On the Road in London: Exploring Levi’s® ‘60s Legacy

Levi Strauss & Co.
September 22, 2016

I recently traveled to London to celebrate the opening of You Say You Want a Revolution? Records & Rebels at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum. The new exhibit explores the revolutionary spirit of the late 1960s and its impact as expressed through politics, music and fashion. With five vintage Levi’s® garments on loan from our Archives, the exhibit offers a rare chance to see how the people who wore Levi’s® personified the energy of an era at one of the world’s best institutions.
Records & Rebels
The exhibit invites visitors to consider the ideal society envisioned by the era’s hippies compared to political realities like the Vietnam War. To introduce this theme, the first room displays a rare copy of Thomas More’s Utopia as news reports blare recounting the Cuban missile crisis, civil rights protests, and U.K. Secretary of State for War John Profumo’s sex scandal. In an adjacent corner, beneath Woody Guthrie’s guitar and lyrics to This Land is Your Land, lies a pair of Levi’s® 501®s. Jeans, a white T-shirt and a leather jacket became the uniform of the disillusioned—rebels—by the 1950s.
With the theme set, visitors enter a colorful re-creation of Carnaby Street. Here you’ll find our vintage Levi’s® Super Slims amid a Swinging London scene. The orange Tab jeans were paired with a map jacket owned by Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell. “He said he always wore it with jeans,” confided V&A Co-Curator Vicky Broackes to me and others on a preview tour. The link between the two garments symbolizes how Levi’s® became interwoven into the fabric of the period—especially when it came to music.
While London was busy swinging to the Beatles and The Who, in San Francisco Jefferson Airplane was ascending in the Haight-Ashbury. I thought of this as I glimpsed Grace Slick’s kaftan and a Jefferson Airplane concert poster in the psychedelia room. The band, at LS&Co.’s invitation, recorded a series of Levi’s® commercials at the famed Fillmore Theater. The company aired five of the commercial tracks to coincide with the 1967 release of the band’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow. The result? LS&Co.’s early radio ads that rated in the top three by teens that year.
Connecting with teens was a major shift away from the rodeo—something LS&Co. had focused on from the 1930s to the early ‘60s. Music was an easy way to make in-roads with the evolving youth culture. The company also sponsored teen contests, printed posters and replaced the word “overalls” with “jeans,” the term teens were using, in ads for our new pre-shrunk denim zippered pant—the 505.
Introduced during the Summer of Love in 1967, our 505 jean quickly became a hit with rockers like the Rolling Stones. I spotted the cover of Sticky Fingers on an exhibit wall covered with record albums. The famous crotch shot featuring our 505 zipper is hard to miss.
Visitors got a glimpse of denim styles and listened to the rock vibes of the legendary 1969 festival in the Woodstock room, my favorite space, where the final three Levi’s® were displayed. Jimi Hendrix hammered out the Star Spangled Banner on a massive video screen as I entered. Underneath, our colorful patched 505s and Levi’s® leather jacket stood out alongside our orange Tab bell bottoms.
I found Records and Rebels as exhilarating as it was provocative.
I finished the week speaking to V&A members at a private event but not before fitting in a quick visit to the British Museum. On the way back, I passed two buskers on the street rocking, what else, Levi’s®. It was a fitting end to my trip as I watched the budding musicians sing with the same hopes and dreams expressed by youth 50 years earlier.
Tracey-Panek-photo-438x656Tracey Panek is the Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. where she manages the day-to-day workings of the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives as a key corporate asset, answering historical questions, assisting designers, brand managers, executives and other employees whose work requires historical materials in the Archives.
Prior to joining LS&Co., Tracey spent 14 years as Historian and Archivist at AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah where she managed a corporate history program for the 100+ year old company. She began her corporate history career at AirTouch Communications—today Verizon and Vodafone—a San Francisco based company that launched cellular service at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

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