Denim Buddies - The Understated Icon of Our Favourite Fabric
Ask an enthusiast what comes to mind when they think of denim, and you’re likely to get a slew of familiar answers; the red selvedge line, soaking jeans in the tub, motorcycles, rebel culture, punch through copper rivets, the plight of the working man. But underneath all this sits an icon which ties every one of these images together, an icon brought to the denim world by one of the world’s most recognisable brands; The H. D Lee company.
Some of you will know that this household name of a company actually began life as a grocery and clothing business, with a special focus on food items. But in 1911 the brand shifted its focus to meet the needs of America’s growing labour force, and began to manufacture workwear apparel. From mechanics to railroad workers, delivery men to cattle hands, Lee offered a product which was every bit as good as their famous competitors in San Francisco, and with a strong desire to become the leader of the pack, the brand made a marketing decision which has brought us here today.
Buddy Lee first hit the scene as a method of dressing up window displays, but the demand for these 1 foot childlike dolls caught the company by surprise. Everyone wanted a piece of the action, and so H. D Lee Mercantile leapt into action, creating a series of dolls which any member of there customer base could access. Sporting stars, Coca Cola delivery drivers, locomotive engineers, farmers and tradesmen all found themselves represented in this creation, a unifying symbol of the American spirit ideology of hard work and doing your bit, and at $1.25, these Buddies were within reach for most of America’s work force.
The dolls were first introduced in 1920, and progressed over the next three decades to paint an ever moving picture of the American working man, and a reference of American culture and its economy. In his book ‘Denim: from Cowboys to Catwalks’, Graham Marsh recalls an anecdotal story of a tragic flooding in Lee’s Kansas distribution centre in 1951. Every piece of the factories stock hold was ruined except for these adorable figurines which had a secret up their sleeves; they could swim! Newspaper reports of the time gave stories of factory workers swimming in the streets to save dozens of drowning babies, all still perfectly dressed in their miniature Lee outfits.
Over the years these dolls have become increasingly rare, and of course with that their value has risen at a similar rate to London’s housing market. Like much of the world’s best vintage pieces, Japan has a thriving racket for these denim veterans, with counterfeits even being produced with incredible authenticity. Yes, it seams that our dreams of owning one of these original figurines is getting further and further away. But, fortunately for us, our company CEO here at Son of a Stag has something of a thing for them, and has been building his collection throughout his career in denim. So, thanks to Rudy, today we’d like to introduce you to just a fraction of his collection, some of his ‘best buddies’ if you will, so we can all appreciate this odd icon, which has cemented itsel