That denim has the ability to speak to everybody and nobody at once is not just conjecture. It has shapeshifted throughout culture as a symbol of youth, community, and rebellion – from lasso-slinging cowboys, to civil rights activists, to the proponents of punk, college prep, and Julia Fox. And though it is now considered a cornerstone of everyday dress, all those incarnations share a forefather in Levi Strauss, who birthed the label’s trademark 501s in the May of 1873.
It all began when Strauss decided to add metal rivets to denim work pants – then-known as “waist overalls” – conceiving a style sturdy enough for a day spent hacking away in the silver mines and durable enough to last 149 years. And, just as the OG blue jean looks back over its storied past, Levi’s is spotlighting the next generation of emergent talents carving out a legacy of their own. Rather than deliver some big branded history lesson, the label has asked newgen creatives – among them Novelist, Jarreau Vandal, Fricky, Shy One, and former Dazed 100er Kicki Yang Zhang – to reflect on the moments that made them, aligning the spirit of the 501s with their own personal trajectories.
This has particular resonance for Fricky, the Swedish rapper and musician, who admits the 501s are “like the only pair of jeans I actually buy”. “They're a simple tool for living,” he says, speaking from a walled recreation of the forests he’d wander through as a child. As he looks back over his life thus far, he stresses how hard it is to feel “original”. “Everyone’s a DJ, everyone’s like a rapper, and everyone’s doing something creative. It’s what everyone wants to do.” But, through following his own instincts and living life on his own timetable, he’s reached a place where he can now say: “I’m comfortable with who I am.”
Kicki, meanwhile, an artist who specialises in make-up, gazes into a vanity table, her eyes framed by neo-reptilian lines. “The first thing I see when I look in the mirror is a blank canvas and most of the paintings and looks I do on my face are improvised,” she explains, “it’s really dependent on my mood that day. I can be inspired by a particular flower or plant or sea creature or something, a lot of my inspiration comes from nature.” And she reads that same creative potential on her own pair of 501s. “I see a lot of people customising their jeans and I really love that – using dye, using paint, distressing them.” Perhaps then, the next 149 years of Levi’s 501s will be dictated not by trends or the fashion industry at large, but by the personal relationships we forge with denim, projecting our own histories and ambitions onto one of fashion’s most enduring style staples.