Growing up “in the middle of nowhere” in Georgia, Reese Cooper was heavily influenced by his surroundings and was fascinated with workwear. He first discovered Levi’s at a local Tractor Supply Co., a chain store that sells farm supplies, clothing, tools, and more. “I don’t remember the actual first thing I owned, but it took me a few years to realize that there were other companies that made jeans. It was like, ‘Levi’s, right?’ That’s the blue jeans,’” he says.
But by the time he was a teenager living in London, he was exposed to a different side of the pioneering workwear brand when he began seeing Levi’s collaborations at Dover Street Market, where he often hung out. That opened his eyes to a new possibility. “I was like, ‘Oh this is interesting.’ I didn’t realize that these things could be connected,” he says. “At that point, I had associated things that were in this store with this world, and things that were in this store was that world. I didn’t realize the merge was possible.” Seeing Levi’s out of the only context he’d previously known has helped shape what Cooper, a young designer who seamlessly blends fashion with workwear, makes now.
Last week, Cooper debuted his Spring/Summer 2023 “Seed & Soil” collection at Paris Fashion Week, his first time being on the official calendar. Models walked down the runway at the historical Jardin des Plantes, a lush botanical garden, wearing pieces from the new collection, including upcycled pieces made from Levi’s materials and an official collaboration with the brand. “To be able to actually officially work with the reference point is a very wild feeling,” he says.
The 10-piece Levi’s x Reese Cooper collection includes a Levi’s Type II Trucker, straight fit jeans in triple-stitched organic cotton duck canvas, a patchwork chore coat, straight fit jeans in indigo denim made from Cottonized Hemp, a two-pocket hoodie, and organic cotton graphic pocket tees. For Cooper and Levi’s, the goal was to seamlessly blend both brand DNAs and design a collection that was rooted in workwear and was sustainable—an important component for both parties.
“For us as a company, looking at how we look at sustainability and the products that we make, the ability to create products that last and endure the test of time, and looking at the quality and craftsmanship of his garments, there was an organic fit of brand DNAs and aligned values. So the collaboration just made sense,” says Levi’s CMO Karen Riley-Grant.
“He’s very big on function and enduring quality with his modern spin and character that came through,” adds Levi’s CPO Karyn Hillman. “Both brands are in there, you can see it, and I think that’s where the magic was.”
We caught up with Cooper the day after his Paris Fashion Week show to talk about his new Levi’s collaboration, how Vince Staples inspired him again, and what he wants you to know about sustainable fashion. The Levi’s x Reese Cooper collaboration was made available online immediately after the show, Levi’s first “see-now-buy-now” collaboration, and at a pop-up in Paris during fashion week. If you haven’t copped yet, there are still limited pieces left on Levi.com, the Levi’s® App, and Reese-Cooper.com.
Your runway show started with an audio clip from a Vince Staples interview. Was that from his interview on Complex with Speedy Morman? What about that resonated with you and why did it make sense for the show?
Vince, to me, as much as we’ve somehow become quite close friends is such an important figure. Like, I’m still a fan more than anything. I did his outfit for Coachella and we were talking after the show ‘cause we never discussed if I wanted to be paid for making all of that stuff. We were talking on the phone the next day and he was like, “I’m going to connect you with Corey [Smyth, Vince’s manager] and tell him whatever you need to cover all of this.” I was like, the payment for that project, that day of seeing that thing come together fueled all of this for me because that was the first time that I’ve had to really come up with something quickly, figure it out, get it fitted, do two fittings, and nail something within five days since the last time we were in Paris. This really just put the battery in my back again. And I don’t know how this [show] would’ve been without that moment.
The clip we used in the show is him talking about what the name of the album Ramona Park Broke My Heart means to him. The original idea was I wanted to get him and Kaytranada in the room to figure something out, but he had some personal things come up so he wasn’t in a place to create something new. So then he was like, “just use any vocal or verse you want from the album and let’s turn it into something.” But listening to that album as many times as I had at that point, all of it was so specific and personal and very on theme that taking it out of its context of the story that the album told, to me, felt super disrespectful to it. So the way to find a way to work him into it was giving that intro of him talking about where the name comes from because it’s talking about connectivity points with your audience. It’s like the park itself, we’re showing in a park. If you didn’t know the interview before the show that clip could apply to most things. But it’s just one of those little things you do that you do for the 30 or so people there who know Vince’s voice. Once Vince finishes that sentence and Speedy agrees with him, that “yeah” is the cue for the first model to walk out.
You wore Levi’s growing up, so how does it feel now to be working with them in an official capacity?
I keep trying to find words for it. One, it’s such a surreal feeling because everyone in this room I’ve been on Zoom calls with for the past 27 months and this is the first time we’re all getting to hang out together. But it’s cool because all of their very early stuff, the things we’d call vintage now, those washes or the sewing details or how they did their hoodies in the 50s all of that has directly inspired all the stuff I do. So to be able to actually officially work with the reference point is a very wild feeling.
Talk about the thought process behind how you wanted to approach the collaboration.
The idea from the very beginning was to do it in two approaches. We made some of their classic silhouettes out of materials I would use, like the duck canvas and the forest green. And then we did silhouettes that I do, like the chore coat, out of their materials. And then I wanted to build those two story lines and find a way to have the language merge between all of them.
Yeah, you want a collaboration where you can see both brands’ DNAs.
Yeah, this is the first collaboration I’ve said yes to.
I’m sure you get asked all the time.
Yeah. My whole thing was this was the first one that felt like it was coming from a good place, versus a lot of companies that have offered stuff in the past where I’m sure the budget that was offered was directly pulled from a marketing budget or an “energy” budget. This one was the only one that felt like a collaborative project that we could work on versus get the young kid to tick the marketing box.
You worked on this collection during the pandemic, and one of the things you and Levi’s did was go through their archive for inspiration. What was that like?
The crazy part was that it was all during COVID. Their graphics guy and I spent probably a cumulative 40 hours or so on FaceTime, screen sharing different things. They have an insane digital archive—we couldn’t be there physically because of COVID—and it all comes with the scanned versions of their original internal magazines from the ‘60s and ‘70s. All the graphics [in the collection] were pulled from their internal company newsletters and magazines. I wanted to make sure that their hoodies fit like their archive ones instead of mine, which I think would be too “fashion” for their regular customers. To me, the brand is so democratic that I didn’t want to remove that element from it. I didn’t want to make stuff that was unwearable for the average person. And one of the things I was surprised they were down to doing was taking wholesale completely off the table, so we didn’t have to take that margin into consideration when pricing the items. The most expensive item here is the denim chore coat, which is $288.
Sustainability has been important to you and Levi’s. You appeal to a young audience, and sustainability can sometimes be intimidating. What is your hope in how that audience sees it?
The two parts about it is one, I hope that doing things like this can get people to start caring a little bit more because with the rise of SHEIN and Fashion Nova, the game is fucked up right now. But I also hope it becomes more accessible to brands like myself. Trying to do something sustainable costs 10x more. For my T-shirts, I mill the fabric in California and it’s expensive. It was never the intention to sell at this price point. But it was always the intention to use these materials, and it’s only this expensive because there’s not that much demand for it. I would hope that as more people start caring, more people start using, the price goes down on these techniques and resources and we can all walk away happy. You hear the word sustainable and upcycled and you often picture the Depop quilts or Etsy shit. My mind goes to paper straws. I, optimistically, would love to be even a small part of that narrative changing.
Why was it important to make the collection available immediately after your show?
It was a gamble that I think paid off. It was originally supposed to be see-now-buy-now in January but there were some production delays due to COVID, so I wanted us to sit on this for a second and wait for real energy to come back. I didn’t want to just have to shoot a lookbook and that’s it. Let’s give this the actual, in my opinion, respect it deserves. When you spend two-and-a-half years on something, I want it to shine more than just some Instagram photos.
And I feel like you’ve built such a community that that in-person aspect is so important.
This has been the first time where I felt like we got to participate in that in such a long time. The last time we ever did anything in person was my presentation at Palais de Tokyo in January 2020, and that wasn’t even on the [Paris Fashion Week] calendar. That was just me. I mean, I applied for the calendar slot and they said no. I think the reason we got this one was because from the very beginning I was like, “Look, I’m still going to do it anyway but just work with me on the calendar so I don’t step on your toes, and then I’ll just keep applying but I’ll be super nice and work with you here.” But since that first show it’s been all digital ones, so it’s just been film crews. I’ve never had an audience. But I think it was the best thing that happened in terms of the company. I mean, it fucking hurt business-wise but it allowed me to actually regroup instead of trying to catchup. Instagram is one thing but you put your phone in your pockets and it’s gone. So to do the block party on June 21st, give out wristbands, this whole week has been full of first-time experiences for me. It’s been really amazing.