by Stephen Garner

Artist and designer Tremaine Emory has teamed up with Levi’s on a capsule for spring 2020.

The new Levi’s x Denim Tears collection draws inspiration from the story of cotton in America, and its intertwined legacy with slavery. Emory has created a lineup consisting of a t-shirt, a trucker jacket, and a 501 jean, with every piece of denim coming from Levi’s Authorized Vintage program.

It also features a hand-stitched patchwork denim Plantation Hat made with vintage denim. The trucker jacket, 501 and plantation hat are covered in an all-over screen print of white cotton wreaths—inspired by a cotton wreath motif he saw on Kara Walker’s Instagram and then sought out for his home. Tremaine then used the cotton plant to create “a logo” from its legacy of slavery in America. The prints are in a shade of white chosen for its ghostly quality, an effect Tremaine honed in on when a printer malfunctioned during design concepting at the Eureka Lab in San Francisco and printed only the white base layer of a graphic. The initial indigo colorways’ release will be followed by a set of black denim colorways.

The collection also includes a range of digitally printed graphic 1960s-style tees with black and white images of a cotton field superimposed over a red Levi’s® patch. It’s a mixture of contemporary design language with vintage styling, and in the case of the denim, actual vintage clothing. Vintage is important for Tremaine, especially as it pertains to the denim. He wanted to make sure that no new cotton was taken out of the Earth to create any of the 501s or the trucker jackets in the collection. Instead, his intention was to transform something old into something new.

Accompanying the collection will be a short-form piece of video content, created in his family’s hometown of Harlem, Georgia. Shot by his father, Tremaine explores the collection by featuring his own grandmothers on both sides of his family in conversation about their experiences as African Americans in the U.S. Growing up in the South during segregation post-slavery, pre the signing of the civil rights amendment, picking cotton as black women, in a small one red-light town.

“To work with Tremaine is to work with a barometer of culture,” said Jonathan Cheung, senior vice president of design innovation at Levi’s. “He has a very philosophical design process. His design ideas are more conceptual than fashion trend based. It’s history, art, and culture. Clothing is a reflection of the society, of its zeitgeist. These pieces, based on a foundation of upcycled vintage Levi’s, are a reflection of social zeitgeist through Tremaine’s eyes. You can read his artistic narrative, carried on pieces of vintage American history.”

The collection will be available for purchase at pop-up shops in Los Angeles (January 25th), New York (February 1st), Atlanta (February 2nd), and London (February 8th) and online at denimtears.com (February 9th).