Oct 21 2011
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be treated like a movie star, just take some really old vintage Levi’s® jeans to Japan.
That was my experience earlier this month when I traveled to Tokyo with two pairs of vintage jeans from the LS&Co. Archives: the Nevada Jeans from the 1880s, and the XX jeans, the oldest pair of 501® jeans in the world, dating to c1879. The General Manager and marketing team of Levi Strauss Japan invited me over to display the jeans in the Levi’s® store in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, the Mecca for all youth culture. The idea was to tell our story as the inventor of the blue jean, and to celebrate the popularity of Levi’s® jeans in Japan.
In a whirlwind twelve hours, I participated in a press conference to introduce the XX to the media, did several magazine interviews, enjoyed a cocktail reception and visited a local nightclub, where the jeans were shown off to an even bigger audience.
The XX, Nevada and an 1890 pair called “Barnyard” (shipped to Japan a week earlier) were each kept in tripled-locked display cases in the front window of the Shibuya Levi's® store during the day’s events. Japan’s most well-known security firm, Secom, was hired to guard the jeans while they were on display, and a couple of guards accompanied me and the three pairs of jeans to the Le Baron nightclub, the final event of the day. Each pair was in a locked carrying case, made of hard metal and chrome, which looked like the kind of case used to transport diamonds. The display cases were already in place at the Le Baron when we arrived, and I installed each pair to the click of cameras and oohs and aahs from the crowd.
In their protective display cases, the XX, Nevada and Barnyard jeans.
For the next four days the Nevada and Barnyard jeans were on continuous display in the store, but the XX was only available for viewing for a few hours each day. As the time grew near for me to bring the jeans to the store, lines began to form outside the front door. The first ten people in line got to watch the XX go into the case and the Secom guard activate its laser sensors. This very James Bond-like security system was quite effective: every time someone got their camera -- or nose -- too close to the XX, an alarm went off, and the guard politely shooed the person away. When I took the jeans out of the case in the evening for the trip back to my hotel, there was always a crowd with cameras at the ready to record the event.
I spent a lot of time talking with consumers, being photographed with them, and generally enjoying how much the Japanese revere Levi’s® jeans: both vintage and modern. The craze for vintage Levi’s® jeans began in Japan more than twenty-five years ago. Today, a new generation of young people clearly enjoyed seeing where they all began. Japanese consumers understand how the XX became today’s modern 501® jean, and they can make the connection between the past and the present.
As for being a movie star, the best moment for me was when I went to a vintage clothing store in the Harajuku district over the weekend. It had a great collection of vintage Levi’s® jeans for sale, and I wandered around while the owner worked at the counter. After a few minutes he looked up, saw me and said, “Ahhhh, Lynn Downey-san!”
Below, you'll find some pictures from my trip, as well as a video that my colleagues in Japan produced.
Posted By: Lynn Downey, Historian, Levi Strauss & Co.
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