Q&A with Levi’s Designer Sally Leon
These ain’t no pedal pushers. The recently launched Levi’s® Commuter™ collection for women helps give female cyclists both the style and the performance they need when making their way on two wheels.
That means stealth, urban-friendly details — like breathable fabric for comfort; stretch for easy movement; durable, water-repellant outerwear for protection from the elements; and reflective details for safety — that improve your ride without looking like performance gear. (No neon, thank you very much!)
These are clothes for a woman whose bike is more than a mode of transportation — it’s a lifestyle. So how do you create the perfect collection for these discerning cyclistas?
We asked lead designer Sally Leon to give us the scoop:
What drove (excuse the pun) the team to create the Commuter collection for women?
There is a lot of excitement happening in Levi’s women’s right now — the team has been going around the world, looking at all the different body types that wear our jeans, talking to women, analyzing what we do best and where we can bring in new concepts. Commuter was chosen to be a part of that new expression. We’ve been working for a long time to bring this to life and are really excited for women’s Commuter to be a part of our story going forward.
What was the design inspiration for this collection?
The core design philosophy behind Commuter has remained the same since its inception: Form follows function. We work on Commuter in a different way from a fashion collection: Instead of starting from ethereal inspiration, we begin with fabric innovation concepts. A lot of R&D time goes into the fabrics for the line. Nothing is off the shelf — every fabric is designed from scratch and rigorously tested. A part of my job is to weave these fabric developments into a clear story, and this season we were inspired by the concept of Natural Performance — taking the best that nature has to offer in terms of fibers and finishes with innate performance and combining them with the best of cutting-edge performance fabric to create the ultimate sustainable performance apparel offering. Each piece performs based upon its proximity to either your skin or the outdoor elements.
Are there any special tweaks that you had to make for women’s cycling needs (as opposed to men’s Commuter)?
The collection involved a lot of testing — fabric performance, fit, comfort, etc. — with a group of core female cyclists. We ended up approaching the overall fit portfolio in a very different way because the feedback was that closer-to-skin fits worked better for female cyclists. The testing also informed a lot of the small details: We had to go much higher on the rise and change the pitch (the angle from front to back) to be more dramatic to fit women’s body shapes and their form on the bike. We also adjusted the reflective tape on the interior outseam to look proportionate for women.
The overall aesthetic is always true to our Levi’s icons — the excitement really comes in the garment performance and the small, crafted tweaks. You won’t find any go-faster stripes here! Just time-tested, authentic, high-performance product in modern fits and beautiful fabrics.
Although it’s designed for performance, it’s also lifestyle. Is it hard to balance those when designing?
We are coming from this incredibly lucky place of raw authenticity. We invented the blue jean — the ultimate piece of early performance apparel that has been adopted as the ultimate lifestyle wardrobe staple. I think that every designer at Levi’s has the same challenge that we do — the bar has been set really high, and whether the challenge is to provide the ultimate recovery in stretch or manage the body’s microclimate through a smart layering system, the aesthetic is always just as important. The hardest thing for me is to build performance features into garments without the wearer even noticing them, but we strive for that with every piece.
Is there anything you’re particularly excited about in this collection?
I am most excited about the five-pocket jean! It is the most classic piece, but everything down to the stitches-per-inch was agonized over in such detail. So many people on the team and externally influenced this garment that it is really the one I am most excited to see out there in the market finally.