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Levi’s Gets Archival On Its Facebook Timeline

Brand historian Lynn Downey discusses how she helped create Levi Strauss & Co’s elaborate, centuries-spanning Facebook timeline.

Some people have lucky jeans they hold onto out of superstition. Others have their beloved skinny jeans, reserved for hard-earned moments when they’re actually able to fit in them. Certain pairs of jeans tell a story about their owner (especially pairs with accidental rips in them). Levi Strauss & Co is hoping to incorporate some of those individual stories into a much larger narrative. A much longer one too.

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Levi has been around longer than some whole industries, religions, and countries. The company was founded as a dry goods wholesaler in 1853, before introducing its most famous product–the blue jean–in 1873. Now with a little help from Facebook Timeline and its own fans, Levi is bringing all that history out in the open, and making it more personal.

The brand began celebrating the official launch of their new Facebook Timeline on May 1 (better known as 501 day to serious jean fans) and continued through May 20 (the birthday of blue jeans). During this period fans submitted “blast from the past” photos of themselves in Levi’s from any era. All photos submitted ended up in an open Facebook album, and some will be paired with an important moment in Levi Strauss & Co. history on the evolving timeline.

The person most responsible for Levi’s comprehensive timeline is Lynn Downey. As the brand historian, she oversees the company archives, a collection of clothing, photos, and artifacts that tell the Levi’s story from 1853 to the present. All told, there are about 7,500 garments, 2,500 photos and hundreds of posters in the collection, which includes the world’s oldest pair of jeans, made in 1879. The archive also contains more current offerings such as a pair of pieces from the Levi’s Project Runway challenge in 2008.

“The biggest difference in the clothing between then and now is how the early garments started out as workwear, for pure function,” Downey says. “Today, jeans and other styles made by Levi Strauss & Co. can be worn literally everywhere, and for just about every activity: from work to going horseback riding to….well, you name it.”

Downey and the digital team at Levi’s worked directly with the team at Facebook in selecting the images and artifacts that would most appeal to fans. You can’t comb through as much of the brand’s history as she has for this project, though, without learning some new things about it. “It’s been delightfully surprising to see how long Levi Strauss & Co. has been making clothing for women. We introduced Freedom-Alls in 1918, which was a work/play garment meant for the active life of women in the American West,” Downey says. “Looking at garments like these, you can see how our clothing influenced the liberation of women in the West in the 20th century. It’s something to really be proud of.”

By scrolling through the timeline, fans will definitely find nostalgia-inducing throwbacks from their own fashionable pasts, but perhaps they’ll find something more as well. “I hope that people will see how deeply rooted the brand is in both American and global history and culture,” Downey says. “The amazing thing about the history of jeans is that they are still with us. Jeans have changed in the same way society has changed. They are chameleon-like; able to adapt and to come out better.”

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See images from the archive in the slide show above.

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