From the Archives: Summer of the 501®, Togs and Flat Eric

Levi Strauss & Co.
May 18, 2017

Welcome to our spring 2017 issue of From the Archives, a behind-the-scenes look at the ins and outs otraceyf the work we do here, and the unusual, amazing and always-interesting fun facts and tidbits we discover along the way.

This spring, we celebrated the opening of the Summer of Love Experience at San Francisco’s deYoung Museum featuring Levi’s® far-out fashions; interviewed designer Matt McGivern, who worked on Levi’s® Engineered Clothing and the RED lines almost 20 years ago; added new pieces to the Archives like a pair of 1970s Surfer 501® jeans; hosted guests like Levi Strauss Scholars from the University of California, Berkeley; and still found time to dig into the collection with designers for inspiration. Here’s a peek at LS&Co.’s latest heritage happenings. — Tracey

Now Showing


Photo: California State Archives Department of Education Collection, F3752-2133.

Home Front: California During World War II
California State Archives Online Exhibit

The cover photo of Home Front: California During World War II , an online exhibit by the California State Archives, features a wartime woman wearing Levi’s® jeans while riveting the nose of a bomber in 1942. You can make out her cuffed hems, pocket rivets and the faint Arcuate stitching on the back pocket. Levi Strauss & Co. painted—rather than stitched—the design on the back pocket through the war as one of the government-mandated measures to save material.

Read about Rosie the Riveters like Phyllis Gould who wore Levi’s® jeans every day to work at the Kaiser Shipyards near San Francisco.

Paul Simon: Words & Musicsimon
Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles

If you’re in Los Angeles, stop by the Skirball Cultural Center for a look into the career of Paul Simon. You’ll see the red jacket he wore on American Bandstand in ’57 and get a glimpse of his TV performance on Upbeat in ’67—one of the first times he and Art were billed as Simon & Garfunkel. And guess what he wore for that performance? Levi’s® jeans, the Arcuate-detailed back pocket visible beneath the guitar slung over his back.

Paul Simon: Words & Music is at the Skirball through September 3, 2017.

New Arrivals


Flat Eric. Former Levi Strauss & Co. Communications Manager Joyce Bustinduy recently donated a plush doll that looks a bit like Kermit the Frog with Big Bird’s coloring. The character, Flat Eric, was created as part of a 1990s collaboration with the Jim Henson Company, of Muppets fame.

Flat Eric was featured in several fab Levi’s® television advertisements in Europe. With his dutiful sidekick outfitted in impeccably creased Levi’s® STA-PREST attire, the duo dodges a traffic ticket when police pull them over in a scene evoking the ‘70s.

In another memorable add, Flat Eric is released from jail on an unknown charge. The guard who returns Flat Eric’s personal belongings looks familiar. It takes a minute to recognize that the man in the tie and uniform is Pharrell Williams. Check out Flat Eric spots here.


You Asked, We Investigatedmural

Q. We have been rehabbing a building in Indiana, and when we took the siding off, we uncovered a limestone plaque that has “Levi Strauss & Co. 1853-1928” on it. Can you share any information? It would be greatly appreciated!

A: Amazing find! In the 1910s and 1920s, Levi Strauss & Co. manufactured two styles of garments in Indiana: Koveralls, one-piece denim overalls for children, and Freedom-Alls, a one-piece tunic over balloon pants designed for women.



Tracey’s Travels

Photo by Linus Sundahl-Djerf for Stockholm Centre for Business History.

Photo by Linus Sundahl-Djerf for Stockholm Centre for Business History.

I recently traveled to Barcelona for a showing of the The 501 Jean: Stories of an Original at Spain’s biggest documentary fashion film festival, the Moritz Feed Dog Festival. Afterward, I headed north to Sweden for an international business history conference in Stockholm. During one press interview I shared a pair of 1970s orange Tab Levi’s® jeans covered in Swedish phrases — a goodbye gift to a young Swede named Debbie heading to America. Levi’s® PR & Marketing Manager Hanna Jacobsson translated some memorable notes from the jeans, like this one referencing Karlsson brand glue:

Om ditt hjärta nånsin brister, laga det med Karlsson klister


If you heart ever gets broken, fix it with Karlsson’s glue

960px-x-530px-unzipped-hero Look Who Stopped By…

The LS&Co. Archives often hosts a variety of VIPs and guests. From journalists and musicians to sports stars, students and celebrities, no one is too cool to wear our white gloves—including guests from Japan.

We hosted Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi, who enjoyed poring over some of the details of our vintage garments.


Employees On Record

After a successful kickoff last year, we continued our Oral History Project by interviewing designer Matt McGivern. Matt helped create the innovative three-dimensional look of our late 1990s Levi’s® Engineered jeans and the oversized details of the Levi’s® RED collection.

With the garments now nearly 20 years old, Matt detailed some of original design philosophy.

“Levi’s RED was like a pure laboratory,” Matt explained. “If you invented the blue jean today, what would it look like? That was kind of the approach to it.”


This Year in Levi Strauss & Co. History…

95th Anniversary of Women’s Hiking Togs: This year marks the 95th anniversary of women’s hiking togs. Introduced under the Levi Strauss Make brand in 1922, this khaki clothing for women was the precursor and the thinking behind Lady Levi’s® jeans—the first women’s blue jeans—which came along in 1934. Hiking togs demonstrate how early Levi Strauss & Co. was thinking about making clothing that gave women freedom of moment.


Want to keep up with the LS&Co. Archives and other cool LS&Co. heritage news? Follow Tracey on Twitter, @TraceyPanek, and stay tuned to Unzipped!