I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity—all I hope for in my clothes. ―Yves Saint Laurent
This late seventies Levi’s commercial is no “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” Let’s just get that out there right now—because after Sunday’s Mad Men finale, watercoolers across the nation have had that iconic Coke jingle sung around them. The Levi’s campaign may suffer by comparison, though it is, like the Coke jingle, a classic McCann Erickson Me-Decade production, designed to make iconic American brands appeal to happening youth. The anniversary of Levi Strauss’s patent grant seems like a good excuse to celebrate it.
First of all, it’s directed by Adrian Lyne, and while the vibe may be more Flashdance than 9½ Weeks, there’s both serious craft and serious sex at work in this ad. By modern standards, it’s downright racy: it features law breaking, police brutality (okay, that’s ambiguous), groupies, casual pickups, and a distinct lack of brassieres. All in a Levi’s ad! Into the bargain, we get snapshots of an America that was already vanishing at the time of the bicentennial, for good and ill. Plus, it does its work in imparting the desire to consume: those high-rise jeans look incredible.
But if there’s one thing that really dates the ad, it’s the fact that the filmmakers make no attempt whatsoever to make the jeans look comfortable. In those scenes where the girls are running—to catch a bus or hitch a ride—their movements are awkward and constricted. They run like the kid in gym class who couldn’t run like a normal human being. Granted, in this case, it’s clearly because of skin-tight, give-free flared denim pants and the mile-high platforms who love them.
Nowadays, our conception of American freedom—for women as well as men—is tied up with movement. Well, at least in ads. There’s a fiction at work that you can look perfect without sweating, or the converse. Back then, the message was different: get your kicks—but not high ones.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.