Peter York on Ads: The loose-fitting Latino look that's giving Levis a little lift

Levi's 501s
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The Independent Online

Everyone's a bit black now, some more than others. Darcus Howe's Channel 4 documentary, Who Do You Think You're Callin' Nigger?, showed what anyone who's ever worked in thoroughly mixed areas always knew, namely that racial antagonisms between, say, blacks and Asians were miles sharper than anything on the white vs the rest divide. But the fascinating thing about the second-generation, Brummie Muslim boys Howe talked to, who were hugely hostile to blacks - and newly toughened and ganged up, often attacked them - was that they'd bought into 80 per cent of those young black speech patterns, dress codes and mindsets ("Diss me and I'll kill you") but combined it with more than a touch of my-son-the-fanatic Muslim observance.

American Latinos talk and act increasingly blackish, but it's difficult to gauge the relationships. Jenny-from-the-block Lopez used to go out with Puff Dadd, as he then was, and got involved with that club shooting incident, but the whole thing's tense and ambiguous. Anyway, the makers and those who cast the new Levi's anti-fit jeans commercial must know that. And Latino is black without tears for a wider, white audience. So you get a white haut-Euro girl rollerskating in a very considered industrial estate wasteland - genuine prole America. She's tall and beautiful and it's easy to imagine her on a catwalk or in the West Village - and hard to see her as a chambermaid.

But the positioning of the Levi's campaign is slice-of-life authenticity, particularly the dialogue, which is where the cheeky Latino lad comes in. He's behind her, on his bike and he does a brilliant chat-up line which is part black, part charming, part filthy and based on the lovely idea that his tiny-wheeled bike is a car. "Hey, Sunshine, wanna ride? Grab on to my bumper, just grab on, let's go." And he rides on ahead, back arched, jeans falling off his tiny arse. "There's room in these jeans," he says, "shake, wiggle, wiggle." And he slips off the saddle and almost falls over.

But the whole clever thing sounds hyper-real on first watching, properly street, with its surreal mix of imagery and rudery. Later you notice a girl who'd never be in that suburban wasteland in a million years. Except it's by the sea. Levi's have been through phases of reinvention, led by products like the 501s. The 2001 twisty jeans and their clever SPX campaigns helped with credibility, but there's a raft of this year's brands to fight in a very fragmented market. The new 501s with anti-fit are leading on authenticity, and if you can fake that you've got it made.

Peter@sru.co.uk

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