Levi Strauss pt 2 – Retro to Modern Jeans


Welcome back to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco!

Now that you have read about Levi Strauss's history as it began in San Francisco (click here to read that blog post, if you haven't yet), your reward is to see all the beautiful and abstract ways these iconic jeans have evolved over the recent decades.

Designers and regular consumers alike have made Levi's jeans their own with inventive embellishments ranging from spikes and rhinestones to drawings of cartoons.


"The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s architecture fuses a historic power station, originally built in 1881, to a soaring blue steel geometric superstructure.

Its building embodies the past and present, the utilitarian and the abstract, the traditional and the contemporary.

Since opening in 2008, it has become an iconic edifice in San Francisco’s cityscape: it fascinates everyday passersby and is a popular point of destination for residents and tourists alike.

Yet, from the ground, few realize that the building’s unusual shape is derived from the Hebrew letters, chet and yud, which together spell chai, the Hebrew word for 'life.'" - thecjm.org


Dave Lane's sculpture titled Lamp of the Covenant, hangs from the ceiling of the Koret Taube Grand Lobby.

It consists of ninety feet of steel in an oval shape, weighing six tons, attached with dozens of antique globes, glass electrical conduits, and other small objects.

The artwork operates on several levels: it references Jewish thought, astronomy, science fiction, and philosophy.

Now, onto the jeans!


Winning jacket of the 1974 Levi's Denim Art Contest, created by Bill Shire. One of twenty-five winners chosen from 2,000 entries from every U.S. state.

"In the early 1970s, denim became a blank canvas for self-expression as wearers began customizing their denim with embroidery, studs, sequins, patches, and paint."


Denim Air Jordans, 2018.


Buddy Motorcycle Club white denim vest and t-shirt, 1975-85.

Customized Harley-Davidson denim jacket, 1990-2009.


Keith Haring 501® customized jeans for Macy's 2008 HIV/AIDS benefit.


"Madonna's Girlie Show tour Levi's cutoff shorts and Dolce & Gabbana bra, tank top, and boots, c. 1993."


"This hand-embellished jacket was worn by Alfred (Al) Leo Smith, a Klamath Tribal member from Modoc Point, Oregon who worked as a drug and alcohol counselor in Indigenous communities." c.1990


"Spikes were launched in 1958 - polished cotton slacks for men and boys in the colors of orange, lemon, and lime Jell-O™. To advertise the product and its color scheme, Levi Strauss & Co. sent boxes of Jell-O™ to its retailers.

The brightly colored pants were unfortunately ahead of their time, and Spikes did not go over well with either retailers or consumers."

What a shame! These pants are FANTASTIC and we should 100% bring them back. I'd wear the heck out of them.


"During the 1970s, American Motors Corporation offered "fashion" packages for its various models, including a Gucci Hornet and a Pierre Cardin Javelin. Both the Gremlin and the Jeep came in Levi's editions, complete with denim seats with copper buttons and the red "batwing" logo near the front wheel wells.

The Levi's Gremlin was available in 'neighborhood' or 'racing' models. It was even accessorized with a back pocket appliquéd to the side of the driver's seat to hold change for tolls."


Look at those denim-upholstered seats! So unique.


Custom embroidered denim ensemble made by Melody Sabatasso for Lauren Bacall, 1972.


Custom jeans by Ben Ramirez, c. 1990s.

"These silver tab jeans have been augmented by the owner with 1990s iconography and cartoons, including images of the Chicago Bulls, Beavis and Butthead, Tweety, Stussy, the National Basketball Association (NBA), Daffy Duck, Taz, Jurassic Park, Massimo, and Sanrio characters including Hello Kitty, Tuxedo Sam, and others."


"Mr. David, a.k.a Glamamore, is a distinguished local fashion designer and drag community icon. This dress of cascading denim ruffles prominently repurposes the famous copper rivets to function as sequin embellishments, demonstrating the infinite versatility of Levi's denim and its enduring significance to the LGBTQ community." 2019


Innovative functional jeans to make it easier for handicapped persons put on their pants. Zippers on the sides "allow each leg to open all the way from the bottom up, or from the top down, or any distance either way."


"Beyoncé's lavender velvet cropped top and Lot 518® Superlow bootcut jeans customized with suede and lavender ribbons on pockets and laced-up seams worn to the MTV Video Music Awards, 2001."


Mark Hamill's (Luke Skywalker) bleached white Levi's jeans from 1977, worn in "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope."


Custom bedazzled denim jacket decorated by Yves Saint Laurent for AIDS benefit at Barney's New York, 1986.


"When it came to his wardrobe, Albert Einstein's was famously routine, including, as it turns out, his Levi's leather "Cossack" jacket. Einstein was featured wearing the jacket on the cover of Time magazine in April 1938, seen here."


"French couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier is perhaps best known for his collaboration with Madonna on the costume designs for her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. The cone-shape bra created an immediate sensation and launched the widespread trend of underwear as outerwear.

In his 2010 Spring/Summer Ready-to-Wear collection, Gaultier demonstrated how well Levi Strauss & Co.'s staple denim jacket paired with his most famous design."


So, did you have fun and learn something at the Levi Strauss exhibit? Remember to click here and read about the jeans company's fascinating early history, if you haven't already:

Or stick around San Francisco for a bit and read about these fun adventures: