FlyTitle: Jean history

How American denim conquered the world


经济学人双语版-蓝色狂想曲 Rhapsody in blue

HE WAS BORN in a Bavarian village in 1829, fleeing anti-Semitism with his family at 17. From New York he caught a steamer to California, a newly minted American citizen, with a view to expanding the family’s dry-goods business. But these were the heady days of the Gold Rush, and the young man dreamed of making it big. His initiative paid off so well that you may be wearing his invention now: his name was Levi Strauss.

他1829年出生在巴伐利亚的一个村庄,17岁在反犹潮中随家人逃亡。新获得美国公民身份的他搭上了一艘汽船从纽约前往加州,想扩展自家的纺织品业务。但当时淘金热正如火如荼,这个年轻人也梦想着把生意做大。他的冲劲收获了非常可观的回报,你现在说不定正穿着他的发明。他的名字就是李维·施特劳斯(Levi Strauss)。

Technically, the entrepreneur who went by “Uncle Levi” didn’t invent the copper rivets on denim “waist overalls” that became his firm’s stock-in-trade. The idea came from a tailor in Nevada who bought cloth from Strauss to make work clothes for labourers. In 1872 Jacob Davis persuaded him to jointly file for a patent for an “improvement in fastening pocket openings”, and to shift from selling fabric to finished trousers. The rest is a history of marketing genius—documented in the largest-ever public display of artefacts from the Levi Strauss & Co. archive.

严格说来,这位人称“李维大叔”的企业家并不是牛仔“齐腰工装裤”上的铜铆钉的发明者(这个物件后来成了他公司产品的常用件)。这个主意是内华达州的一名裁缝想出来的,他从施特劳斯那里购买布料,制成体力劳动者穿的工作服。1872年,雅各布·戴维斯(Jacob Davis)说服施特劳斯共同为一个“加强口袋开口牢固度的方法”申请专利,并从卖面料转向卖成品裤子。接下来便是一段天才营销的历史。李维斯公司档案馆有史以来最大的文物公开展记录了这段历史。

“Levi Strauss: A History of American Style” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco deftly weaves together corporate, cultural and social trends to tell the story of one of the country’s most famous exports. When Strauss died in 1902 he was eulogised as one of San Francisco’s foremost philanthropists and a pillar of the Jewish community. Nobody could have anticipated that the firm he bequeathed to four nephews would define America’s style and become a global juggernaut. It did that by cannily roping its product to two mythic American figures: the cowboy and the rebel.


Levi’s 501 jeans were tough. The oldest pair on display dates to 1890; another was used to tow a car. Marketed originally to farmers, mechanics and miners, they became the garb of choice for Western horsemen. It wasn’t long before John Wayne and Clark Gable were wearing them into the sunset, followed by glamorous hoodlums played by Marlon Brando and James Dean.


The brand’s advertising rode the countercultural wave, capitalising on its status as a badge of coolness and freedom. Marilyn Monroe wore Levi’s; Andy Warhol immortalised them. Even Albert Einstein was spotted in a Levi’s bomber jacket. Jeans that graced the haunches of the famous—including Patti Smith, Madonna and Beyoncé—fill the gallery and span the decades.


At any given moment a big chunk of humanity is wearing blue jeans, the show’s curators observe. Levi’s have been coveted behind the Iron Curtain and fetishised in Japan; they have been ripped, embroidered and covered in ink. Not too shabby for a kid from Bavaria.