of Levi’s, a company with a current net worth of about $4.6 billion. Of course, it’s more complicated than I’m making it out to be, but still ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
I wanted to title this piece “Levi’s Celebrates the Death of White Oak by Burying Their Denim in a White Oak Coffin” but that’s obviously not what they’re doing. They’ve had these pieces in the works well before the news broke about White Oak’s sale (I personally saw them back in July of 2018, nine months before that news). It just seems like Levi’s really let their handshake go limp. Instead of reaching into their pockets to keep America’s last selvedge denim mill from being buried, they stuffed them even more and gave the eulogy by going public. To add insult to injury, they didn’t look to the past, but looked to the “future” and instead brought back their Engineered Jeans. Dope.
If the lone savior of the White Oak plant (which would presumably no longer be a part of Cone Mills), actually gets things back up and running, will Levi’s keep them included in the Cone Mills commitment? For White Oak to survive this second coming, they’d better; for Levi’s’ bottom line, maybe not. And if they do, will they commemorate White Oak’s return with a “Welcome Back” set of jeans?
With all that said, I still want these.
Available for $599 at Unionmade.