To celebrate Lee’s 130 years in business, company executives are headed to Broadway.
Vice president of women’s design Betty Madden and other staffers have corralled a group of editors to attend Tuesday night’s performance of Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.” Although the lead actress Marisa Tomei does not wear Lee in the play, she has worn the brand offstage through the years. The actress is expected to welcome the Lee-led team backstage after the show at the American Airlines Theater. The fact that the made its debut on Broadway in 1951 appealed to Lee, which unveiled its Reissue collection earlier this month. Madden said, “It’s a really cool connection to an old iconic playwright,” referring to Williams.
The four-style Reissue collection consists of replicas of denim pieces that made their debuts in the late Forties and Fifties. Madden said, “Women’s empowerment is really important obviously socially and on every level. But we really look at the Lee woman as the original tough girl. We wanted to celebrate that in our 130 years. We have a lot of advertisements that seem really antiquated. They just showcased men. But we had some really great product for women that we introduced at a really early time. We wanted to make sure that as we move into the future, that this was what we were showcasing.”
Lee’s archives include images of women riding horses and wearing their husbands’ Unionalls, “when the men were off to war in the late Forties,” according to Madden. “A lot of our products were being worn by women, who were doing things that weren’t necessarily acceptable at the time. They knew they had to lean in and do what needed to be done. We loved that tension between masculinity and femininity, because while they were doing it they still stayed true to themselves. When you see the old imagery of them in Lee product, they still look very feminine and elegant but still with this ass-kicker edge, which we think is pretty great,” she said.
The brand’s estimated $1 billion sales are about 60 percent men’s and 40 percent women’s. With annual sales upward of $16 billion, the denim industry is a powerhouse part of fashion. The average American woman owns seven pairs of jeans, according to a 2010 ShopSmart survey. And the combination of the gig economy, at-home workers and increasingly relaxed corporate dress codes are making new or upcycled jeans more acceptable to many.
Referring to the Reissue collection’s heritage, Madden said, “These women weren’t really spoken of, when these jeans were made.…They are just now getting the voice that they deserve. With 130 years, we could have celebrated a lot of product for men. This we felt was special because these women were trailblazers. They were kicking ass, when women were supposed to just be pretty and quiet.”