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Levi’s Goes Avant-Garde on Amazon’s ‘Making the Cut’

Genderless. Hemp. Denim.

Gary Graham, or “little Gary on the prairie,” as the judge and Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott called him, keyed into three of fashion’s hottest trends when creating his winning design for episode five of “Making the Cut,” the Amazon Studios reality series where 10 global designers duke it out for the opportunity to turn their creative chops into the next big household-name brand.

The fifth installment of the Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn-hosted series’ second season, which dropped on Amazon Prime Video Friday, marked the first time the show allowed a single brand to dictate the design brief for the six remaining hopefuls competing for $1 million to invest in their fashion business, an Amazon Fashion mentorship and a chance to sell their designs on Amazon Fashion’s digital store.

Levi's chief product officer Karyn Hillman, Heidi Klum, Jeremy Scott and Winnie Harlow on Amazon Studios' "Making the Cut"
Levi’s chief product officer Karyn Hillman, Heidi Klum, Jeremy Scott and Winnie Harlow. Courtesy

Virtually synonymous with “denim” the way people use “Kleenex” and “tissue” interchangeably, Levi’s stepped in to take the design reins in episode five’s “avant-garde” challenge. “Originality and self-expression are really important to us and that’s why we love working with emerging designers like yourself,” Karyn Hillman, chief product officer for the heritage denim giant, told Graham and fellow contestants Lucie Brochard, Andrea Pitter, Andrea Salazar, Joshua Scacheri and Raf Swiader.

“We’re always looking to strike that perfect balance of our authentic roots paired with the energy and innovation of today,” Hillman said.

In some ways, though it was filmed months ago, the “Levi’s Avant-Garde Challenge” seems like the culmination of all the renewed interest in denim—the pandemic’s forgotten fabric, by some accounts—and the frenzy around the “new cycle” rekindling sales of the “global fashion staple,” as Gunn described it.

Designers showed their "Levi's Avant-Garde Challenge" looks on a carnival-themed runway for episode five of season two of "Making the Cut" on Amazon Prime Video
Designers showed their “Levi’s Avant-Garde Challenge” looks on a carnival-themed runway Courtesy

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During the episode, the designers played with a range of Levi’s denim fabrics, sundries and trims en route to conceiving a pair of designs: a truly avant-garde look pushing “all the boundaries of creativity and individuality,” according to Gunn, as well as an accessible, mass-market-friendly version inspired by the high-end concept.

For Graham, the challenge was a “dream” come true.

“I’ve always had this dream of doing this cocoon coat with Levi’s, and doing this denim version of it,” he said on the show, describing his concept as a “jacket to be worn upside down because it’s a one-size-fits-all garment.”

The CFDA award-winning designer, who opened a shop in the Catskills after closing down his New York City boutique, drew inspiration from a carnival tableau that would also later serve as an over-the-top backdrop for the episode’s runway show. Graham fully leaned into denim’s “blank slate” appeal, opting to create a colorful print on a denim dress based on a vintage-looking sign for a look that was “carney, time travel” and, in Gunn’s words, “H. G. Wells.”

Levi's chief product officer Karyn Hillman and Tim Gunn on season two, episode five of "Making the Cut" streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Levi’s chief product officer Karyn Hillman and Tim Gunn review the brand’s fabrics, trims and sundries. Courtesy

But Graham’s “new kind of jean jacket” was the real star of the show, with the accessible outerwear that he conjured up to cocoon the denim dress even stealing the spotlight from the designer’s geometric, sheer-paneled avant-garde creation, whose appearance on the runway compelled Klum to proclaim, “Hallelujah! Something fabulous has arrived.”

Indeed, Graham’s hemp and cotton take on Levi’s iconic trucker jacket was “completely fresh and unique,” Hillman said in a statement. Graham told Sourcing Journal that the “idea was to take the iconic language of the trucker and make it feel experimental and more abstract,” offering “freedom in shapes that can evolve and change depending on the wearer’s mood or purpose.”

Judge and supermodel Winnie Harlow praised the wear-it-two-ways topper for being “cost-effective in a pandemic.”

“It’s not reversible,” Scott said after watching Graham’s model show both ways to don the short-cropped unisex garment, which offers a longer, more enveloping fit when rotated 180 degrees. “It’s upside-downsible.”

Designer Gary Graham on the Amazon Studios reality series, "Making the Cut" on Amazon Prime Video
Gary Graham Courtesy

Scott’s declaration stuck, with a minor modification. Dubbed the Levi’s Upside-Downable Trucker, Graham’s look, which took the episode’s top honors, is now available for purchase in the “Making the Cut” storefront on Amazon Fashion. The $200 garment is offered in sizes S/M and L/XL.

Graham didn’t offer any details on why he choose to work with a hemp and cotton blend, but the move underscores the industry’s rising interest in sustainable fiber alternatives with what many see as eco-friendly upsides.