Fashion

A Life in Levi’s: 5 Minutes with Levi’s Head of Global Design Jonathan Cheung

Jonathan-Cheung-Levis-Interview

Jonathan Cheung has been with Levi’s® since 2009 and since July 2013 has been the Head of Global Design for Men’s & Women’s Levi’s®. Most recently, Jonathan served as a Vice President of Men’s Merchandising and prior to that was the Design Director for Levi’s® Made & Crafted line in Amsterdam.

Previous to joining Levi’s®, Jonathan worked with two fashion legends, Franco Moschino and Giorgio Armani in Milan. Between working at Armani Jeans and Moschino Couture, Jonathan created the first jeans line for Iceberg.

Jonathan graduated from one of the world’s leading design colleges, Kingston School of Fashion with First Class Honors in Fashion Design. Jonathan has more than 25 years of Men’s & Women’s design experience. He has led creative teams in six countries and in three languages (English, Cantonese and Italian). In 2017, Jonathan joined Fashion Tech Lab’s Mentors Board founded by Miroslava Duma.

He currently resides in Mill Valley, California surrounded by hummingbirds, lemon trees and Mount Tam, his wonderful wife Zoe and their children Mila and Caspar. We were fortunate to catch-up with Jonathan as the new Spring/Summer 2018 collection lands at The Hut to chat first Levi’s memories, what makes denim so universally timeless, and what’s on the horizon for Levi’s in 2018 and beyond.

Question: What are some of your first memories of encountering Levi’s when you were younger?
Answer:

Definitely the Levi’s Launderette ad, with Nick Kamen. I was as Art College and watched it play in the cinema. All the girls at the cinema were screaming, so naturally, I wanted a pair of 501’s straight away.

Question: Throughout your career you have been drawn towards denim. What do you think it is about denim that you’re so attached to?
Answer:

When I went to fashion school, everyone wore vintage 501’s – so denim has been part of my education. I think design has fundamentally two parts, the physical product – it’s look, it’s functionality, what it’s made of and how’s it’s made, and then the other half is social value – that is, how it’s perceived, it’s relevance and how cool it is.

Denim has both. There’s history and all the stories that create a deep reservoir of social value and then there’s technical side – jeans are an incredible evolved, user tested, design classic. I love being able to work on highly practical projects to high fashion collaboration with our friends at Vetements and Off-White.

Question: What will be your go-to jeans this season?
Answer:

I rotate different jeans every day. My go-to jeans are 501’s, usually worn slightly cropped or cuffed at the ankle. I usually wear all my jeans from a ‘rinse-wash’ state and then wear them in over time. Then at least one day of the week is ‘black jeans day’.

I’m really into the 502 fit right now and bought a couple of pairs last week. (yes, I buy my own jeans!), so I think I’ll be wearing that more and more.

Question: What have you been wearing from the Levi’s SS18 collection and how are you styling them right now?
Answer:

502 Taper – also the Chino versions of the 502 in bi-stretch (seriously, you should try them). Black or white tee, a sweatshirt and throw on a Sherpa Trucker. It’s still a bit chilly in San Francisco right now.

Question: With such an iconic archive of products forming the brand’s heritage, does this ever add pressure to the design process when creating for a brand such as Levi’s?
Answer:

It certainly adds a feeling of honor, responsibility and gratitude. There’s always a self-imposed pressure to do better every season – we have a big design deadline next week and I have an anxious, yet excited, feeling in my stomach as always. But it’s important to see the heritage as a platform to stand on, and not as an anchor that weighs you to the past. As designers, it’s our job to imagine and create the future. To anticipate what people value and make sure what we do feels relevant. Levi’s being such an iconic brand gives our work extra meaning.  This feels more than just a job.

Question: What’s on the horizon for Levi’s in 2018?
Answer:

There’s so much coming down the pipe for 2018! It’s only March and we’ve already done collaborations with Snoopy, Nike Jordan, Vetements, Gosha Rubchinskiy.

May 20th is what we like to call ‘501® Day’ and this year we’ll be celebrating the 145th birthday of our design icon. We’ll be releasing a special edition selvedge 501 with golden colored buttons inspired from the oxidized buttons on a deadstock 1947 501 ‘grail jean’ that we have in our archive.

There’s a LOT more coming this year, but I can’t talk about them yet!

Question: Are there any key denim trends you have seen coming through over the beginning of this year?
Answer:

Yeh, we’re in a nostalgic period in fashion, where the near-past and a sense of irony play together. You see that everywhere with reissues of sneakers, video consoles and retro games – even mobile phones! Even ‘bum bags’ are back! The 90’s 501 look is a big deal, both for men & women. High rises for women – like our 721, 501 Skinny, and the cheeky Mile High and Wedgie fits are bang on the money. For men, our 502 and 512 tapered jeans work really with sneaker culture. Then we have looser, baggier fits, coming through with our 90’s re-issue of SilverTab.

Question: Fashion is famously said to be cyclical, yet denim seems to be have become a mainstay in the industry. Why do you think this is?
Answer:

Denim, and Levi’s in particular has a strong relationship with culture. It’s culture and your place within culture that determines how relevant you are. If you take a look around at the musicians, fashion designers and even athletes in popular culture sports like football and basketball, you can see how they’ve chosen to express themselves in denim. For example our Trucker jacket, I often tell Virgil Abloh that he wears the Levi’s Trucker more than I do. And as someone whose right in the center of culture right now, I think his choice says a lot.


Jonathan Cheung has been with Levi’s® since 2009 and since July 2013 has been the Head of Global Design for Men’s & Women’s Levi’s®. Most recently, Jonathan served as a Vice President of Men’s Merchandising and prior to that was the Design Director for Levi’s® Made & Crafted line in Amsterdam.

Previous to joining Levi’s®, Jonathan worked with two fashion legends, Franco Moschino and Giorgio Armani in Milan. Between working at Armani Jeans and Moschino Couture, Jonathan created the first jeans line for Iceberg.

Jonathan graduated from one of the world’s leading design colleges, Kingston School of Fashion with First Class Honors in Fashion Design. Jonathan has more than 25 years of Men’s & Women’s design experience. He has led creative teams in six countries and in three languages (English, Cantonese and Italian). In 2017, Jonathan joined Fashion Tech Lab’s Mentors Board founded by Miroslava Duma.

He currently resides in Mill Valley, California surrounded by hummingbirds, lemon trees and Mount Tam, his wonderful wife Zoe and their children Mila and Caspar.



Sarah Atkinson

Sarah Atkinson

Writer and expert


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