Levi’s Laundrette Advert (1985)

In 1985, Levi’s changed denim advertising history forever with its high brow ad, “Laundrette”. Here WGSN takes a look at the story behind the notorious commercial. 

1985 was a big year. Boris Becker won Wimbledon aged 17. Live Aid changed pretty much everything, and Marvin Gaye’s “I heard it through the grapevine” provided the soundtrack to one of the most notorious denim ads, Ever.

1950′s small town America. A GI is eyeing up pretty girls. Behind him, a man walks into a launderette carrying a bag of small rocks and pours them into a machine. Slowly, he removes everything but his socks and white Sunspel boxers. He puts them in the machine. A thoroughly honed physique is admired by all as he takes his seat against the wall. It was a breakthrough advert for Levi’s, cleverly recreating an image of 50s America with wit, sex appeal and a fair amount of nostalgia. As a result Levi’s achieved iconic status in the UK.

Shown for the first time on Boxing Day 1985, “Lauderette” was the brain child of John Hegarty and Barbara Noakes of BBH, who had been called in by Levi’s to save the brand from its flagging fortunes. While Levi’s were the original blue jeans label, the company was under attack from all sorts of other fashionable brands and the name iteself was becoming stale and the sort of jeans worn by people’s dads. And not even trendy dads – it was middle-aged “fuddy duddies” wearing “polyester Levi’s Action Slacks”. At the time intended target audience for Levi’s 501, UK teens (15 to 19 year olds) were infatuated with the retro cool of the United States fifties and sixties era: James Dean, Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke all belonged to this mythical, wondrous world. At first the ad was considered too risqué for Levi’s, the alternative was a stuffy American campaign for 501, which was all about how well the jeans fitted in the United States of Ronald Reagan. The image seemed the opposite of MTV and European chic. So, director Roger Lyons was given the go-ahead to film an ad that showed drop dead gorgeous model Nick Kamen stripping down to his boxer shorts, while flustered women and bemused elders looked on, and then sitting and waiting while his jeans were in the wash.

The advert was voted number 4 in a poll in 2000 for the 100 top adverts of all time and the success also nudged the re-release for  “Grapevine” which subsequently entered the charts all over again (the first of four Levi’s-related songs to all make the Top Ten). Other brands caught onto the madness too, including Carling Black Label who created a parody ad, but with shocking beer instead.

Read more on the ad over at Thisisnotadvertising.wordpress.com where they did a full analysis of the groundbreaking commercial.

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