#CLOT20: CLOT x Levi's® Unionrail 501® Jeans - the pair that kick-started CLOT's RBG denim legacy
2023 marks the 20th anniversary of CLOT. In celebration of this significant milestone, we would like to take you through some of the key stories and highlights in this two-decade journey. Today, we shall delve into the story behind the iconic CLOT x Levi's® Unionrail 501® Jeans that kick-started the brand's denim legacy.
Edison Chen founded CLOT in 2003 with the aim of bridging East and West cultures, offering designs that translate rich Chinese culture for international palette, while introducing West subcultures into China. Such a distinctive perspective gradually attracted the attention of world-renowned brands, and in 2006, Levi's® was among the first global titles to approach CLOT for a collab. The partnership saw the launch of the CLOT x Levi's® Unionrail 501® Jeans, which instantly swept the streetwear scene by storm with its trendsetting style, hip-hop influence, and, of course, a rich East-meets-West narrative.
Rendered in a baggy “roughneck” style and washed, distressed look, the CLOT x Levi's® Unionrail 501® Jeans were created to honor the contributions of Chinese railroad workers who helped build the tracks of America's first transcontinental railroad in the 19th century. "The Unionrail was to show how our people played an integral part in the advancement of different cultures," shared CLOT Founder and Creative Director Edison Chen.
The iconic CLOT x Levi's® Unionrail 501® Jeans from 2006, it also came with a women's iteration lined with patterned green silk.
Apart from weaving a piece of Chinese history into the seams, Chen further incorporated his love of hip-hop culture into the design via the iconic RBG bandana stripes, found at the back. "The RBG actually stands for ‘revolutionary but gangsta," shared Chen. "There was a prominent hip-hop underground group at the time called Dead Prez, and they used this three-color paisley combination that welcomed all people who were in the struggle."
Instantly recognisable among hip-hop fans, the RBG stripes carried extra meaning for Chen. "The Chinese railroad workers? They were 'revolutionary but gangsta', because they had to help America build from the east to the west coast, which was revolutionary. At the same time, they were immigrants living in bad conditions, still putting in the work and doing what they needed to do. I consider that gangster. So the Unionrail paisley is a very direct representation of this."
Design aside, Chen also revolutionised the way people wore their jeans in the East, popularising the roll-up style by wearing his CLOT x Levi's® Unionrail 501® Jeans with one leg rolled up—another hip-hip influence—revealing the Chinese patterned silk lining.
Widely recognised as pioneer of the Chinese streetwear scene, Chen opened the eyes and minds of many through his designs under the CLOT brand, with the CLOT x Levi's® Unionrail 501® Jeans among the earliest examples. Collectors revere the CLOT Unionrail so much that they have given it the nickname '長壽', a term that they have fondly applied to all CLOT jeans bearing the RBG pattern thereafter.
"I think that kind of gives a testament to our design and the way that it speaks to people; that it means something so much to them they've already given it a nickname, and that nickname has become the official name," said Chen. "We always welcome our community to be a part of the conversation with us, and I'm happy with the label they've given this certain design direction."
Scroll down for a throwback to all the CLOT RBG moments throughout the years, a journey that began in 2006 with the legendary CLOT x Levi's® Unionrail 501® Jeans.