When people hear the word “Archives” they usually think of rooms filled with boxes, photographs, old clothes, and other old things. And that’s true of the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives. The company’s collections have everything from the world’s oldest jeans, to jackets and jeans signed by The Rolling Stones, to financial ledgers from before the 1906 earthquake and fire.
But the Archives also has a few…quirky items. And some might surprise you.
There’s the little folded pair of paper jeans, for example. Measuring 3 ½” x 7 ½”. This item just looks like a complicated piece of origami. The paper is printed with little rivets and a leather patch, making it look exactly like a pair of 501® jeans. But open it up and it is revealed to be so much more. It becomes a 23” long spectacle of color and beautiful illustrations of the company’s product range.
And why was this little paper item produced? It was a giveaway to visitors at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco just under a century ago, in 1915. One of two fairs heralding the completion of the Panama Canal the previous year, the San Francisco version also celebrated the city’s rise from the ashes of the earthquake and fire of 1906. Levi Strauss & Co. had a working factory at the PPIE, as it was called. And this little brochure helped visitors remember not only what they saw , but also what the company produced: jeans, bib overalls, pajamas and a children’s playsuit called Koveralls. The Archives is lucky enough to have four of these in the collection, and examples show up on Ebay and in antique paper shows all the time.
The Archives also has something made closer to our own time, and quite a bit larger: a 1974 American Motors Corporation Levi’s® edition Gremlin. That’s right. The Archives has a car.
And not just any car. In the 1970s the now-defunct American Motors Corporation (AMC) decided to devote various lines of its vehicles to American fashion. There was a Pierre Cardin Javelin, for example. And though the reason why has faded from history, the company decided to give the Levi’s® brand one of its quirkiest cars.
The Gremlin, similar to its cousin the Pacer (famous for its appearance in the movie “Wayne’s World”) was outfitted in automobile-grade denim with orange stitching and an orange Tab. The orange Tab was still a new feature on the company’s fashion lines, so it made sense to use it for the AMC Gremlin. There was even a little Gremlin figure on the car dressed in tiny jeans.
The Archives acquired a blue Levi’s® Gremlin a few years ago and it is kept in a warehouse south of LS&Co. headquarters. It was fixed up enough to drive to Los Angeles for a Levi’s® Vintage Clothing event in 2013 and will likely be used again.
Because the actual vehicle is too big to fit into the Archives, the staff purchased something to remind visitors of this rather weird item from the company’s past: a mint in box Levi’s® edition model Gremlin.
Sports have been a big part of Levi’s® history, too. In 1895 the company made bicycle pants, for example. When baseball heroes like Babe Ruth were popular, there was a playsuit for kids in the line made in the style of a little baseball uniform. In 1980 and 1984 Levi Strauss & Co. made the clothing for the American teams participating in the Olympic Games in Lake Placid, Sarajevo, and Los Angeles. And in 2006 the company began an association with the San Francisco Giants, sponsoring “Levi’s Landing” at AT&T Park.
Because of the company’s close ties to the team, the Archives now holds two very special items: World Series rings from 2010 and 2012, the two most recent years that the Giants won the Series. They are kept in a fireproof vault secured with a combination lock, just like the most valuable vintage Levi’s® jeans.
With the opening of the San Francisco 49ers new stadium this summer – now Levi’s® Stadium – this summer, the Archives staff (not to mention the entire company) hopes to one day have a 49ers Super Bowl ring to share shelf space with its baseball brothers.