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Levi’s Celebrating 150 Years of 501s With ‘Greatest Story Ever Worn’

By Evan Clark,


Levi’s has long had a story to tell about how jeans became a part of popular culture.

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Now, during the 150th anniversary of its famed 501 jeans, it has a special occasion to tell that story.

The narrative linking the jeans themselves with the lives of those who wear them kicks off in earnest during the Grammy Awards this Sunday with an ad campaign dubbed “The Greatest Story Ever Worn.”

It’s a fitting place to start given the brand’s long association with music.

Chris Jackman, vice president of brand marketing at Levi’s, said the brand has become “the unofficial uniform of musicians or festivalgoers. Music chose us, we didn’t choose music, but we certainly love the marriage.”

The campaign launching at the music awards show features two mini-films illustrating some of the ways Levi’s 501s have become a focal point in lives around the world.

“Precious Cargo” recalls the arrival of 501s to Jamaica in the ‘70s and how the people of Kingston made the look their own and ultimately exported their style back out to the world.
A still from “Precious Cargo.”

And “Legends Never Die” shows how a man who lived life in Levi’s decided to die in them, too, asking that he be buried in his 501s and that the people attending his funeral wear them too.
From “Legends Never Die.”

Together, the spots support what Jackman described as “an ever-expanding narrative that we’ve been a part of.”

The campaign is grounded in storytelling, illustrating Levi’s connections to lives and to culture at large, but it started with the product and a deep dive into the Levi’s archives, Jackman said.

“As we started seeing the product history in conjunction with the stories, that was the marriage and the lightbulb went off,” he said. “When you stitch them together, we believe it represents not just the history of our brand, but the product — no one else can match it. It brings the moment to a place where you can connect with it emotionally.

“We have a unique position here — 150 years isn’t met by many brands, let alone in clothing,” Jackman said.

That’s the kind of longevity that is more common among the European luxury brands than on the American scene.

It’s a milestone that comes during a changing of the guard at Levi’s.

Chip Bergh , chief executive officer, has transformed the company from a wholesale jeans brand to a more dynamic, digitally led and direct-to-consumer brand and is now preparing to hand the reins over to president Michelle Gass , who joined this year from Kohl’s Corp.

For her part, Gass is stepping right into the heritage of the brand.

“Levi’s 501 jeans are not just a staple in closets everywhere, but a garment woven into the very history of apparel and design,” Gass said in a statement. “It’s a product that has withstood the test of time and today continues to make the Levi’s brand stronger than ever before.”

In honor of the anniversary, Levi’s will be introducing new looks to the 501 family of goods, including limited-run product drops like a reimagined version of Levi’s first blue jeans — the 1873 “XX Waist Overalls” — to the men’s 501 ‘54 and the women’s 501 ‘81.

It’s a look back that completes the circle for Levi’s and also starts a new chapter in a story that started in 1873 when the brand was granted a patent for copper rivets on work pants.

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