LEVI'S by Ed. Cray


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What can one say about a corporate history that ends with this sentence: ""At Levi Strauss, the products must speak for themselves""? First, one can say that the book sounds like a 260-page advertisement. Next, that the story of Levi jeans and the 130-year-old firm which makes them, a choice piece of Americana which might have yielded a valuable study of an economic and social institution, has been wholly squandered. From the modest dry goods enterprise of Levi Strauss in gold-struck San Francisco, to the 1870 invention of the riveted work pants by Reno tailor Jacob Davis, to the rise of ""the Company"" to eight-digit balance sheets and international prominence, Cray never stops praising. It may be true, as Cray claims, that this jeans-maker to the world has been relatively liberal with respect to unions, automation, integration of its factories, employee benefits, and community service. It may be true that for most of its history the Corporation has been one big happy family whose members care intensely for each other and for the Right Thing. But sometime in the past 130 years, some Levi Strauss executive must have uttered a sentiment less noble than those Cray obligingly quotes ("" 'I'm a people-believer. That's what turns me on,' Glasgow later explained. . .""), and that a corporation, by definition, has more to its history than the delivery of fruit baskets to old Italian women in San Francisco's North Beach. There are incidental bits of color: the boom towns of the West, the culture of the cowboy, the lively ethnic mix of San Francisco. We learn that the prototype of blue jeans was an answer to workmen's complaints of ripped pockets, and we learn how James Dean boosted blue jeans more than any advertisement. But these are mere sweeteners to a saccharine tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1978
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin