Bringing back five legendary 501 styles dating back to the iconic jeans’ invention, Levi’s kicked off the 501s 150th anniversary with the 1937 Katanaka Japan reissue a couple of weeks ago. Now the time-traveling countdown story continues with the 1922 White Oak, another game-changing iteration that altered the 501s identity even more.
Also known as ‘The Looper,’ the 1922 501s pushed Levi’s ahead of its competitors after its release. Soon after WW1, belts became part and parcel of everyday wear and adopted by many working men, so naturally, being known for its adaptability, Levi’s decided to introduce belt loops in 1922.
Previously the jeans had been worn with suspenders, using the center-back cinch to keep them up — this is what gave rise to the previous title of ‘waist overalls.’ The back cinch was actually left on till 1942, which in turn meant the 1922 501s offered the best of both worlds. Younger men cut off the cinch to wear belts, while more traditional jean-lovers kept it to wear their suspenders. The detailed upgrade with the belt loops shifted the 501s historical legacy, serving a slightly elevated and multi-functional purpose and retaining both ways of wearing jeans. This ensured that more people were persuaded to try Levi’s for the first time.
Even though this 501 style was first released over 100 years ago, the cultural players of today are more than aware of its longstanding legacy and are keen on making it part of their go-to denim rotation today.
If there’s one thing Levi’s are good at, it’s making pieces for everyone, everywhere. To bring this 1922 edition to life and to spotlight the underground skate community of Paris (a subculture that has been known to keep Levi’s denim as its uniform for decades), we went on a trip around one of Paris’ creative hotspots with Helena Smola.
Smola grew up in one of the world’s most historic city’s, the French capital. With a romantic past rooted in the arts, music, and dance, Paris is a nesting ground for creativity and ambition, and the 19-year-old's experience in the bustling hub is no different.
From skateboarding and basketball to vintage cars and fashion design, Smola found her community at a very young age. "I used to play basketball for almost five years, and soon after that started skateboarding with my best friend in our neighborhood," she explains. "My mum wasn’t ok with it at the beginning, she was worried for me, and honestly, the first time was scary, but I loved it. To me, skating in Paris is like having one big family."
Describing herself as a skate enthusiast first and foremost, it was no surprise that Smola brought her board along to the Centre National de la Danse where we shot the hero film. Located just outside Paris in the suburb of Pantin, the cultural establishment is where people come to practice dance, study, work and gather as a community — which makes sense because Smola visits here almost every day. "I’ve dabbled in sneakers, cars, skating and fashion, but the one field I haven’t touched and really want to, is music," she says.
For me, the 501s are similar to a really, good old car like the Peugeot 205 Roland Garros edition or a Mercedes Evo 1.
When it came to describing her style, Smola says she always opts for the simple route, although her mum is always telling her she looks like a skater. "Levi’s was one of the first brands I bought when I started skateboarding. My best friend had a clear blue 501 pant. I remember telling him I wanted to find the same when we went to a thrift store, and I was actually lucky enough to find a pair. I will never be disappointed by the evolution of a 501. It will forever be one of my favorite pants."
The original 1922s were made in white oak selvedge denim that originated from the 112-year-old Cone Mills establishment in North Carolina. Rivets were still exposed on the back pockets, and the plain selvedge meant the trademark Levi's red stitched line was nowhere to be found. Fast forward to 2023, and the stitch-for-stitch White Oak edition of the 1922s comes complete with the same trimmings, made from deadstock Cone Mills White Oak red selvedge denim, with signature detailing like the exposed back rivets and loops.