Reported by Mark Lang
LEVI STRAUSS & CO., SAN FRANCISCO
1829 Levi Strauss is born in Bavaria; he will emigrate to the U.S. at age 18.
1853 Strauss, 24, arrives in San Francisco and fashions the first pair of jeans–known as ‘waist overalls’–out of heavyweight brown canvas-like material. Miners and cowboys begin wearing the jeans as part of their ‘uniform.’
1873 Levi Strauss & Co. begins stitching the arcuate design on the back pockets and opens its first manufacturing facility in San Francisco.
1886 Still used today, the two-horse leather patch is affixed to the rear waistband.
1890 Levi Strauss incorporates and the company assigns ‘lot numbers’ to each of its clothing products. The ‘waist overall’ is designated No. 501.
1902 Levi Strauss dies, leaving the company to his four nephews.
1936 The Red Tab trademark is added to the right-hand back pocket. Easterners buy 501s for use on dude-ranch vacations, then take the jeans home.
1942 During WWII, the manufacture of Levi’s jeans is declared an ‘essential industry’ by the War Production Board. Levi’s president Walter Haas Sr. orders crotch rivets removed from the jeans after cowboys complained that the metal stud heated up when they sat by the campfire.
1954 Zippers are introduced, and the company sells its first pair of ‘faded’ denim. James Dean appears in East of Eden and Marlon Brando stars in The Wild One. Both wear Levi’s.
1961 White Levi’s jeans are debuted, presaging the explosion of colors to come. Corduroy jeans are also introduced.
1981 Levi’s 501 jeans for women are introduced.
1984 Robert D. Haas, great, great grandnephew of Levi Strauss, is named president. The company launches prewashed and stonewashed 501s.
1985 The company returns to family ownership after Strauss relatives repurchase all publicly held stock. The price: $1.6 billion.
1992-93 The 140-year-old Levi Strauss & Co. sells its 2.5 billionth pair of jeans. Total sales: more than $5.6 billion.
FOOTE, CONE & BELDING, SAN FRANSISCO
73 Daniel Lord starts an agency, Lord & Thomas, in Chicago.
1922 Lord & Thomas opens in San Francisco, six years after the agency founded an office in Los Angeles.
1920s Recognizing that California and the West are increasingly populated by immigrants, the agency creates its first ads for Levi’s jeans-in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and English.
1930s Advertising in movie theaters featured “moving picture slides” with a photo of Levi’s “waist overalls,” with local retailers’ names at the bottom of the frame. The offer: “A new pair free if they rip.”
1943 Lord & Thomas is renamed Foote, Cone & Belding.
1950s Levi’s jeans ads are posted on the interior and exterior of San Francisco’s cable cars, one of the first uses of mobile outdoor advertising.
1970 Set to a mournful harmonica tune, “Prospector” (photo, top left) features a lone miner respectfully burying a finally worn-out pair of Levi’s 501 jeans. The TV spot is based on a true story told to the company.
1981 In a salute to the film Giant, FCB creates a commercial titled “Travis,” introducing Levi’s 501 jeans for women. After it airs, many viewers write to Levi’s wondering exactly who Travis is and why he was “a year too late.”
1984 The “Levi’s 501 Blues” campaign is launched (photo, bottom left), triggering a wave of imitators of its “shakycam” visual style and artful use of urban settings. The campaign’s “Motion Study” spot, depicting a man doing a celebratory “wheelie” in his wheelchair, marks the first time a national ad campaign featured a physically disabled person.
1986 The Dockers brand is launched, and the agency’s television advertising is credited with helping the new line of casual cotton pants become a $1 billion brand.
1993 “A loose interpretation of the original” is the theme for the launch of the Levi’s Loose Jeans campaign, shot in Morocco and Hawaii. FCB also creates a series of acclaimed spots in the animated “Women in Motion” campaign for Levi’s Jeans for Women.
1995 Mike Koelker, longtime agency executive creative director, passes away. For a quarter of a century, Koelker devoted himself to the Levi’s account, cultivating and then jealously guarding the personality of the brand. His creative legacy: the groundbreaking “501 Blues” campaign, created with neither scripts nor storyboards. Jack Boland (photo, below) is hired as president and chief executive officer. Paul Wolfe (photo, above) is brought in to replace Koelker as executive creative director. Wolfe oversees all FCB creative, including Levi’s.
1996 Slates, a line of men’s dress pants, is introduced with ads showing the clothes in whimsical settings, including a restaurant where a customer mistakes a waitress’ offer of “mango” for an invitation to “tango.” FCB creates two spots, “Elevator Fantasy” and “Doctors,” for Levi’s Wide Leg Jeans.
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