Paper Denim founder takes job at Japanse jeans giant Evisu to regain denim supremacy
Text by David Hellqvist | Published 30 March 2010
In terms of cultural importance and geographical retail spread, Levi’s jeans are petty far ahead. Ironically, though, one of the labels chasing the American denim giant's tail is a brand that started out making obsessive replicas of the 1944 Levi’s 501 XX jean. Japanese Evisu, with its new CEO Scott Morrison, acknowledges the impact of Levi’s (even Evisu’s name is a wordplay on Levi’s) but makes a valid point about Evisu being a denim and fashion brand on its own merits with kudos, history and heritage. Today, the worldwide focus is on the seagull branded denim and its new found denim expert designer. Morrison, who you will know as the founder and of Paper Denim & Cloth and Earnest Sewn, took up his design residence with Evisu last year, tasked with breathing new life into a label that have of late struggled to regain its original influence.
Now, with its Autumn Winter 2010 collection hanging in an East London showroom, Scott Morrison has flown over from his New York studio for a quick visit. Dazed Digital met up with him to talk about the re-branding, an Americana inspired collection and Evisu’s 20th anniversary next year. With the hiring of Morrison, Evisu and its founder Hidehiko Yamane has truly tracked down an equal denim connoisseur. With Paper and Earnest Sewn, Morrison revolutionised how denim was conceived and bought. Both Evisu and Morrison’s previous fashion ventures pay homage to Levi’s, and Yamane built his professional career on just that. So who could be more suitable than Scott Morrison to continue Evisu’s legacy?
Dazed Digital: How did the collaboration between you and Evisu come about?
Scott Morrison: After having started and worked with both Paper Denim and Earnest Sewn since 1997, I felt I wanted to do something a bit different. It didn’t have to be denim related, but the day I left Earnest Sewn I got the call from Evisu. At first I wasn’t sure, but we had some great meetings and I agreed to come on board. It’s certainly been a challenging eight, nine months but it has worked out beautifully so far.
DD: What would you say are the biggest differences between running your own company and working for a giant such as Evisu?
Scott Morrison: Well, this is a unique opportunity for me to work with a global brand. Like it or not, everyone knows of it and has an opinion on it. I mean, Paper Denim was sold throughout the world, but Evisu is one of the best denim brands in the world. I suppose the biggest difference is that I now have to balance my personal views with that of Evisu’s commercial needs.
DD: How does consumers view the brand?
Scott Morrison: Interestingly enough, people see the brand very differently depending on where they live. The US, for example, is very focused on the Evisu product, whereas Asia looks more to the logo. The Europe is a mixture of the two.
DD: And you personally, what’s your Evisu relationship like?
Scott Morrison: I recently found a picture of myself from 1997, wearing an Evisu raw denim jacket. I was obsessed, you couldn’t get in the States at the time, but I bought it when I was travelling. I must have had dozens of Evisu jeans at the time!
DD: Does the production take place in Japan?
Scott Morrison: No, we do a lot of fabric sourcing in Japan and manufacture mostly in the US and Italy. But in time for our 20th anniversary next year, we will produce 20 special items per season, each one a replica from every year of Evisu’s history, and a few of those will probably come from Japan.
DD: What was the main inspiration for the Autumn Winter collection?
Scott Morrison: We used the word ‘reference’ as a starting point. It’s obviously a broad term, but the idea was to go back to Evisu’s love affair with Levi’s, Americana and especially the 1944 Levi’s 501 XX. The history is that during the war, the US government forbad all use of unnecessary fabrics. So Levi’s had to stop sew on the thread on the back of each jeans back pocket, and they painted them on instead. Hence the Evisu painted on seagull logo! There’s a great replica tradition in Evisu and we took that thought process and applied to key items from history, which we referenced. We wanted to start re-telling the origins of how Evisu came into being.
DD: Yes, there’s a strong sense of work wear in the collection…
Scott Morrison: Yeah, but that was Yamane’s original vision, so most Evisu clothes were work wear inspired classics done with his twist.
DD: Speaking of Yamane, what’s he like?
Scott Morrison: He’s a wild and crazy guy! He still runs Evisu Japan, and he’s quite a character. He has lots of views and opinions on all sorts of matters, but I think what’s most important about him is his great sense of humour.
DD: What sort of silhouettes are you working around?
Scott Morrison: There are a lot more slim jeans now than what Evisu used to make, especially on the European market. Short and boxy is still popular in Japan, they like the over sized look. The women’s wear can be quite loose because of how it’s draped.
DD: The logo is toned down a bit, isn’t it?
Scott Morrison: Yes, we have streamlined the seagull, it’s smaller now and we just it in a tonal way – it’s about more than contrasts now! I don’t feel it needs to be shown four times on a t-shirt because it shouldn’t be our selling point.
DD: What’s Private Stock?
Scott Morrison: It’s about retelling the history of jeans. We release three styles of denim each season that pays homage to how it used to be done or specific items we have found in the archives.
DD: What would you say is the USP of Evisu today?
Scott Morrison: We have an amazing product with a great history, and one that represents quality!
DD: Do you have a favourite piece from the AW collection?
Scott Morrison: Well, of course I’m very happy with the denim, but I also really like the deck jacket. It’s a replica a US Navy jacket from 1941 in khaki corded cotton.