Fashion May, 9 2013

Levi’s Historian Lynn Downey Presents 140 Years of the 501

To celebrate 140 years of the iconic 501 jean, Levi’s Vintage invited a few of us over for an afternoon with the one and only Lynn Downey. An idol among denim fans, Lynn built the Levi’s archive from scratch, developing what started off as a mish-mash of early denim and assorted paraphernalia into a comprehensive, sizeable collection reflecting the brand’s incredible history.

Buying rare, early, one-off pieces, some found in dusty mines by the likes of Michael Harris, others bought from customers hoping to ‘upgrade’ to a new pair, the archive serves as the basis of LVC collections each season. Bringing along a selection of extraordinary pieces; white gloves, security ropes and security guard in tow, Lynn took us through the details, from fastenings and leather patches to rusted rivets and worn away arcuates.

Classic versions of the 501 from the ’30s through to the ’80s sit beside the remnants of  ‘loose, anti-fit waist over-alls’ dating back to the 1890s; a selection of hand-written correspondence from twentieth century Levi’s fans helping to place this iconic garment in context. A fine example, desperate to get hold of a pair for his son, a London resident wrote a charming letter to the US Levis headquarters in the period after the war. Hoping that anglo-American friendship might help secure a deal, the enthusiastic customer offered a hamper of authentic British goods in exchange for a fresh pair of 501s. One of Lynn’s favourite finds, this stained and crumpled note has become a treasured piece of Levi’s history and a testament to the brand’s timeless appeal.