Guest blogger Nick Williams, Partner at 4th Avenue Graphics, gives us an in-depth history of Denim Branding and Levi’s impact.
Last week I was honoured to have been invited to co-host a seminar at the new denim branding show, ‘WHY’ by Kingpins with Kris Dumon (co-founder of WHY with Andrew Olah) about the ‘Past, Present and Future of Denim Branding’. We touched on the rich history of denim, legendary brands, current trends and groundbreaking technology of the future.
I have been designing for over 25 years, initially creating hand painted textiles for in-house print studios in New York and then evolving into graphics for Nautica. After seven years I moved back to the UK to start working for Levi’s. I eventually headed up the graphics division for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. After six years at Levi’s I moved onto Puma, heading up their worldwide graphics division. I now run my own studio (4th Avenue Graphics) where we are fortunate to work with some great brands such as Levi’s, Gap, True Religion, Triumph Motorcycles and many more.
While working at Levi’s my passion for denim branding was established. I was lucky enough to visit the Levi’s archive in San Francisco on many occasions to analyse their vintage pieces. I enthusiastically studied original vintage labeling and packaging so that I could then recreate the artworks for the reproduction of vintage garments for LVC.
Some of the historical elements that were covered during the ‘WHY’ presentation included:
One of the first banding elements on denim jeans was the copper rivet. Tailor, Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss partnered to obtain a patent for the first riveted work pants. On May 20th 1873, the modern jean was born. This copper rivet was stamped with the company’s initials and the patent date.
The pocket flasher
After consumers complained about the rivets on the back pockets scratching furniture and cowboy’s saddles, Levi’s made a move to hide them under the back spade pocket. In order to convey this to the consumer, the pocket flasher was added in 1936/37 with the iconic wording, ‘THE RIVETS ARE STILL THERE’.
In 1947, Wrangler provided their solution to the scratching problem and introduced the flat rivet.
The red tab
Back in the day, most jeans wear brands used similar back pocket (arcuate) stitching. This made it hard for the Levi’s sales team to identify their pants from other brands for market research purposes. In 1936 the famous red tab was created by sales manager, Chris Lucier, to help better identify Levi’s from the competition.
The leather patch was updated by Levi’s in 1886 to carry the brand’s, ‘two horse logo’. This was added because the company’s patent for the rivets was due to expire. This logo is one of the five oldest existing worldwide logos still in use today. It was created to illustrate and convey to the consumer how strong and hard wearing their pants were, even to the customers who could not read.
In 1936, Lee created the iconic, ‘hair-on-hide’ leather patch with their logo branded directly onto the cowhide.
During the Second World War the arcuate stitching was deemed to be non functional and purely decorative by the U.S. government. It was removed as part of wartime production regulations. As this branding was so important to Levi’s, for the duration of the war the arcuate was painted on the back pockets of the jeans but for LVC reproduction it was printed.
We do not know for sure where the design for the back pocket arcuate stitching comes from as the earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed a lot of the company’s early documents. One theory that I heard about whilst at Levi’s, was that it represented the wings of an eagle. I love this romantic theory since the eagle was adopted as the national bird of the U.S. in 1782.
Lee introduced their own unique stitching in 1944, the Lazy ’S’ which resembles the shape of the famous ‘long horn’. Wrangler followed in 1947 with its two, ‘WW’ for Western Wear.
This is just a brief overview of a much greater story that is enriched as the years and eras go by but one thing is true, the heritage of denim and its branding may evolve, but the original work of the pioneer’s is as strong and hardwearing as the pair of jeans depicted on Levi’s famous 2 horse logo.
Enjoyed this guest blog? You can follow Nick on Instagram at 4thavenuegraphics and visit the website www.4th-avenue.com for a glimpse of his extensive denim knowledge and his knowledge of apparel branding.
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Denim Branding and Levis brand.