The Levi's archive garments are something to behold. The oldest known pair of 501's are dubbed "XX" and exude an aura that is difficult to describe. Dated to be from 1879 its denim is full of loom chatter, vertical striations of both shade and yarn character. Careful observation of areas where the indigo did not chip off (behind the buckle and inside the back pocket) reveals how rich and red the cast of the original shade must have been.
Besides the XX several other 501's were on display (1920's, 1937, 1950's). A careful enthusiast can study the differences in details among 501's from different periods. After all the event is to showcase the new Premium 501. The pair I tried on was a dark washed, whisker crunched, redline selvage jean with an updated, slim, low rise, fit. A raw version will apparently be available. Word is Barneys on Madison Avenue in New York already has them. Unlike the vintage 501's of yesteryear these modern jeans do not have workwear details like hidden back pocket rivets and back buckles. But the LVC line (Levi's Vintage Clothing) can give you that fix if it's your cup of tea. It is probably Levi's most researched, well-informed line in terms of understanding its own heritage and history.
Looking at archive pieces with Lynn Downey, Levi's in-house historian, is a unique experience one should not pass on. In fact it should be on every denimhead's list of things to do before you die.
So rare is the XX that it is stored in a safe and is guarded by a sentry when taken on the road. Here is Lynn showing off the oldest surviving pair of 501's as Evan from Meyerson Security stands guard. I was tempted to warn him about the suspicious-looking Blue Man Group peering over their shoulders.
Studying a fill yarn defect with Lynn. Is it defect or character?
Confirming it is not a mispick by looking at the underside. I was honored to have been offered the white gloves to handle this precious relic.
Levi Strauss & Co. Website