“Iconic, masterful, well respected, and loved by all.” That’s how artist, curator, and food investigator Miles Tuddenham describes Levi’s 501s® (and Thierry Henry, who he says is the football equivalent of the all-time classic jeans).
Levi’s pretty much-made history with their 501® jean, and its comeback has been even stronger thanks to its ‘greatest story ever worn’ campaign that kicked off earlier this year. Five of the 501s® most popular styles have been reproduced from the 1937 and 1922 to the 1901 and now the 1890 White Oak’s.
Yes, the blue jean was invented in 1873 by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, but it wasn’t till 1890 that the 501® lot number was adopted. In the same year, Strauss & Co’s patent for riveted clothing expired, which meant other companies could swoop in and add the metal feature to their clothing. To answer the competition, Levi’s printed the inside pocket bag with information about the strength and originality of the XX overalls.
XX was used to designate the highest quality denim from the Amoskeag Mill in Manchester, New Hampshire, which was where Strauss got his denim for the first ever pair of blue jeans. This little touch of authenticity wasn’t the only thing that sealed the deal. The 1890 White Oak 501s® also donned the first ‘two-horse’ leather patch. The famous red and brown motif that depicts two horses attempting to rip apart the pair of jeans was to become what a lot of people know Levi’s for today; strength, reliability, and deep-rooted heritage.
With the OG 501s® initially created as workwear attire and for those on the go, we decided to sit down with Tuddenham, a man whose creativity has led him to dabble in all sorts of work, from food and wine to art and curation.
Tuddenham grew up in Norfolk in the English countryside. A county known for being able to offer both city life and a small-town feel, Norfolk is full of greenery, football fans, and sea lovers, thanks to its proximity to the cold waters of England’s North Sea. “I was heavily drawn to the outdoors, travel, and film as a kid,’ says Arsenal fan Tuddenham.
As the General Manager of Norman’s Cafe in London, a burgeoning no-frills no-fuss hotspot for traditional English breakfasts as well as other British-inspired treats, and the founder of Usual Business Art Gallery, I wanted to find out how Tuddenham became so fascinated by the ever-changing worlds of gastronomy and art.
When did your interest in food start?
It began extremely early on when I would experiment with expired ingredients from my grandma’s cupboard – she called it ‘mixing’ – but developed into a more encompassing passion around the age of 16 when I moved to London and began working for fine dining restaurants.
What was one of your all-time favourite dishes growing up?
My younger brother and I used to make extremely simple homemade pizzas named “Miles & Bailey’s Special Pizzas.” These were de-crusted slices of white toast topped with diced ham, tomato ketchup, and melted cheddar cheese haha.
Talk to me a bit more about your artistic practice. What kind of work do you make, and what’s the main source of inspiration for it all?
My personal practice revolves primarily around moving images and installation. Having worked within film and television for a few years in my mid to late teens, I grasped onto the formats of video and photo documentation and later applied these techniques to more in-depth investigations of anthropological and experimental matters.
I always loved the idea of working with video because it allowed me to focus on any chosen subject rather than being restricted to particular topics.
The 501s® look back on the past while staying in the present, do you think your work does this?
I often find myself researching historical events, past religion, and retro design and architecture, which is something to look back on, appreciate, and re-document for a new-age audience, so yeah, I’d like to say that my work does this!
Why did you start Usual Business Gallery?
I started it in order to offer exhibition opportunities to young artists and art students with lack of access to spaces in and around London. I worked closely with Martin J. Tickner of GALLERY46 in Whitechapel, which gave me the tools I needed to give things a go myself.
As a curator, you must have a pretty sharp eye, so how would you describe your personal style?
I’m very particular about the clothing I wear – things have to either be strictly smart or strictly casual. I find that there are ways to dress smartly in a casual way, but that tends to lean towards the unbuttoning of shirts and undoing of ties, which is a playful place to be in. I would say that my greatest inspiration for apparel is the array of films I watch!
What was something you remember wearing a lot as a kid?
My mum used to own a fur hat that reminded me of something the early Jay Kay would wear. I’d wear this every chance I had the opportunity to and would parade around the house wearing it in many family VHS clips. I was quite fixated on dressing smartly during school and would find myself pairing sweatshirts with ties for a long while at a young age.
Did you wear Levi’s® growing up?
I have always owned at least one pair of Levi’s for as long as I can fully remember. I find them easily pairable with most tops, jackets, and shoes and extremely sturdy – although I must admit to having busted a few pairs on the dance floor over the years!
What do Levi’s 501® jeans symbolize for you?
To me, these jeans are something recognisable. Suited to everybody, strong, safe, comfortable, and clean. They represent confidence with the greatest amount of ease.
Reliability, adaptability, and growth are things the 501s® are known for — what do these words mean to you?
These summarise the most positive ways of developing socially and personally in the present day, I’d say.
How do you think gastronomy and fashion overlap?
I find that both hold entertaining but close similarities. One could compare the selecting of items on a menu to the choosing of garments for an outfit – sometimes you’ll try something new, and it won’t work too well, but other times you’ll get it spot on and have a fantastic meal, or in terms of fashion, wear a new signature look.
What dish, it can be anything, feels on brand for Levi’s?
I would definitely have to say that ham, egg, and chips is on brand for Levi’s – delicious, versatile, comforting, simple.
And now, do the same for wine.
Wine is a little more difficult, but I get the feeling I could spend a lovely evening in the centre of France with a pair of Levi’s on and a cool glass of anything Gamay – to be even more specific, Domaine de Thalie’s 2020 ‘Plutonic,’ from Saone-et-Loire, a retro-styled classic that could have easily been around for much longer than it actually has been.
Shop 1890 501® reissue on the Highsnobiety Shop, levi.com, and in other retailers such as END, CULTIZM, and SLAMJAM.