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SUSIE CRIPPEN IS THE CO-FOUNDER AND THE FORMER CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF J BRAND JEANS

The last piece of clothing I made with my own 2 hands was a slate blue corduroy vest and matching pair of gauchos in a home ec class in 1979. I wore the outfit to school the next day with striped buton down shirt and a pair of oxblood cowboy boots. I was stiff and uncomfortable and I never wore the outfit again, but I wish I still had those boots. I never made any clothing again until we started J Brand in 2004.

I could see in my head clear as day the jeanI wanted to make. I have a vivid memory of a girl named Rickie Manuel leaning on the stone wall of the field club. it was proabaly around 1972. she was wearing her hip hugger Levi’s and a sunflower yellow halter top. Those were the jeans I wanted to make.  But how do you explain this verbally to a Korean pattern maker for whom English is a second language and works only with numbers and sketches?  Let’s be clear…… I can not draw and failed math in the 2nd grade. Trying to explain what I wanted was one of the most difficut things I have ever had to do. I felt like a moron. I had no design experience, didn’t speak denim. No idea of what 3/8, 5/8  or whatever/8 were. Center back seam? Huh? Caballo stitch? What is that? some kind of Mexican horse? It was maddening.

I knew just how I wanted those jeans to feel, where I wanted them to hit my hips, how I wanted them to hug my rear end and thighs, then ease in at the knee and kick out for the perfect flare. I had no way to convey this, other than my on sing song and interpretive  dance hand movements. It wasn’t working. I had to go visual. I looked everywhere and could not find the right sillhoutette, the one I could see in my head.

Then finally I remembered an image in a book by Malick Sidibe.  It was the series he shot in Bamako, Mali in Africa starting in the early sixties and 70’s.(Scalo Publishers 1999) The most unshakeable for me were the images taken in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the ones of the local teens dancing and socializing at clubs, in peoples houses and hanging around on the banks of the river Niger. And of course the clothes  were amazing! I had given this book to an old boyfriend a few years earlier and hadn’t really spoken to him in a while. I scoured LA for a copy and could not find it. In my utter desperation I emailed him, told him what was up, and asked if I could borrow the book. Pierce (the old boyfriend) is one of the coolest guys in the universe so he sent me the book straight away.

The day I got it I peeled apart every page and there it was: the image I couldn’t forget. Standing on the banks of the river, surrounded by his freinds was the guy. It was a REALLY tight pair of trousers, probably polyester, but the sillhouette was perfect. This was the visual I needed to communicate with the pattern maker. When she saw the photograph, the pattern maker saw everything I was trying to say. It was a beautiful moment of communicating solely through images. We were both smiling from ear to ear, laughing and nodding.

We nailed the fit perfectly in two samples. That was the first pair of J Brand Jeans I created. I wore them almost everyday for 2 years and I still have them. I cherish those jeans, the memories they hold and all that they bought to my life. And I always look at the cover of Malick Sidibe’s book with affection and gratitude and the tiniest knowing smile.

FAVORITE BOOK RESOURCES:  The Paul smith stores and Booksoup here in LA. Also my friends bookshelves, fleamarkets and any museum shops.

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