Sep 20 2011
Russia – part of the former Soviet Union – is a fairly new market for Levi’s® jeans, but the company and the brand actually visited that country more than fifty years ago.
In 1958, the United States and the Soviet Union signed an agreement to increase cultural contact between the two countries in order to ease tensions between the Cold War rivals. The agreement stated that exhibits are “an effective means of developing mutual understanding,” and both nations agreed to host exhibitions from the other country. In 1959 the United States Information Agency coordinated the American National Exhibition which was sent to Moscow. Vice President Richard Nixon opened the Exhibition on July 25. (Remember the Kitchen Debate?)
Included in the displays of American culture, science, and technology was a good- sized booth created by Levi Strauss & Co., filled with displays of 501® jeans and Western-themed advertising. Staffers wore jeans and cowboy shirts, and 501® jeans were also worn by entertainers hired to treat the crowds to some down home American music.
Although jeans were frowned upon by Soviet officials as symbols of decadence and western imperialism, the products on display had to be replaced almost daily. Why? As explained then by the international press service R&F Features, “Eager Soviet visitors handled – and occasionally helped themselves to – display samples of the all-American denim pants.”
Levi’s® jeans were a coveted, but forbidden capitalist item in the Soviet Union for the next thirty years. Then, when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Russian citizens could buy “real” (not black market) Levi’s® jeans for the very first time.
The LS&CO. Archives has a letter from one such happy customer, a woman named Larisa Popik, who wrote us in August of 1991:
A man hasn’t very much happy minutes in his life, but every happy moment remains in his memory for a long time. I’m not the fanatic of clothes, but the buying of Levi’s jeans (501) is one of such moments in my life. I’m 24, but while wearing your jeans I feel myself like a 15-years-school-girl, I feel myself like a graceful, slender and beautiful girl.
Thank you very much for such comfortable, soft, light and nice jeans. Good luck to your kind and necessary business!
A picture of that customer's letter is shown here:
Posted By: Lynn Downey, Historian, Levi Strauss & Co.
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