Since Levi’s opened its bespoke jeans service – Lot No1 – in December last year, it has received a good deal of coverage. Most of it has been along the lines of “Selvedge goes Savile Row”, because of the bespoke connection and because the Levi’s master tailor, Lizzie Radcliffe, worked with tailoring legend Edward Sexton before she moved into denim.
But there has been relatively little that explains precisely what the service does – and does not – owe to bespoke tailoring. Mainstream press tends to gloss over the details. In reality, Lot No1 offers a good deal more – and less – than people assume.
The Lot No1 workspace is set up to be easily visible from the ground floor of Levi’s Regent Street store. Lizzie’s long cutting board (pictured) is stretched out so that visitors walking above can gaze down at the chalk patterns drawn onto raw denim. In that respect, she has a lot in common with the workshops of Savile Row. Most are located in the basement, and pedestrians on the street above have always been able to witness the work going on through the sunken windows.
Lizzie’s work, however, has little in common with what those tailors do. They are valued for their hand-sewing, such as the careful insertion of a sleeve or the precise finishing of a buttonhole. Jeans are made on machines – an array of machines, to be sure, some of an impressive vintage, but still rather simple mechanisms.
References to the sewing and stitching of Savile Row, therefore, miss the point. The value of Lot No1 – far above the personalisation and made-to-order services that other denim brands have introduced in recent years – is the truly bespoke cutting.
Lizzie creates a unique paper pattern for every customer – unlike made-to-order services, which will merely tweak or adjust an existing model. Like the best cutters of Savile Row, Lizzie has to create a two-dimensional model that fits a person’s complex three-dimensional shape. It’s a lot more challenging, but the result is the best-fitting pair of jeans you will ever wear.
Interestingly, the reason Lizzie’s cutting board is so long is that she must cut every panel of the jeans individually, where most tailors can double up their cloth and just cut half of the pattern, having it replicated underneath. Raw denim, particularly Levi’s 14.5oz Japanese option, is tough stuff and can’t be cut in two layers. It also has to be allowed to lie flat for 12 hours to settle.
“It’s tiring work, getting through it continuously,” says Lizzie. She will need to get used to it, however, given the attention already focused on Lot No1.