Milan Design Week has just closed its doors, along with the many exhibitions and events that took the city by storm last week. One of them, which fortunately survived the ordeal for a few days and was enjoyed without hours of queuing, deserves the attention of branding professionals reading these posts.

Levi’s ‘Icons, Innovations & Firsts’ is an exhibition of archival pieces from the world’s most famous denim brand, celebrating over 150 years in the industry since the first model of blue jeans in 1873. The telltale location, Mudec – Milan’s Museum of Cultures – was brilliantly chosen by Tracey Panek, San Francisco-based scholar of the company’s history, for the Museum’s focus on world’s popular culture, not only because it is at the heart of the “Fuori Salone”, where the programme of democratic events is open to all kinds of visitors.

The exhibition space is divided into three sections. “Icons”, with pieces worn by 20th century personalities, such as Albert Einstein and a Menlo Cossack leather jacket or Steve Jobs’ own 501. “Innovations” is the section dedicated to technical innovation, both in the sustainable use of resources and also in functionality, featuring items made with advanced technologies. In this section Levi’s Commuter Jacket made with Google in 2016 and Levi’s x Philips Integrated Electronics Jacket, designed by Italian guru Massimo Osti in 2000 testify the brand’s efforts in tech collaborations during the years.

The third section, Firsts, celebrates Levi’s heritage through the earliest pieces from the archive. These include denim waist overalls with copper rivets worn by a miner, a cowboy and a young woman attending college in the early 1930s. There are also the 9Rivet jeans, considered to be the first ‘modern’ jeans, dating from 1873-1874, while the Lot 201 jeans still have the suspenders and wax drips of a miner wearing a candle on his headband. A rarity for fans, that Levi’s has just replicated in a recently launched limited edition, is the Viola Jean, the oldest pair of jeans designed expressly for women.

If storytelling is key to contemporary branding strategy, Levi’s ups the narrative ante by adding layers of pop culture references.