Levi’s The 501 Jean – Stories of an Original

The official Canadian screening of Levi’s The 501 Jean: Stories of an Original documentary – Fox Theatre

“501s are the Australopithecus of cool jeans,” Alyasha Owerka-Moore, collector/designer

“What a lot of people want to say when they wear a pair of 501 is that ‘I’m above trend,’” Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist

“All classics were born out of utility,” Mark McNairy, fashion designer

“I like money crispy, and I like my jeans crispy,” Eddie Huang, chef/author

We all have a favourite pair of jeans. For many, those jeans are Levi’s 501s. Practical. Rebellious. Fashionable and nearly indestructible. Miners to models, actors to aristocrats, the 501 by Levi’s have earned their place as America’s and subsequently the world’s favourite jeans. This was celebrated last night during a reception and screening of Harry Israelson’s eighteen-minute documentary, “ ” at the Fox Theatre in The Beaches.

The film went from the factory floor in Cone Mills, North Carolina where the cherrywood floors afford the draper looms a certain bounce to allow the perfect imperfections in every original pair of 501 jeans that came off the line to Henry Rollins’ D-I-Y rock’n’roll aesthetic. His affinity for the 501 is as apparent as it is for the old world techniques that go into making each pair of 501 jeans a distressed snowflake unique to whatever rigours your work or play visit upon them. Originally used by coal miners, cowboys and industrial workers, they have evolved into the uniform of the creative industry, as oxymoronic as that sounds.

In 1960 Levi’s officially adopted the term ‘jeans’, the slang term used by teenagers. Once actors and models like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean started wearing them, the 501 jeans became a style icon inspiring people to wear them for their look for the first time rather than merely their function.

levi's 501 jeans
Levi’s 501 jeans

Eventually, 501s morphed into a symbol for counterculture ranging as wide as biker clubs, punks, rappers, skaters and art movements. Activism was clothed in 501s from beats to hippies, LGBTQ activists to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Denim miners Russ Miller and Mike Harris have gone into old abandoned mines in the West to find denim overalls from the 1800s, where miners would repurpose their jeans to wrap around steam pipes, even to stem dynamite holes. Conversely, Fresh Off the Boat author and chef Eddie Huang says his mother would scold him to wash his dirty 501 but in his words, “I like my money crispy, and I like my jeans crispy”.

Before the screening, we nibbled on Daniel et Daniel’s macaroni and cheese spring rolls with hickory barbecue dipping sauce, Merguez sausage corn dogs, avocado fries with spicy mayo, pepperoni pizza, miniature challah grilled cheese and, perhaps in an inadvertent nod to Eddie Huang’s appearance in the film, the Big Mac bao. Snacks also included bespoke popcorn by the Toronto Popcorn Company in blueberry and caramel to match the colours of the 501s as well as bourbon sours, a selection of local micro beers and The Pop Shoppe to tipple. Everyone in attendance, including the servers, was wearing Levi’s of some description ranging from crisp, dark 501 jeans and white T-shirts to weathered 501 jackets.

With a few notable exceptions.

(photos by Tanya)


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