It is hard to believe that Levis 501s are now celebrating their 100 year birthday. Most of us, can only cast our minds back to those legendary ads of 1985, when model Nick Kamen walked into a laundrette to the sound of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Heard it through the grapevine’ and removed his black t-shirt, his Levis 501s and a pair of Rayban Wayfarer sunglasses, only to be left standing there in pair of white Sunspel boxers shorts, and while Nick loaded this wears into a washing machine, unawares, teenage girls ogled him and embarrassingly started to giggle, and while an gob-smacked middle aged man looked on, The ad got taken off the air for being too racy, but the buzz surrounding the ad, made 501s a house-hold name and the world had woken up to a new style of jean, making this became an absolute an overnight sensation.
The origins of the 501 go way back further than this and yet almost all of us wont remember their original launch 100 years ago, but most will have certainly remember their first pair and have a story to tell.
The famous 501 roots began back in 1891 at The Cone Denim company when brothers Moses and Caesar founded Cone Export & Commission Company in Greensboro, North Carolina, near the eastern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
In 1905, they established the White Oak Mill, named after a 200-year-old tree on its grounds. This mill did not only set the global standard for quality denim, it would become the world’s most iconic denim mill.
In need of a reputable denim supplier, Levi Strauss & Co. approached Cone, and in 1915 a historic agreement was struck granting Cone Mills the exclusive right to manufacture Levi’s proprietary Shrink-to-Fit denim for the production of all Levi’s Lot 501 Jeans. This Gentleman’s Agreement became known as “The Golden Handshake.”
Today, 100 years later, Levi Strauss & Co. still produces the 501 using Shrink-to-Fit denim from Cone Mills’ White Oak facility in Greensboro, unearthing archival details about the fabrics we developed through our history with Cone, reproducing them faithfully at White Oak. Each weave carries the secrets of our long history within its warp and weft.