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Levi's Wardrobe for Saison

The heritage brand builds a uniform to outfit a San Francisco restaurant

by Yale Breslin in Design on 29 February 2012

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Orondava Mumford, Global Design Director at Levi's, was in charge of creating the uniforms for the staff at San Francisco eatery Saison. We dug through his sketchbook leading up to the unveiling of the restaurant's new sartorial choices and spoke with Mumford about the inspiration behind his heritage-focused design process, and his grand plans for the U.S. Postal Service.

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How did this design collaboration between Saison and Levi's come about?

The Levi's brand has partnered with San Francisco's acclaimed Saison restaurant to create a functional workwear wardrobe for the modern pioneers of this unique, open-kitchen environment. With this collaboration we are proud to celebrate chef Joshua Skenes and sommelier Mark Bright, who not only embody the pioneering spirit of the Levi's brand but the most relevant expression of innovation, localism and craftsmanship.

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You designed the uniforms, but what inspired the design and workmanship?

Actually we refer to it as a wardrobe rather than uniforms. When Aylin Beyce (co-designer on the uniforms) and I went on our initial research dinner date at Saison, we were impressed by the intimacy of the experience of having a meal there. While the wardrobe was designed with a singular aesthetic, we offered variations on fit for the cooks—if you normally rock skinny jeans, why should you have to come to work in loose, ill-fitting chinos?. The female servers were offered a tunic, a dress and two different pant styles, whereas the partners, Josh and Mark, have completely custom-made garments based on their respective trades and day-to-day functions.

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What elements did you draw upon for the men's design and the women's design?

We based both the men's and women's designs on a coupling between our brand's workwear heritage and the modern approach to function needed in a restaurant of Saison's caliber. Consistent details were used such as a trupunto stitch detail, natural horn and corozo nut buttons, and a fabric and color scheme that reflected the restaurants interior. In maintaining the highest quality of fabrics, which we felt reflected the high quality of ingredients on the menu, we chose selvedge fabrics from Italy, Japan, England and the US.

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What is it about this collaboration that you were most drawn to?

I am extremely passionate about Levi's being involved in projects such as these. Saison is a local San Francisco-based concept started by young entrepreneurs innovating within their fields. Levi's is an original San Francisco-based brand, which through the creation of the 501 supported the pioneers of the early 1800s migrating west during the Gold Rush in pursuit of the American dream. It's what we do. If anyone from the U.S. Postal Service is reading this, I am dying to redesign their uniforms too.

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Tell me a little bit about what it is you do at Levi's.

I have the dream job. My official title is Global Design Director. I focus specifically on all menswear products below the waist as well as our iconic "trucker" jacket and versions of it. I manage a team of some of the industry's best designers hailing from all over the world. My main responsibilities are to inspire and lead the design team in creating a compelling, yet commercially viable global product that supports and deepens the brand's values and identity while challenging and pushing the boundaries of modern American design through craft, sustainability and innovation. I love my job.

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What is it about the cuisine that you were drawn to?

It was the balance of familiarity and pure innovation. The menu never fails to thrill the palate and the execution, delivery and atmosphere surrounding each plate was such a lasting impression. We went about creating the wardrobe as such. We even went as far as to have a custom-made wardrobe unit built of reclaimed local redwood and steel to house the wardrobe, which now stands inside the restaurant. No detail was left un-challenged, as I'm sure Josh wouldn't craft a menu any other way.

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