From our 501® Blues series in 1984 to last year’s Circles, one of the most watched spots of 2017, Levi Strauss & Co. advertisements rank among the most memorable. But did you know that LS&Co. ads have also been a launchpad to many celebrities just starting out their careers?
LS&Co. was the official outfitter of the U.S. Olympic team in 1984 when it launched its popular 501® Blues series. The spots, set to unforgettable blues tunes, featured a variety of people dancing, playing music, washing a car or hanging out with friends—in short, living in their 501® jeans. The advertisements made the now-famous lot number a household name.
501® Blues also featured two little-known actors—both young men starting out in film and television when they still had full heads of hair. Die Hard star Bruce Willis made an appearance dancing in one of the ads. Although he’s wearing a yellow jacket and sunglasses, he’s easy to spot once he spins around and his glasses fly off.
Seinfeld sidekick Jason Alexander also appears in another 501® Blues spot in the series – he’s got dark hair and wears a Levi’s® jacket, checked shirt and of course, a pair of well-fitting 501® jeans.
A year later UK model Nick Kamen starred in the Levi’s® commercial, Laundrette, that may be his most memorable performance. The rising star, with perfectly coiffed hair, steps into a crowded laundromat and removes his shades. As spectators look on, he loads a washing machine with stones and then pulls off his T-shirt, unbuttons his 501® jeans and drops his outfit into the machine. Stripped down to his boxers, he waits as his 501® jeans are stone washed. Set to Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine, the spot which helped make Kamen famous was named one of the best advertisements of all time in 2000.
In 1991, a sandy haired actor captured the camera in the Levi’s® spot, Originals Stand the Test of Time. A young Brad Pitt stands behind bars in a dusty desert jail, but he’s about to be released. A smug security guard issues the prisoner a camera—but no clothes—leaving Pitt standing in only underwear and a T-shirt. Fortunately for Pitt, a woman driving a convertible pulls up with a spare pair of belted 501® jeans.
Years before producing his biggest hits, a young Pharrell Williams starred as a guard in another jailhouse commercial shot in 1998, Where’s the Money George? Pharrell takes second-seat to the lead Levi’s® character—a yellow puppet. Flat Eric, a Jim Henson Company character, is locked up in a cell covered with dozens of chalk marks representing the days of his incarceration. He dreams of his freedom riding a motorcycle until his release when the guard, played by Pharrell, returns Flat Eric’s possessions: white sneakers, notepad, toy figure, a tuning fork, half a scissor and a cassette player with a cassette for his favorite tune. The spot, released in Europe, popularized Levi’s® STA-PREST clothes.
But it wasn’t just rising male celebrities who starred for the brand. Model Lily Aldridge debuted in a Levi’s® advertisement in 2006 opposite actor Jamie Dornan. In Walk the Line, shot in Buenos Aires, the spot features a young couple dressed in Levi’s® who are drawn to each other across a city. Set to the tune that Johnny Cash made famous, they walk over and through obstacles in a straight course toward each other. They finally come together as the words “Levi’s® Straight Jeans” appear onscreen.
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