It is the symbol of fashion that is at once young and carefree, rebellious and unconventional, comfortable and trendy. An evergreen, you could say, that, however, has 150 years of history. Levi's 501s – first produced in 1873 with a patent for copper rivets on work trousers – remain today the undisputed item of clothing capable of resisting fashions and surviving in the wardrobes of one generation after another. It all began with the tailor Jacob Davis, an instant success that prompted him to present his riveted “waist overalls” to the fabric supplier Levi Strauss.
Levi's 501s remain the undisputed garment capable of resisting fashions and surviving in the wardrobes of one generation after another
The rest is a story woven by intuitions, such as the addition of belt loops in the early 1920s (in response to changes in men's fashion and consumer requests), as far as the introduction of the women’s model that would only officially arrive in the 1980s, even though as far back as the 1930s, Vogue had published an article recommending the 501 to ladies on dude ranch vacation, a new trend at the time. This international 'cult' garment had no shortage of fans among celebrities and Hollywood stars.
In 1939, John Wayne wore them with turn-ups in the film Stagecoach and, in 1953, it was Marlon Brando’s turn in Laslo Benedek's film The Wild One. As early as the 1960s, Levi’s 501s became synonymous with countercultures, worn by audiences at Woodstock, civil rights and Vietnam War protesters, as well as mods & rockers in the UK. They are worn on the big screen and, as with Bob Dylan (The Freewheelin’), on record covers. International success arrived between the 1970s and 1980s. Everyone wanted them: from high fashion to street style, artists – Patti Smith, Andy Warhol – even on the black markets in the former Soviet Union they sold like hot cakes and in Japan they became a fetish.
There were those who wore them ripped – rock stars Kate Bush and Kim Gordon – and others – like Run D.M.C. and N.W.A – who preferred them rough and dark. A democratic garment that is a must for tech moguls – Steve Jobs – and presidents – Barak Obama. Proclaimed ‘Best Fashion of the Century’ by Time magazine in 1999, the 501® continues its success as an unrivaled global icon in the 21st century. Today, for its anniversary, it is back in two new versions: 501 ’54 for men and 501 ’81 for women.
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