In 1873, near the end of the Gold Rush, Levi Strauss & Co., named for a Bavarian Jewish dry goods merchant in San Francisco, obtained a U.S. patent with tailor Jacob Davis for the process of putting metal rivets in men's work pants to increase their durability. This small innovation marked a transformative moment in American style - it was the birth of the blue jean.
From February 13 to August 9, 2020, The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) in San Francisco celebrates the cultural legacy this invention inspired with Levi Strauss: A History of American Style, an original exhibition showcasing the life of Levi Strauss and the worldwide phenomenon of the now iconic blue jean. Featuring over 150 items from the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives, including garments, advertisements, photographs, and ephemera, The CJM's exhibition represents the largest public display of the company's archival materials ever assembled.
Levi Strauss: A History of American Style tells the distinctly American story of Levi Strauss, a Jewish immigrant whose civic and philanthropic contributions were fundamental to San Francisco's municipal development, and whose momentous foundation of Levi Strauss & Co. came to influence culture on a global scale. The history of Levi Strauss & Co. reflects the changing consciousness of the country, and this exhibition tracks the company's trajectory from its initial emphasis on nineteenth-century miners and blue-collar laborers; to its role in crafting the mythology of the American West in the early twentieth century; to its impact on the rise of international youth culture in the 1960s, and beyond. Marketed as hard-working, authentic, and effortlessly cool, Levi's® fashioned an American identity defined by style.
"This exhibition captures the essence of The CJM's mission, at once telling a story that is definitively Jewish, classically American, and deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of San Francisco," said Lori Starr, Executive Director of The CJM. "Through a celebration of the birth of the blue jean, the exhibition shares the story of a hardworking Jewish immigrant who realized the American dream and inspired a style revolution that continues today. The exhibition will contextualize the Jewish experience for twenty-first century audiences, offering insight into the history of San Francisco and its Jewish population, the story of an iconic element of American style, and the inventive spirit behind it all."
The exhibition will invite visitors to experience Levi Strauss & Co.'s enduring impact with rarely before seen objects, including a suit owned by Lauren Bacall, a reissue of a jacket worn by Albert Einstein, an AMC Gremlin car with an interior upholstered completely in denim, and a custom ensemble worn by Lauryn Hill on her Miseducation tour. Works in a variety of media will be on view, reflecting the myriad ways Levi's® has infused the culture of this country, and has become shorthand for classic American style abroad.
Image Credit: Melody Sabatasso (b. 1948), Custom upcycled denim suit commissioned and worn by Lauren Bacall, ca. 1970s.
In 1873, near the end of the Gold Rush, Levi Strauss & Co., named for a Bavarian Jewish dry goods merchant in San Francisco, obtained a U.S. patent with tailor Jacob Davis for the process of putting metal rivets in men's work pants to increase their durability. This small innovat...