lee 101

Ruedi Karrer A.K.A. Swiss Jeans Freak

 

Ruedi Karrer, better known as Swiss Jeans Freak on social media, but also within the denim community is a true denim fade connoisseur. His three main passions are chocolate, mountains and denim. DENIM in capitals. And yes, even when he’s climbing mountains he’s wearing double denim. And if you see chocolate bars coming along on a denim event or trade show, you know Ruedi has arrived ; ) And not to forget, his signature piece are a pair of sandals. No matter the season, no matter the weather.

 

For years, Ruedi opened his private Jeans Museum in the heart of Zurich, Swiss. A place where he meets many denim enthusiasts from all around the world. Mostly raw denim fans that are willing to make the ‘Pilgrim’ to his denim mecca to share the same strong passion as the king of fades.

 

Growing up in the countryside of the Swiss Alps in a big family with 12 members in total, Ruedi fell in love immediately when he opened a donated parcel in 1973. As they weren’t rich at all, these parcels of clothing arrived every now and then at his house. Then one day, in one of the parcels he noted some pairs of blue jeans. This triggered Ruedi so much that from that day on he would rock only denim, each and every day. Since that moment he became addicted to seeing the evolution of a pair of blue jeans. The magical aging process of how a rigid pair of jeans is slowly changing into a vintage look and feel.

50 Years Of Denim Collecting

Now, this year marks his 50 years of denim collecting. His obsession became bigger and bigger each year which resulted in one of the biggest denim collections ever. In total, Ruedi’s private denim collection contains around 14,000 pairs of jeans and jackets!! Part of his incredible denim collection are many original Lee styles as the American brand is one of his top favorites of all time.

Therefore it feels like a logical step to have a chat with Ruedi to talk about everything denim, and in general about Lee and the new Lee 101 Fall-Winter ’23 collection. The premium denim collection has embraced its authentic denim styles for many years. Crafted with an eye for detail and original features. Mostly produced with Japanese selvedge fabrics that will be more beautiful after each wear day. A perfect link to Ruedi’s fascination with denim. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the chat with Ruedi about Lee and Lee 101 here below!

lee 101 ruedi karrer

Ruedi Karrer a.k.a. Swiss Jeans Freak together with Wouter Munnichs / founder Long John during the Denim Days in Amsterdam.


The Interview With Ruedi Karrer

LJ: Firstly, I know you’re a huge Lee fan. Do you know what your first Lee item was and when you were wearing it? And of course, I’m curious if you still have that specific item?

 

RK: I have admired Lee Jeans since 1977 when I saw the brand for the very first time then as my high-school teacher was wearing a half-selvedge pair during a mountain trip with the whole school. I was so incredibly in love with those incredible faded Lee blue jeans from my teacher that I wanted to have one as well and I saved some money until I could buy one (a 101Z) in the Dittli Jeans store in Chur in 1978. I had 2 pairs of Lee jeans at that time and I still have all of my jeans from 1973 at my place, but I would have to search for them.

 

But, I also have to say, that I burned one of my really completely trashed Lee blue jeans on my world trip in 1991 in Alaska after they just had so completely fallen apart that I burned them in a ritual in a campfire. All the other jeans are still with me, luckily!

An overview of Ruedi Karrer’s younger years.

 

LJ: What is your all-time favorite Lee style and why?

 

RK: My top favorites of the Lee brand are the Lee 101Z and 101B jeans styles. Especially the half or full selvedge in heavy-weight fabrics such as 22, 23, and 19oz. Next to these, I really love the Lee 101-J unlined denim jacket and the blanket-lined Lee Storm Rider 101-LJ denim jacket too.

 

LJ: Can you describe in just one word (or just a few) what denim in general means to you?

 

RK: A big part of my life, a status symbol for being a little rebel, a fetish, and I love the magic of strong natural raw denim evo at most.

 

LJ: The Lee 101 collection is always inspired by archival pieces of the American denim brand. If you take a look at the current Fall Winter ‘23 collection, what is your favorite piece and why?

 

RK: All blue dry items like the 101 Rider jacket and the 101Z, 101S, or Rider jeans, since I always just love raw denim so much more than one washed or prewashed.

Boxes full of vintage Lee denim jackets at Ruedi’s Jeans Museum.

 

LJ: What makes Lee 101 different compared to others in your opinion? Or in other words, what do you like about Lee 101 in general?

 

RK: The great fit and style. Specifically, I love the (Storm) Rider jackets. I simply love the round-shaped back pockets, the Lazy-S stitches, and the leather patch on the jeans.

 

My biggest love is the strong faded Storm Rider jackets with awesome fading lines from the shrinking lining and the larger outer denim fabric caused by sweating if never washed. I also love the sometimes greenish fadings on never-washed Lee dry jeans.

 

LJ: Your collection is truly one of a kind with almost 14,000 pieces in your archive. I know that you are a big fan of the Storm Rider jacket design. What makes this item so strong in your opinion? And how many vintage examples do you have of this style in your archive (more or less)?

 

RK: I’ve been completely wild about the Lee Storm Rider style and the unlined Lee 101-J jackets since my childhood. Both jacket styles are reflecting the wild cowboy life to me and the unlined version was the most rebellious status symbol jacket when I was young in 1980 in Zurich. It was worn by all wild rebels and students at that time in my area. And I just wanted to be a little rebel or a little cowboy too, although I was much too shy back at that time. When dreaming of the highest wishes in my life, I was dreaming so strongly about being a real wild man wearing the roughest denim jacket and jeans.

 

Nowadays, there are several hundred Lee Storm Rider 101-LJ and Union Made denim jackets from the 60-ies to early 70-ies in my denim collection. And many hundred unlined Lee 101-J and Union Made denim jackets from the same era in my collection. I’ll know the exact numbers soon after finishing the pre-sorting in a few months.

A few original Lee Storm Rider jackets, worn by Ruedi Karrer over the years.

 

LJ: And, have you seen the seasonal Storm Rider version? What do you think about it? 

 

RK: The seasonal Storm Rider looks not so familiar to me. I love the blue rigid version at most, but would have to see it in real to say more about it. Can’t wait actually…

 

LJ: Everyone who knows you knows that you are truly obsessed with the fades of pairs of jeans. The aging evolution of rigid jeans. Can you share your most beautiful worn-in pair of Lee 101? And share also why this one is your favorite?

 

RK: I’m most impressed by the heavily faded two worn Lee 101 jeans (22oz and 19oz) from King-Yu Yiu because of their incredibly strong and hardcore never-washed natural fades including crazy patina. I saw some other never-washed samples which are just insane!

One of the Lee 101 jeans worn by King-Yu Yiu over 1,000+ days.

 

LJ: If you were going to an exotic island for one year and you could only bring one full denim outfit from the current Lee 101 collection, which items would you pick?

 

RK: A Lee Storm Rider 101-LJ blanket lined jacket (if not available an unlined 101-J dry jacket) and a 101B selvedge dry jeans (if not available a 101Z version would be great too).

lee 101 ruedi karrer

Heavy worn version of a Lee 91-LB from Ruedi’s archive.

 

LJ: If you could dress one actor or musician in Lee 101, who would be the right person in your opinion and why?

 

RK: James Dean, Robert Redford, and many more…

 

LJ: Which Lee style would you like to see in future collection(s) of Lee 101?

 

RK: Always dry jeans and jackets, made with a blue selvedge ID or half selvedge. The best if they’re produced with a typical Lee left-hand twill fabric. A green cast denim fabric in a classic 14oz weight, but I would really love to see a green cast heavy-weight Lee jeans as well. Fingers crossed!

Ruedi at his Jeans Museum, dressed in a vintage Lee coverall and matching railroad cap inspecting a vintage Lee Rider jacket.

Images provided by Ruedi Karrer aka Swiss Jeans Freak.

Explore the full Lee 101 collection here: https://eu.lee.com/uk-en/lee101-inspire.html

 

Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine, I'm working as a freelance denim specialist for the industry. Titled as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50. Celebrated my 10th anniversary with Long John in 2021.