Now that everyone and their mum has their own jeans label, droves of denim aficionados are turning back to the superlative original-the Levi’s Vintage 501 XX capital E – the most iconic garment ever produced.
Never has an item of clothing inspired such adoration, commanded such high prices or been the chosen mufti for so many global arbiters of taste from Clark Gable to Marilyn Monroe to Johnny Depp. It is a totally unique product.
Work Clothes Became Highly Collectable
Yet, even with such sublime credentials, in 1985 Levi’s phased out the line causing a worldwide feeding frenzy as collectors tried to amass what was left of the once disposable work item.
Levi’s themselves bought one pair for $46,000 while, in the early eighties it was not uncommon to see pairs changing hands for thousands of pounds.
But luckily for the denim heads the line has been reissued in all its glory under the collective title of, Levis Vintage boasting all of the company’s 20th century classics – each lovingly replicated to the last detail.
“The classic Levi 501 XX is the staple item of any life well lived,” proclaims BBC London broadcaster and style pundit Robert Elms.
“All other jeans are a facsimile, a fake or at best an homage to the real originals. From cowboys to rude boys they have always been a sign of sartorial savvy,” said Elms.
And it seems that the stylishly informed agree: Paul Weller favours the classic 1966 slim line Levi so beloved of early Mods.
Suggs of Madness shows a distinct penchant for the 1947 XX, The Strokes do a narrow ripped ‘66 a la Ramones, while Noel Gallagher claims the only labels he wears are Levis and Adidas.
Levi’s Vintage Invented by a Latvian Tailor
The unsung inventor of the Levi 501 was the immigrant Latvian tailor, Jacob Davis, who in December 1870 was commissioned by the wife of an uncommonly corpulent woodcutter to make a pair of trousers that would contain her spouse.
Paid three dollars in advance, Davis used rivets he’d previously used to secure leather straps to horse blankets to fasten the trouser pockets and a classic was born.
Soon after, Davis approached his friendly haberdasher, Levi Strauss, and offered him a half share of the business if he would cough up the $68 patent application fee. The rest, as they say, is history.
By the 1930 Almost Every American Wore Denim
A runaway success, by the 1930s almost every American owned a pair of jeans. However, because of the cowboy films of the day starring John Wayne and Gary Cooper, denim was perceived mainly as work wear.
The seismic shift came in the fifties when Marlon Brando sported his 1947 501’s in the controversial movie, The Wild One.
James Dean wore his just every where while singer Eddie Cochrane was rarely seen in anything else, causing millions of teenagers to adopt the item as their own.
Subsequently, Levi’s 501’s were the favoured jean of Steve McQueen, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, John Lennon along with Mods, skinheads, punks and rockabillies
Luckily for the consumer Levis launched their Levi’s Vintage range that features reissues of all the great 501 XX range.
This includes the 1937 cinch back, the 1947 as worn by Brando in The Wild One and the classic 1955 and the 1966 slim lines.
Levi’s Has Replicated Their Classics in Detail
Each model has been lovingly replicated in the very same 14 ounce indigo selvage seam denim with the same copper rivets and two tone stitching.
These jeans are the only jean the discerning individual should ever consider.
“The 501 XX is the king of jeans and every other brand is just a copy,’ opines Adam Cooper of American Classics- the UK’s main purveyor of the landmark line. “
Every great 20th Century style icon has worn them: James Dean, Monroe, Jackson Pollock, Joe Strummer- you name them.
They are the original shrink to fit jeans and the more you wash them, the more comfortable they become and the better they look. Just look at Armani – he has his own jeans label but still wears Levis.”
Levi’s 501 XX range start at £180 and are available from:
American Classics 20 Endell St.Covent Garden, WC2 9BD
Cinch Vintage Levi Store, 5 Newburgh Street London, W1