SAN FRANCISCO — During the high-end jeans boom of the last several years, many American shoppers got used to the idea of paying hefty sums for dungarees, regularly browsing through stores that demand $100, $200 or even $300 for certain...
SAN FRANCISCO — During the high-end jeans boom of the last several years, many American shoppers got used to the idea of paying hefty sums for dungarees, regularly browsing through stores that demand $100, $200 or even $300 for certain styles.
That’s nothing compared with the prices quoted to Jimmy Hanrahan.
"Every pair starts at $25,000," he said. And that’s an asking price for jeans that might be more than 50 years old.
Hanrahan, a Levi’s spokesman who oversees the company’s archive, has become the point man in the firm’s effort to reconstruct parts of its history that were lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed the company’s headquarters. Along with two other staffers, he buys back styles of jeans that Levi’s doesn’t have in its collection. A few big-ticket purchases, including a $46,532 payout for a pair of jeans found in a Nevada mine, have led some collectors to believe that the company might be on the free-spending side.
Hanrahan has become an avid troller of eBay.com, the auction Web site, where he keeps current on the prices dealers in vintage jeans ask when they’re not dealing with a multi-billion-dollar company. But that’s not the only strategy he uses in reconstructing Levi’s archive, which today is approaching 6,000 garments, many dating from over 100 years ago.
Levi’s rarely pays these hefty prices. Sometimes, he said, "We lie to them. We tell them we have two already."
More annoying to Hanrahan than the dealers who hyperinflate their prices are collectors who seem to be looking for someone to pick on.
"Some people will taunt us," he said. "They’ll say, ‘We know you want this even though you can’t have it.’"
Hanrahan said Levi’s today makes few purchases at auction, instead preferring to pick through flea markets and used-clothing stores where prices are more reasonable. That’s particularly useful when he’s not looking for pieces that are 100 years old: He’s recently found lots of the company’s original Dockers pieces at Goodwill outlets.
The company also gets many ancient pairs free from people who find them in attics or basements.Levi’s designers use the extensive archive for design inspiration. It also attracts historians and outside designers.
The Levi’s collection craze started in Japan in the Eighties and slowly a group of aficionados has been growing in the U.S. Hanrahan said he appreciates the collectors, but cringed as he told the story of seeing teens in Japan actually wear 1920s-era Levi’s jackets and smoking in them.
Hanrahan said he likes to keep track of particularly unusual pieces of Levi’s heritage, even when the company doesn’t want to buy them.
"Sometimes just knowing that it exists is enough," he said.
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