It was not so long ago that J Brand jeans were a novel offering at a handful of speciality boutiques across the country; today it’s hard to imagine the world of denim without them. Since launching it in 2004, founder and CEO Jeff Rudes has built J Brand into one of the most influential names in the industry, leading the way in trend (did anyone do skinny better than Jeff a decade ago?) and technology (is there a fabric that flatters and recovers better than his Photo Ready?). Raise your hand if you or some you know owns a pair of J Brand jeans. We rest our case.
What might come as a bigger surprise than the brand’s speedy rise to fame is the fact that all of J Brand’s jeans are designed, sampled, produced, and distributed in and from a single building in downtown Los Angeles (the laundering is done just a few miles away). In two minutes time, one can literally walk from Jeff’s office to the vast factory of skilled sewers who make all of your skinnies and Love Story’s and more. It’s remarkable to see.
We visited Jeff at J Brand headquarters to tour the operation and preview some of what’s to come for spring, specifically a new style called the Stocking that’s nylon-backed like a pair of tights and feels as soft and flexible on (in stores at the end of February). Today, J Brand is more than jeans – the ready-to-wear collection is a fully formed idea than can stand on its own two feet as firmly as it does with denim (see below for a preview of resort, currently trickling into stores). But since skinnies don’t seem to be losing steam, we thought we’d ask Jeff where they’re headed next. Here, he talks to us about the “guts” of good jeans, and why keeping the clothes tight and the collections tighter is key.
J Brand’s skinny jeans have been so game changing and so successful. What is it about them – and skinny clothes in general – that is so compelling?
There’s just something that happens when you wear tight clothing. For women – you look beautiful, you feel sexy. For guys, in tight clothing, you feel like a rock star. This shirt [gestures to the shirt he’s wearing] – it’s uncomfortable. I can’t go too far [moves his arms back and forth]. But you get this relationship with your clothes when they’re tight. You can’t wait to feel that tight sleeve again because you know that when you put in on you’re going to feel cool.
So you look at some of these clothes, and you know they’re going to be uncomfortable to get on, but when you do get them on you know you’re going to look good. That’s what’s behind the relationship that you have with our clothes – you’re willing to do things, you’re willing to be a little bit uncomfortable in J Brand, because you know you’re going to look great and feel great wearing it.
Click on an image to see the slideshow
But J Brand jeans aren’t just about being tight…
What it is is about fabric – technology. And that keeps getting better. Remember Lycra? Great. But it would bag out. Now there are new fibers, new yarns, new techniques that merge stretch with cotton. And it’s about comfort. And also having guts. As denim evolves you get comfort, you get softness, and then you get the guts – that’s what I call it – the guts are what make you feel like you’re in denim. It’s what Photo Ready does. It’s balanced just right so you feel comfortable and like you are wearing something that brings you in. It’s all about how you feel.
So what does this new Stocking jean do? It’s got a nylon back – no denim has ever had that – so it feels like tights on your legs, very sheer and very comfortable. And then there’s a real cotton face. So again, it has a level comfort and stretch, but it also has the character of denim, it has it’s own integrity, which when you wash it, creates, like, its soul. Because when you wash denim, then it really comes to life. And that’s what it’s about.
What’s the difference between the Photo Ready, which was last season’s flattering fabric innovation, and the Stocking, aside from the nylon backing?
Weight. But they both give you the performance. People say, they’ll fly to New York wearing Photo Ready because it’s so comfortable. Stocking, it’s like the Lycra legging, a breakthrough. Lycra was like, Oh my god, I can do yoga in this! Stocking is like that: Oh my god.
Looks from J Brand’s Resort ’14 collection
Details, go to JBrandJeans.com.
Is an innovative fabric enough to make or break a jean?
Our job is to be first, but only when we feel it’s right. Every fabric, every new fit – it’s got to be relevant. It’s not just, Oh it’s new. We test things. We make sure they’re relevant. It’s got to have a reason to be.
How do you give a jean a reason to be?
It’s about taking the thing that’s there and seems obvious, and perfecting it.
What do you, personally, love about denim?
Denim is a great fabric, you know, it’s got a soul. You wash it, it ages. Jeans are a way of life today – you can look really smart and cool wearing them. They’re unlike any other piece of clothing you own. And the way people dress denim? Look at how you’re wearing it. It’s unique to you. You can really create something that is original to yourself with a pair of jeans.
There are so many jeans brand out there right now – what sets J Brand apart?
We built this business on saying ‘no’ a lot. Saying ‘no’ was one of the most important things. The discipline of that! Of saying ‘no!’ It could be because a product was not brand-right, or it was too expensive, or not expensive enough. We’ve always gone after what’s best for the brand, because there’s longevity and integrity in that.
The edit. It’s all in the edit. I get involved in the edit. I’m always challenging the team, “Keep it tight. Keep it tight.” Keep it very tight, and if there are any two things that look too alike, one’s got to go. We narrow it down. Each one, every one, has to be the one. It’s all in the edit.