‘Milk’ returns to the jean pool

Levi's jeans play a central role in the biopic

“Milk,” the tragic biopic of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, would hardly seem like an ideal promotional opportunity.

But owing to its close history with the Bay Area and Milk himself, Levi’s jeans play a central role in the film.

It’s not promotion so much as a nod to the past, as “Milk” costume designer Danny Glicker did his research for the Focus Features release.

Ask anyone who lived in the Castro District of San Francisco in the ’70s and they’ll tell you that Levi’s jeans were the essential wardrobe staple. People didn’t even call them jeans.

“Very rarely did I hear the word ‘jeans,’ says Glicker. “It was always ‘Levi’s.’ ”

Glicker left nary a San Francisco thrift store unturned in his quest for perfect pieces of distressed denim to adorn stars Emile Hirsch, James Franco and Sean Penn, who plays Milk. Glicker also went through a box of Milk’s clothing saved at the San Francisco LGBT Historical Society Archives, and found a worn pair of Levi’s 501s — as well as the suit Milk was wearing when he was killed by fellow supervisor Dan White. The clothes in the box were the main reference for the costume design of the entire film.

The San Francisco jean company didn’t hesitate to allow its products to be used in the film, even though execs note that they rarely accept requests for film or TV efforts.

“We want to make sure that there’s an authentic connection between the brand’s values and the films that we would be associated with. This relationship makes so much sense because our company shares so many of Harvey Milk’s values and visions,” says Levi’s president Robert Hanson.

Levi’s has a long history of support for gay issues. It’s donated $35 million over the past 25 years to fight HIV/AIDS and was the first Fortune 500 company to offer health benefits to unmarried domestic partners of employees.

So when it came to the film, Levi’s was happy to sponsor the Oct. 28 preem at the Castro Theater. Even Mayor Gavin Newsom showed up in a pair of the company’s denim.