Archival Consumed: Alife X Levi’s

[Levi’s / Alife Custom 501’s]

Levi’s is up there with Coca-Cola and Nike as a company people refer to when they want to make a point about how pervasive a brand can be. So it’s worth wondering what this household name is up to in deciding, after more than 150 years of existence, to forge its first-ever co-brand, the limited edition Levi’s alife Custom 501’s. There will be just 501 pairs, each in one of five colors, priced at $165 and available at exactly one store — which itself will exist for just one month.

The 501 is so iconic it’s hard to know what could be left to say about it. But what is alife? If Levi’s is a quintessential mass brand, alife could be thought of as an emblematic mini-brand. This is a distinct category: instead of being known by everybody, the mini-brand is known to a very specific and even rarefied group of somebodies — somebodies who are seen (by marketers, at least) as cultural connoisseurs, with forward-thinking tastes and an influence far out of proportion to their numbers. These are consumers open to the idea that certain products — even workaday items like jeans and sneakers — can be much, much more than a commodity. This group matters to Levi’s because it has struggled in recent years to stave off trendy new competitors like Diesel and the Gap. So when the Levi’s alife 501 Concept Exhibit opens in Manhattan on Sept. 11, with a big party, in the middle of Fashion Week, what it will really be selling, aside from a few hundred pairs of jeans, is Levi’s’ cultural relevance.
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