Levi's anniversary: Life after blue jeans

Denim may be a great leveller, but the fabric is notable by its absence from a collection to celebrate 140 years of Levi's 501s, says Lee Holmes

Ask almost anyone you know whether they own any denim clothing, and the answer is likely to be yes.

When it comes to fashion, denim is a great leveller; both classless and unisex, it can be worn in almost any social situation. And there's one brand in particular – Levi's – that is probably responsible for this global takeover. It is, put simply, one of the most recognisable denim labels in the world.

But it wasn't always so. Way back in the 1850s Levi Strauss developed denim as work-wear for the pioneers of the American West. Only in the 1950s did this fabric evolve into fashion garments; jeans and jackets were taken up by bikers and rockers, giving denim a whiff of rebelliousness. By the 1970s Hollywood came a-calling when stars such as Steve McQueen and Paul Newman wore the brand.

A new generation of shoppers became hooked on Levi's 501s in the 1980s, when Nick Kamen sauntered into that laundrette, stripped out of his jeans, slung them into a machine, and then hung around in his boxers while he waited out the spin cycle. Thereafter, Kamen was catapulted to cheesy pop stardom with "Each Time You Break My Heart". More importantly, sales of Levi's skyrocketed.

These days shoppers are spoilt for choice when it comes to denim brands, and this humble fabric is now available in all manner of finishes and styles. So, perhaps to set the cat among the pigeons, and in celebration of the 140th year of the iconic 501 style, Levi's has launched its first non-denim collection.

Made from 100 per cent twill cotton, the pieces come in block colours of red, green and blue. The silhouette is tighter and pockets are larger, making it easier to carry smartphones. Denim aficionados may well baulk at tinkering with such a classic, but when you've invented the original, why not play around? And this doesn't mean that denim is dead; instead it shows a brand that aims to stay at the top of its game.