When Levi's re-released the 501 jeans in February 2015, the updated version of the cult-classic vintage style hit the market just as the obsession with the traditional workwear fit reached fever pitch. Before we knew it, every "It" girl worth her salt had found a pair of original 501s online or through vintage denim retailers like Re/Done or Reformation. Now Levi's is building upon that momentum with another modernized version of a historic fit: the 505s. A favorite of Debbie Harry and the Ramones, the style is associated with New York's music scene in the 1970s, and is still coveted by collectors today.
"After the successful launch of the 501ct, our thoughts immediately turned to — what is the next iconic fit that we could remaster?" explained Jonathan Cheung, the company's head of design, on Tuesday. "The 505s, being a longstanding favorite… it was a natural candidate."
When Levi's launched the 700 series for women a year ago — with much fanfare after several tough quarters — it doubled down on the enduring power of the skinny jean. But Cheung said the current fascination with "traditional" fits, authentic stories and vintage finds doesn't negate that trend. "We've had such a long run of super-skinny jeans, super-stretchy jeans, [and] we felt that there's this natural swing of the pendulum that people are looking for an alternative," he said. "I don't think that skinny jeans are going away... but for one or two days of the week, they might want to change." He said the new 505c — "c" for customized — is a reaction the growing demand for old-fashioned jeans, citing the brand's collaborations with Re/Done, Vetements and even Google as examples of that trend.
The 505 was originally designed in 1967, based off an early zip-fly jean during a time when Levi's was shifting its focus from a workwear brand to a lifestyle one. The 505 was slimmer, preshrunk and had a lower rise than previous styles. "I think all those things added to its popularity and the uptake it had with the youth, and then it kind of exploded on the east coast and many people within the company call the 505s the New York jean," said Cheung. It became associated with the city's music scene in the early 1970s — perhaps most exemplified by the Ramones's 1976 self-titled album cover in which everyone was wearing 505s.
However, it was a photograph of Blondie's Debbie Harry wearing the jeans onstage in 1976 that specifically inspired the design of the new updated style. Cheung and the team purchased a deadstock pair from the same year from a Japanese collector that had never been worn, and the process started from there. "We found a little label and it had the fabric code, so we managed to trace the fabric back to the mill that made the original pair from 1976 and we reproduced it," he said.
Indeed, 505 fans will recognize the slim, straight legs, stitching, deep pocket scoops and large back patches, as well as the back rise shape (which Cheung calls a "hook") that lifts the butt. ("The 505 was also the starting point of 'The Wedgie,'" he adds, in reference to the brand's butt-lifting best-seller from this spring, which counts Kylie Jenner as a fan.) The rise has been lowered slightly, in accordance with changes in the 505 throughout the 80s and 90s. "What Debbie Harry is wearing in that photo, you're pretty much wearing today in the 505c," said Cheung.
It was more than fitting, then, that Levi's invited Blondie herself to celebrate the new silhouette's launch on Tuesday in New York City. She performed several hits at the Bowery Ballroom for a crowd that was mostly too young to remember her heyday but was nevertheless enthusiastic. She wore, of course, a pair of light-wash vintage 505s. Halfway through the performance, Harry invited designer Todd Thomas onstage to cut her pair into shorts with some giant scissors, a perfect demonstration of the jean's versatility — and perhaps a compelling reason why it may be a good idea to own more than one pair.