Levi’s is a brand with an acute knowledge of its heritage — they have clothed work forces, cowboys and rock stars to boot. But what you might not know is that they were also responsible for crafting a beloved brown leather jacket belonging to renowned physicist, Albert Einstein.
For SS18, Levi’s are releasing an exact replica of the Menlo Cossack jacket for customers keen to invest in a little bit of cultural history. He can be seen in his well-loved jacket on the cover of TIME magazine in April 1938; years later, the same magazine would name him man of the century. Co-incidentally, Levi’s 501’s were also credited in the 1999 issue as the fashion item of the 20th century, affirming the brand’s sustained influence too.
The original jacket, which was sold at auction by Christie’s in 2016, was purchased by the brand and returned home to their extensive archive. The jacket will join other such covetable items like Steve Jobs’ 501’s and the US 1984 Olympic Team Levi’s jackets.
Levi’s is a symbol of the American dream, not just for its Bavarian founder Levi Strauss, but also for the many settlers that moved to the USA and adopted Levi’s for both work and pleasure. The same can be said of Albert Einstein himself when he left his native Germany for a trip to America in 1933 and never returned. Brand historian Tracey Panek states, “It feels so satisfying to have been a part of capturing this history. Einstein purchased the garment when he was becoming a US citizen in the mid-1930s and was worn by him regularly during the period as he was becoming an “official” American.” Hence, the Menlo Cossack represents Einstein’s transition from German to an American, and from a persecuted Jewish man (Einstein was a Jewish intellectual under Hitler’s rule) to a free citizen.
Polish physicist Leopold Infeld, Einstein’s colleague and collaborator, immortalises the value the Cossack jacket in his autobiography stating, “One of my colleagues in Princeton asked me, ‘If Einstein dislikes his fame and would like to increase his privacy, why does he … wear his hair long, a funny leather jacket, no socks, no suspenders, no ties?’ The answer is simple. The idea is to restrict his needs and, by this restriction, increase his freedom. We are slaves of millions of things … Einstein tried to reduce them to the absolute minimum. Long hair minimized the need for the barber. Socks can be done without. One leather jacket solves the coat problems for many years.”
The jacket was such a firm favourite of the infamous scientist that he was even seen sporting it on a trip to Bermuda in 1935 — it appears he literally didn’t go anywhere without it. For this reason, Levi’s spent a lot of time studying the jacket in every detail to perfectly capture everything about that made it so unique. Head of Design for Levi’s Vintage Clothing Paul O’Neill explains, “I’d been working on Levi’s® Vintage Clothing for 8 years at this stage and had seen variations of this jacket before but never this exact model…. We are very happy with the replica and we are presenting the Jacket in a special box depicting Einstein wearing the jacket smoking his pipe.” The pipe is also an important component in what makes this jacket so special. The company has produced a scent with DS & Durga to accompany the garment, which blends his burley pipe tobacco and papyrus manuscripts with the distinct aroma of vintage leather. To complete this exciting package is another replica — the number 97 paddle that commanded the winning bid at auction.
This unusual and fascinating garment has been given a new lease of life in the 21st century, where it will continue to inspire a new generation of Levi’s fans.