Levi Strauss & Co.

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(established 1853)

Founded in San Francisco in the mid‐19th century, Levi's have been seen as one of the most powerful and evocative American brands in the international market place. This outlook has been bolstered by such factors as the Smithsonian Institution's absorption of Levi's products into its permanent collection in 1964 and Levi Strauss & Co.'s (LS&C) adoption as the official outfitter for the US Olympics in Los Angeles twenty years later. Ten years later Fortune, the American business magazine, also named Levi Strauss & Co. as the most admired clothing company. Sustained by effective marketing strategies over a long period of time LS&C has secured a historical niche as an original maker of strong, denim working clothes, first patented in 1873. By the early 20th century they were marketed as being ‘positively superior to any made in the United States’, ‘sewed with the strongest thread’, and ‘original riveted clothing’. The company's highest profile product, the 501 jeans, was first named in the 1890s. The company's visual identity—the ‘two horses’ motif—also gave off an aura of rugged, specifically American, practicality. It incorporated two cowboys driving horses in opposite directions, a pair of jeans being stretched between them as a means of demonstrating the strength of material, thread, and rivets. Since 1928, when Levi's first registered its trademark, the brand has also been successfully identified with America's Wild West heritage and, like Coca‐Cola or Marlboro cigarettes, has become an internationally recognized symbol of core American values. During the 1930s such a portrayal was a strong element of corporate advertising, echoed in the cowboy heroes in Hollywood films. Lady Levi's were introduced in 1935 and were sold alongside 501s, rodeo shirts, and other Western wear. In 1912 the company had also launched its Koverella one‐piece playsuit for children, sold nationally from 1920 when a new LS&C factory was established in Indiana. After the Second World War the company maintained the international exposure that it had gained as far back as 1915 when it received an award for its jeans at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. At the Brussels International Exposition of 1958 (Expo '58) Levi's jeans were exhibited in the American Pavilion, as they were in the following year at the American Fashion Industries' Presentation in Moscow. However, there was a diversification of outlook with the introduction of the Lighter Blues and Denim Family sports range in 1954. There was also some identification with rock 'n roll, with Jefferson Airplane and Paul Revere and the Raiders making radio commercials for Levi's in 1967 and the introduction of bell‐bottom jeans in 1969. During this period LS&C's penetration of export markets was bolstered by the establishment of Levi's Europe in 1962 and Levi Strauss Japan in 1971. A number of other company brands were introduced, including Dockers, first appearing in 1986. A decade later, in 1996, the company explicitly marketed its own history with the international introduction of Levi's Vintage Clothing for the reproduction of earlier items drawn from the company archives. This sense of historical significance was further bolstered by the celebrations of the 130th anniversary of the company's patent for blue jeans in 2003.


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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