Those who’ve loved a skinny jean at any point during the last decade – and let’s be honest, that’s most of us – can thank Susie Crippen. It was Susie, who with Jeff Rudes, made J Brand synonymous with skinnies back in the mid-aughts. How? By recognizing a problem (boot cuts were hiding a girl’s gorgeous shoes) and finding a solution (a leg opening that would come as close to her ankle as possible without cutting off circulation to her foot). Done. “Logic,” she calls her muse in that moment when jeans, and then shoes (how else could the beloved bootie have come about?), changed so drastically. “My creativity just comes from logic.”
Today, Susie brings the same keen observations about what women want from their clothes to her own line of smart and unfussy sportswear, Crippen. And, she’s decided, they still want jeans (phew!), only not the same ones they wanted a decade ago. Try a little more leg room, and maybe less stretch. To start.
We met up with Susie at her home in Hancock Park to take a glimpse into her process – much of which happens in the garage out back by the pool – and reminisce about Levi’s loved and lost and the promise of a perfect new fit.
Tell us about how your worklife in denim began.
It really started with J Brand, and it was purely coincidental. I went to acting school. I was a wardrobe stylist, and I thought I was going to be a wardrobe stylist forever. But I was getting to a place where I didn’t want to be a wardrobe stylist anymore, and I think on some level I had set the intention to do something different. Your work creates your world and your thoughts draw things to you – and I really think that is absolutely why Jeff [Rudes, founder and CEO of J Brand] and I met. We had similar sensibilities but we had different backgrounds, and we had this synergy that worked.
And now, with Crippen, you also do jeans, but you do so much more than jeans, too.
With Crippen, you have to understand – I am not the designer, I am the creative director, and my creativity comes from logic. It’s that exactly. It comes from instinct and being a woman. So, I want to create easy, chic, casual clothing for women that they will wear during the day and to dinner. My thinking is this: When I come home at the end of the day, I don’t want to feel, Oh, God, I have to change my clothes. I want to come home and think, I like what I have on. I don’t want to take it off, so maybe I should go run some errands. I want to feel motivated by what I’m wearing. It’s like having a new hair cut – you’re like, I need to go out to dinner. I look great.
How does the denim fit into this scenario?
You know, it was really hard for me to think about doing denim for a collection, and then I finally got it: instead of offering three, four, five washes per style every season, we do just one wash per style every season. I believe that this is how this jean should look, and then I think about how that specific jean works back to the clothes. I am incredibly silhouette-driven – crazy silhouette-driven. So, this is the style, this is the fabric, this is the wash, and this is how each one works back to everything else I’m making.
Click on an image to see the slideshow
Walk us through your jean styles…
There’s the Little Dude (below) and the Stevie, which is long and a little bit baggier and has a trouser pocket. There’s the JP, and there’s the Eli, which I wore for this shoot (above). It hits stores in June. The Eli to me is a really important fit because nobody else is making a jean like it, with a seam, and a crop, and a higher rise.
Let’s talk about Little Dude. If you could sum up Little Dude in one word what would it be?
Perfect? [laughs] They kind of are.
If they could say something about you, what would they say?
Hm. Well, I think that I’m always surprised by how much my animals love me. It’s sort of the same feeling with my jeans. Like, my clothes are really important to me. They would say, This is where I belong.
We love the name Little Dude.
Do you want to know where the name came from?
My friend Jeff Poe, of Blum and Poe, and I were at a dinner one night and I was teasing him because he loves hanging out with dudes. His friends are all these dudes. And then later than night when I said goodbye, he said to me, See you later, little dude. I thought right then that I would name a jean that.
Did you know then how that jean would fit?
Well, the reason I created the Little Dude – and the original is in rigid, raw denim – is because I wanted a slim skinny, but I didn’t want it to be tight. It’s supposed to be a little slouchy, the knee is tighter when you buy it so you can stretch it out.
These white Little Dudes you’re wearing have no stretch in them?
No stretch. I want to be comfortable. Wearing that power-stretch denim is like wearing Saran Wrap, to me. I cannot do it. I just can’t do it anymore. My stretch jeans – I do make some – I designed so that they are a little bit looser. If you size them down they can be really tight, but that’s not the intention.
Click on an image to see the slideshow
Do you ever wear skinny jeans?
I do wear real skinnies now – I wear them to horseback ride. I wear them probably twice a month.
What else do you wear?
Right now I’m really into these old-man’s Wrangler jeans with paint all over them. I got them at Junkyard Jeans, a picker that I’ve been working with for years.
His name is Eric Schrader and his company is called Junkyard Jeans – did you see Doug Aitken’s Station to Station? So the guy who did all of the stuff on the jackets, that’s Eric.
Did you ever have a pair that got away?
Uh, yes! Ok, I had these Levi’s that I got in New York. They were the perfect color, and I wore them all of the time. I was really thin back then and they were sort of slouchy on me. And my roommate at the time had this gorgeous J.Crew brick-red cardigan…I loved it so much, and she said she’d trade me the jeans for the cardigan. And she had the most amazing butt ever and I thought my jeans looked great on her, and so I traded. I still regret it!
Do you know where she is? Maybe you can get them back?
I don’t think she still has them. That was like 20 years ago. But I still think about those jeans and how insane and perfect they would be now.
Do you ever see your love affair with denim coming to an end?
You know, I always think that one day it’s going to stop, and I am going to grow out of wearing jeans. I keep thinking that one day I’m going to be over it. Done. I think that’s why I am always looking at new shapes and old vintage jeans and trying to create a new silhouette that’s more sophisticated. I want there to be something that I can wear into my late 50s and 60s! I think about that now. Going forward…I mean, I’m going to be 60 someday, 70, 80…and I want to be wearing jeans when I am.