Ever wondered where the denim jeans Freddie Mercury wore when rehearsing with Queen went, or where they keep Serge Gay, Jr.’s hand-painted denim jacket? These, and many other iconic pieces of fashion and LGBTQIA+ history, have made their way out of the Levi Strauss & Co.® archives and into the London-based museum, Queer Britain, for the next two weeks. Here’s why you need to head down to the “From the Levi’s® Archives: Icons in Denim – A Queer Perspective” exhibition, what to expect, and why it’s actually unmissable.
Queer Britain, the London-based museum celebrating British LGBTQIA+ history and culture, has opened a brand new exhibition this week titled “From the Levi’s® Archives: Icons in Denim – A Queer Perspective.” The exhibition features pieces straight from the Levi’s® Archives that have rarely been put on display before, let alone together in one space. Celebrating the long history of Levi’s® and the LGBTQIA+ community, it showcases the pieces that played a part in the history of queer culture, from protester’s jackets to icons’ own jeans.
Whilst most of us know that Levi’s® was born out of San Francisco, not many people really get the impact that the brand had on the queer movement at the time. At the same time that Levi Strauss & Co. was earning its reputation as the most worn denim manufacturer in the world, the queer community had already adopted it as an element of their dress code in the 1970s. In fact, one of the archival pieces in the exhibition at Queer Britain is a pair of 501s worn by California’s first openly gay elected official in the 1970s, Harvey Milk.
As well as Harvey Milk, the exhibition also includes pieces worn by an array of different figures behind the queer rights movement over the past hundred years, including the dyed-yellow, kimono-style ‘Empress’ jacket designed by duo Beau Black and Stephen Dunn for a Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) charity event, and the custom painted jacket by artist Serge Gay, Jr. as a symbol of his struggles living as a Black gay Trans man in America.
The exhibition also delves into the symbol of the Levi’s® 501 in pop culture, showcasing the signature Levi Strauss 501 jeans and white t-shirt worn by Jake Gyllenhaal in the movie Brokeback Mountain, as well as Sir Elton John’s customised and signed denim Levi’s® jacket which was also created DIFFA charity event.
We were invited to explore the exhibition ahead of its opening date with Tracey Panek, a Levi’s® historian who gave a deeper insight into each of the archival pieces on show. When we asked Panek what her favourite garment from the exhibition was, she said: “The ‘Empress’ is my favourite, just because of its background, and how beautiful it is. But Freddie’s jeans are a more recent favourite too.”
Hit up “From the Levi’s® Archives: Icons in Denim – A Queer Perspective” at Queer Britain from today until Thursday October 12, open to the public, and find some unmissable archival pieces and a celebration of LGBTQIA+ fashion, culture, and history.
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