Monday, Feb. 09, 2004

Caroline Calvin

When Caroline Calvin arrived at Levi's more than a decade ago, she took on one of the most rugged challenges in the fashion industry: updating the 501 jean.

The company that birthed the first jean took note of Calvin when she developed a dark, rigid denim finish inspired by vintage styles. Calvin, then 28, with no formal design training, began creating innovative finishes for the San Francisco-based Levi's in 1990. By the time she became the company's U.S. creative director in 2001, she had reinvigorated the brand throughout Europe by blending its rich heritage with a young, sexy edge. "Caroline knows how to take something old and modernize it into something no one's ever seen before," says Tony Carnot of Swift Denim in New York City.

Calvin launched new "premium" fits, including Levi's RED, which became the best-selling denim line in Barneys, and designed the Levi's Vintage Clothing line, culling from the company archives. In 2002 she introduced low-rise jeans for men and overhauled the brand's core line after the largest fit test in denim history to create a style and fit for nearly everybody, and every body.

Calvin herself dons the vintage 501s, often for a year straight to inspire a new finish. She doesn't wash the jeans, only dry-cleans them, so that the wear and tear is natural. She restitches them when they're broken in, and replicates the look as a new style for the masses. "You want to make it look like you found them in a flea market and they've been on your body for 20 years," she says.