Kean's Jeans

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152 Queen Street

Levis were worn in New Zealand as early as 1897 when they were imported from San Francisco. They weren’t however fashion items or the wardrobe staples they are now.

They were workwear for miners and engineers and labourers. The double stitching, copper rivets and dark colours were not design features but rather manufacturing strategies to improve their practical use, strength and durability. Denim was for cowboys, both real and the emerging urban version as seen in Hollywood films. Worn by Marlon Brando and James Dean they became symbols of youth rebellion.

Kean’s - with its five-metre high neon cowboy resplendent in blue jeans, red bandanna, belt and boots with twirling lasso and glowing cigarette - was the home of jeans. According to Richard Wolfe in his book, The Way We Wore, their Boss label, trademarked in 1955 was the only jeans label available for many years. They enjoyed a “golden age of retailing” with eight shops in New Zealand.

By the late 1960s women were breaking free of prescriptive gendering. Initially there was no option but to purchase men’s jeans, but Kean’s soon came to the party and produced a women’s fit. At the same time stiff competition came in the form of new brands from overseas - Wrangler, Lee, Amco - and finally, in 1972 Levis returned. At this time Kean’s produced its fashionable Boss Bella Brava with 24-inch (61cm) flares.

The cowboy moved west to Armadillo Restaurant and Bar on Symonds Street where he spent much of the 1990s before drifting off into the sunset.

Read more at www.nzfashionmuseum.org.nz/keans

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