5 Minutes with… Kaede Matsumoto

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Legacy brand Levi’s thrives to create the perfect pair of jeans and although it’s been a little tricky in the women’s department because of all the shapes, sizes, and fits that’ve to be taken into consideration when considering a design, the brand has finally accomplished its goal. Levi’s Fall 2015 Women’s Denim Collection sees four classic cuts; the Lot 700, Icons, Levi’s Revel, and possibly this region’s favourite, Levi’s Fits For The Asian Woman. Levi’s Brand Style Director Kaede Matsumoto was present at the launch of this new collection and talked us through each fit and explained how the technology behind each pair would enhance the wearer’s shape (goodbye nonexistent butt!) amongst other things. We managed to have a private conversation with Kaede to discuss what it was like working with this collection’s ambassador, Alicia Keys, and the 101 on denim, obviously.

How did you get involved with Levi’s?
My first introduction to Levi’s was when I was working and living in NY as a consultant. I was hired to design/style the windows and merchandise the store. Having been brought up in the States where denim is sort of a fabric of our lives, I’ve grown up knowing what Levi’s stood for and its aesthetic. It is a dream to work for a company that has the history that this brand has.

You’re the Brand Style Director for Levi’s, what sort of responsibilities are you assigned to?
I’ve held the position of a Global Stylist for almost two years now and especially with the Women’s [Line] relaunch, it has been so incredible because I’m able to influence not only the styling but the photography and stylists. I also have to be involved with fashion shows [and] coordinating fashion shoots, but on a day-to-day basis, I work really closely with our Design and Merchandise team — just to make sure we’re always on the same page. The campaign images that’s being advertised is a direct relationship from working with them. We also have a great in-house creative team, so we all work closely together to bring it all to life.

Do you remember your first pair of Levi’s?
My first ever pair of Levi’s was when I was eight years old. It was my best friend’s big sister’s Levi’s cutout shorts which I borrowed… but never gave back (laughs).

The shorts were meant to be yours. What’s the process of creating the perfect pair of jeans for women?
Fit first, fabrication, authentic finishes and the details for us, and proper research. Take our 501CTs for example, it was created after our design team went out to the market and realised a lot of people were buying vintage 501s and going to tailors to taper it themselves. It’s really about listening to what our customers want and that’s how we’ve able to stay relevant after all these years. 

You mentioned earlier doing most of the research in the Eureka Innovation Lab, what’s the environment like and what does one do at the lab?
The Eureka Innovation Lab is a research and development facility dedicated to prototyping and design ideation. It’s an amazing place! It is literally heaven for any denim head and just steps from our global headquarters in San Francisco. 

That sounds cool, we’ll have to check it out sometime! Is it tough to be a relevant brand whose primary focus is on premium denim jeans when there are brands like Zara, Topshop, and HM that are also producing jeans but for half the price?
We always try to push ourselves to be better. We have the history — 140 years — and the authenticity to back our brand up and I think our goal is to constantly evolve as fashion evolves. The design team is really obsessed with creating the perfect pair of jeans and they’re constantly researching different trends in the market while staying true to our brand aesthetic. Fashion is ever-changing, but we’re one of few brands that can look to the future while remaining true to our longstanding heritage.

From what we can gather, your research is based on what a variety of women want — no discrimination towards any size of shape — how do you research what product will sell in another country? We ask this because most most fashion brands that branch out to Asia only cater to smaller sized women but the ‘plus size’ option isn’t available in this region.
We spent a full year researching and developing the fit range and travelling the world for insights. From there, we spent another nine months working out the details to create the ultimate women’s denim collection. We tested on real women, of all different shapes, ages sizes, ethnicities. The beauty of this collection is that we have a jean for every body. We expect that most women will find a pair of jeans that fits them perfectly.  

Where do you see denim in the next 50 years?
Denim is not going anywhere; it’s here to stay. We will continue to evolve as the years go on, and we’ll always be changing to suit our customers and their needs. We’re a lifestyle brand and we really want to improve peoples’ lives through our products.

What about fast fashion?
There is a time and place for fast fashion but we are a brand that stands for authenticity and quality. Denim gets better with time, there’s nothing fast about that.

What’s your favourite accessory to pair with your Levi’s jeans?
I’m a shoe gal. I wear jeans and a white t-shirt everyday so the shoe completes the outfit. In my opinion, it’s like the icing on the cake. 

Except shoes won’t make you put on weight like cake will. How many pairs of shoes do you have?
Oh god… I don’t know (laughs).

It’s alright, we won’t put that kind of pressure on you. We notice that the styling behind the campaign shots are simple yet chic, is that what the Levi’s girl is?
I think the Levi’s girl is cool, effortless — but effortless to me doesn’t mean perfect, it just means being authentic to yourself. You can see through the styling that it’s easy and effortless, tad sexy, so I think that’s the direction that most women go in when it concerns dressing — it’s about being confident in your body.

And who better at embodying confidence than Alicia Keys…
I couldn’t believe how nice she was — not that I had presumptions that she’d be rude, it’s just that she’s a superstar! I ended up meeting her kids and her husband – she’s just real, a great individual; artiste, wife, mother, philanthropist. She really embodies the Live in Levi’s project, so it was a perfect coupling. 

What’s your favourite JUICE?
I guess I would say my fave juice is the love of my husband and our life together and the passion that I have for this brand and what we are building here. I feel fortunate everyday for the great gifts that I have!

The new Levi’s Jeans Collection is available at all Levi’s stores and retails at RM179 onwards.


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