This week, what is perhaps the newest jean jacket in the world signifies a major milestone in the timeline of this wardrobe staple, as Levi’s’ much-anticipated partnership with another local icon, Google, hits the stores.
The Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket with Jacquard by Google is a high-tech iteration of a 1960s Levi’s trucker jacket. But while its looks are largely the same, its functionality got a reboot.
Using conductive copper yarn invented by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group, the jacket’s left sleeve is interactive and connected to a wearer’s smartphone using Bluetooth. With swipes and pats, the fabric can tell the wearer’s smartphone to perform a range of customizable functions: change the song playing, for example, or hear navigation directions or the contents of the latest text.
Levi’s workwear ethos, which goes back to the Gold Rush, guided the design, said Paul Dillinger, vice president of global product innovation at Levi’s. Thus, the jacket is designed specifically for the urban commuter, with details such as small reflective accents and a dropped back hem, in addition to the ability to access notifications sans gadget.
“Our heritage is workwear-inspired. We’re not ‘wearable tech’ people,” Dillinger said while giving a preview of the jacket at Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab. “You can keep your eyes on the road in the real world instead of focusing on the digital space.”
For that, Levi’s turned to Google, whose Jacquard technology was announced at Google’s annual developer’s conference in May 2015.
The technology embeds digital interactivity into the fabric using a special yarn, made on a traditional loom. The yarn connects with a smartphone using a small detachable tag that snaps into the left wristband. Everything, aside from the tag, is machine washable.
Google’s Ivan Poupyrev said that making the garment washable — so that people can treat it just like any other jean jacket — was the project’s biggest challenge, and partly why it took more than two years to bring it to market. (Fun fact: Dillinger admits that at the 2015 conference, they weren’t quite sure how they were going to pull that off.)
But Poupyrev said that part of his purview as technical project lead and director of engineering at Google’s Project Jacquard and Project Soli is to create the “magic of technology,” adding that Google isn’t an apparel company.
“We want people to enjoy and understand it,” he said. “We don’t want tech to dominate your life.” (His background in “bringing magic” into the physical world at Disney likely didn’t hurt.)
Now that the first introduction is available — it arrives at www.levi.com and in Levi’s Market Street store, among other locations, on Monday, Oct. 2 — the two companies will be (anonymously) observing how users interact with the garment to inform future iterations, said Jacquard design lead Nina Walia. The app works with both Apple and Android devices, and the jacket retails for $350, at the high end of Levi’s Commuter products.
As the trucker jacket reaches its 50th anniversary this month, Dillinger sees it as only fitting that this newest version offers the jean jacket’s “moment of relevance” for digital natives. He’s also eager to see what other designers will create — although he’s thrilled that this was the first product to use the technology.
So was the Smithsonian: The jacket was just accepted into the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Design Museum permanent collection.
Maghan McDowell is a San Francisco freelance writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In stores: Sept. 27. Online, more stores: Oct. 2.
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