Levi’s Vintage Clothing Recreates a 1975 Soapbox Derby

Organized by SFMOMA, the original event raised funds for the museum

Levi’s Vintage Clothing, a subset of the larger apparel manufacturer, relies on past styles, textiles, and trends as their source material. Each season, or for each special release, the design team surveys the brand’s rich history for storylines or moments pertinent to today. For their Spring/Summer 2020 campaign, they recreated a 1975 Soapbox Derby held by SFMOMA (to celebrate their transition from the San Francisco Museum of Art to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) that was sponsored by SF-local Levi’s.

The original images, and video, of the Soapbox Derby remained tucked away in SFMOMA‘s archive until Levi’s Vintage Clothing’s head designer, Paul O’Neill, came knocking. The washed out hues of the scene, and its inherent eccentricity, made the moment ripe for reproduction. It encapsulated San Francisco at the time of its peak bohemian boom. It also just so happened, since the brand was a sponsor, that many of those in attendance and participating wore Levi’s styles.

The one-time event raised money for the museum and boasted an audience of thousands. Racing 800 feet down a sloping road in McLaren Park, the soapbox racers were unabashedly themselves, unknowing that they’d one day be the inspiration behind a Levi’s collection. The reproduction also includes a photo-heavy, hardcover book meant to mimic the behind-the-scenes production of each artist’s Soapbox. Joyous, rebellious, and undoubtedly creative, the modern rendition acts as an homage but also a careful period piece organized with the utmost attention to detail.

“Levi’s has a strong connection with SFMOMA, and we were one of the original sponsors of the derby,” O’Neill says. “The SFMOMA has an incredible archive of images from the event that we were lucky enough to have access to during our research. We also went through our own archives and found pieces from that era that we could use to tell this story through faithful reproductions. We were really inspired by the washed-out colors from the SFMOMA images, so the collection features a lot of pastels and softer tones found in those old photos. It’s all very ‘70s Bay Area boho.”

Spring/Summer 2020’s pieces include a pastel, color-blocked corduroy top and bottom set, a yellow, open-button work shirt, dark and washed denim jackets and jeans, colorful tees, a pinkish flannel, and more. The full collection is available now in Levi’s online store.

Images by Immo Klink for Levi’s