We first met Rachel Blumenthal in the coat check line at a Warby Parker dinner (her husband is Neil Blumenthal, one of Warby’s co-founders), where the discussion, while we waited, turned to where to shop for little boys’ clothes, especially jeans. “Crew Cuts and Zara!” we cried in unison. And like that, we knew we’d found a kindred denim spirit.
Rachel, it turns out knows not just where to get the cutest clothes for her son Griffin, almost three, but where to look for everything else you could possibly need for a baby or toddler, too. The former YSL publicist and jewelry designer (of the line Rachel Leigh) has just launched Cricket’s Circle, a very stylish website that sifts through all of the millions of baby products out there and choses the top three in each category – thus saving expectant parents hours of reading online reviews and weighing conflicting and confusing advice from well-meaning friends.
The Blumenthals had us over to their Gramercy apartment one Saturday morning to talk about denim. Neil sticks to Acne these days, Rachel likes her jeans skinny, and Griffin wears his slim cut, just like daddy. He also shares his dad’s affinity for sneakers, and has possibly the most adorable collection of little Nikes ever. You wouldn’t guess it by looking at the simple, cool dark denim they wear now, but Neil has a Cross Colours moment in his past, and Rachel may or may not have Bedazzled some jeans during the Britney-Justin era. You have to hear them tell it. Neil first…
Neil, your jeans are…
They’re Acne Max Raw. So, raw denim. These have been the only jeans I’ve been wearing probably for the past five years. I tend to now by them three at a time. What I love about them is they fit perfectly. And the color changes and fades, like all raw denim.
Is there a limit to how long you wear them?
I tend to keep them forever. But their uses change as the color fades.
Right. Like this darker pair might be a work look?
Exactly. Usually in the first month or two, that’s when I’m wearing them to work or out. Now that I have a son, the older pairs are what I take to the playground in the morning when I know I’m going to be on the slide [laughs].
How did you arrive at this style?
It was one of those moments where… I tend to be very brand loyal. Once I find something I like, I stick with it. I was in a period where there wasn’t a pair of jeans I was crazy about. I was probably wearing Levi’s. I’m trying to remember… Rachel, do you know when I bought my first Acnes? Rachel: Diesel jeans? Are you talking about the Diesel jeans, Neil? Neil: No, not yet [laughs]. We haven’t gotten that far yet.
Now we need to know about that!
Rachel: So, Neil and I have known each other since 1998. We went to college together. We didn’t date then. But Neil had a spiffy pair of Diesel jeans that he better tell you about.
Ah, the truth comes out.
Rachel: Before the Acnes you had been through that RRL phase…
Neil: That’s what happened: RRL stopped making the pair that I was wearing. I had two pairs from RRL. One was like a raw denim, and then one was a washed blue jean. Straight leg, but still pretty narrow. I’d buy them at the store in Nolita. I loved going to that store. Often there was nobody in there, so it felt like private shopping. Rachel, were you part of this mission to find new jeans after RRL? I think it was half and half. Sometimes I just liked to shop on my own, kind of quick and dirty.
Rachel: I don’t remember how we found the Acnes, do you?
Neil: No. But I can tell you my earlier jean journey. Because I grew up in Greenwich Village, I could pop into all those stores in Soho. I grew up on Eighth Street and Mercer. In the 80s and 90s, that stretch from Eighth to Canal was sort of the jeans Mecca. Patrica Field’s, Atrium, OMG, Antique Boutique. I think there was even another three-letter store… And Jimmy Jazz. So, all those stores had a ton of Levi’s and a ton of different brands. I would probably say that my biggest – I don’t know if you want to know my jeans faux pas…
Yes. Yes, we do want to know about it.
Kind of a funny look for me, was a pair of forest-green Cross Colours jeans. With a matching Cross Colours hat with a black bill. I remember walking to school one day and a high schooler hoodlum just took it right off my head. I was so proud of this hat, because it was, like, $25, which at the time was crazy. Baseball hats were the biggest thing. You’d pay maximum $20. I saved up my allowance. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents. There was nothing I could do. This guy was twice my size. He just ran off. One of my good friends bought a pair of Karl Kani jeans. They were so heavy, they had like a metal plate on the back of them. We were in middle school, but all these jeans were bigger than the ones I wear today. I could still fit in them.
What did you do with all of them?
Most have gone to Goodwill. Or, my parents have a house in Vermont. And my mom tends to keep everything. Once in a while I’ll come by an old pair there. I’ve even caught my dad wearing a pair of my old jeans in the yard.
Which ones? Not the Cross Colours!
No [laughs]. A pair of Diesel jeans. In high school and college I think I probably migrated to Diesel.
So what do you wear to work?
Something like this. These are Nike Air Max 1s. I got them from 21 Mercer, Nike’s sportswear store. These are a limited run.
Have you always been into sneakers?
I think just growing up in New York you’re always into sneakers. Probably fifth grade.
Do you remember your first pair of special sneakers?
They probably weren’t my first, but the ones I was most excited for were these Reebok Blacktop Pumps that were just amazing. They were white, black and light blue. They were made so the treads were for playing on concrete versus the gym.
Let’s get back to your jeans, though. What about them do you love?
The thing about my denim philosophy…doing good and social enterprise is important to me. I used to run a non-profit that distributed eyeglasses in the developing world. And that helped lead to the development of Warby Parker. We’re always thinking about how we can recycle, how we can make the products that we consume more sustainable. If you think about it, denim was the first sustainable apparel. Levi’s doesn’t get enough credit for making something so durable and creating a market for vintage jeans. That is the ultimate form of recycling. It’s even better than recycling because you don’t have to consume energy to reuse the product. So there’s something very special about jeans. And it’s literally the only product I can think of across the spectrum that we reuse in this manner.
Did you travel a lot with the non-profit?
Oh, yeah. I think in four years I was in 40 different countries. And I’d wear jeans, primarily. One, to avoid bug bites and malaria. And then I was often in communities where it would have been inappropriate to wear shorts. I was all throughout Central and South America… El Salvador, Guatemala. Sub-Saharan Africa, places like Ghana. South Asia. Spent a lot of time in India and Bangladesh. This was a sort of half Levi’s and RRL. I think I had gotten a raise, so I was able to upgrade to the RRL [laughs].
How did your jeans hold up on all those trips?
Usually, my pockets would break and I’d have to patch them. I’d have my wallet, hand sanitizer, usually like a pen. But actually, one of the things… I’ve always had a wallet, never a money clip. Growing up in New York, you never put your wallet in your back pocket. Someone would just take it. I always carried a wallet in my front pocket. It would leave a littles square there. Because the color is so important to me, now, I’m usually not wearing them long enough to get holes.
How many of these Acnes do you have now?
Probably 12. I have to have them tailored by like an inch. They come 32×34 and my inseam is a 33.
Does everyone at the Warby Parker offices wear jeans?
Pretty much. There’s one person who almost exclusively wears shorts – except during this last week during the polar vortex. He finally wore jeans.
What kind of jeans do you like to see Rachel in?
OK, Rachel, your turn. Tell us about your jeans.
I’m wearing Citizens [of Humanity]. I generally like jeans that don’t have a lot of branding on them. I actually removed the thread from the butt pocket on these because I don’t like having a logo there. That’s always been my MO. Probably since high school I’ve done that. I think I might have done it once for Neil on one of his Diesel jeans and he was like, Okay we’ve just got to find something that has no branding on it whatsoever.
I never get rid of jeans. In fact it was like a thing in high school – at one point my mom came into my room and she was like, What is going on in here? I had over 100 pairs of jeans. She was like, You have to get rid of these, you never wear any of them. And we brought them to a consignment store, and they were like, We can’t take this many jeans!
You grew up in Cape Cod. What was that like?
It was really relaxed and low key and not competitive about brands. Nobody knew brands. But my family was from Manhattan and New York. So we would go to the City and go shopping. My mom would take me to Boston and New York to go shopping. Mavi was a really big deal around the time I was in high school, but nobody on Cape Cod had Mavi. A Club Monaco had just opened, and I remember getting these jeans with a tuxedo stripe down the side that I loved. What was so nice about growing up there is that you wore what you liked and what you were in the mood to wear, but you were never judged by it. When I went to college, I was living in Boston, so I was exposed to all the shopping on Newbury and at Prudential Center and Copley and I was just able to, like, go crazy. I was always really, really into fashion. But I never had met anybody who worked in fashion. I didn’t know it could be a career. When I moved to Boston, I was surrounded by luxury brands, and cool contemporary brands, and vintage stores. For denim, I remember buying whatever I was in the mood for. I bought these jeans I was obsessed with, with red-outlined heart-shaped pockets on the butts. It was a totally no-name brand. I was very into those. I had this pair of boot-cut denim overalls. But they were slim. I have no recollection of wearing them more than a handfull of times, because overalls are a pain to wear, but Neil remembers me wearing them… he thinks I wore them every day in college. Did he tell you about his limited-edition Diesel jeans? Did he know I was going to blow his cover?
He didn’t, actually. He changed the subject. Do tell…
[Laughs] Well, I had grown up around all these preppy boys and athletes. And then I went to college and was surrounded by all these sophisticated city kids. I didn’t get that world or aesthetic, yet. And Neil and I were hanging out one day, and he was all, These are my new Diesel jeans. They’re limited edition. I thought, You’re such a dork. But then I said, Well, maybe there are really cool and I just don’t know. Diesel was the thing in college.
So, what else did Neil wear in college?
I remember him wearing a lot of tight black t-shirts. Club promoting was his first entrepreneurial venture. He was a club promoter in Boston. I remember him wearing black jeans, but I don’t know if he really did. He always knew what was cool. He was probably a little ahead all the time. He never wanted a brand showing. Other than Nike…
Where did you guys meet?
We met the first week of undergrad. I think we must have met in the cafeteria, because it was the place to hang out, and Neil was the mayor. He would spend three hours in the cafeteria every day and like schmooze at every table. I was like, Who is this guy? What’s his deal? We had the same group of friends – dated each other’s friends, but never each other. We studied abroad together in Madrid. And then reconnected in New York. I feel like we’ve seen each other through a lot of fashion ups and downs.
Yet you still love each other…
Yeah [laughs]. I went through this phase in college… I met one of my best friends. We bonded over a pair of jeans. I want to say they were Rebecca Taylor, almost like a trouser jean. Like a wide-leg. I said, These are going to be amazing on you. And she put them on and the fit impeccably. To this day, she still has them and wears them. She introduced me to pop music, like Justin and Britney. The trend was rhinestones on denim. We went and bought a Bedazzler and did our jeans. And Neil thought we were such losers. She and I would be at home haninging out, watching TV or drinking, and we’d be Beddazzling. He’d be like, You want to go out? We’d say, No thanks! We’re busy! It was also the following year when the twin towers came down. Do you remember that t-shirt that Vogue did with the sewn-up heart on it? We got some and Bedazzled them. And cut the neck off.
Tell us what you like most about your Citizens jeans?
They’re super comfortable, they have a ton of stretch. I tend to buy a lot of 7 [For All Mankind], Citizens, J Brand and Zara. Zara’s a relatively new thing for me in like the last two years. It started because right after I had Griffin, you’re changing sizes. Right after I found out I was pregnant with him, I stopped wearing jeans. After, I was like, Okay, time to get back into my jeans. I wanted them to be whatever color or wash I was in the mood for. I went to Zara and, I don’t know what it is, the fit is just perfect on my body. So I end up going and buying jeans quite often. One day I was like, I really want stone-washed jeans. Where am I going to find them? I found them at Zara. Straight-leg, boyfriend, skinny… I went through a phase where I was there every other week. Now it’s maybe once a month. I go to the one on West 17th and 5th. I tend to buy brands I just know fit me very well. Part of my style mantra is about fit: you should always dress to fit your body.
Do you only wear skinnies?
I have a couple of boyfriend jeans, but I predominantly wear skinny. My first pair of skinny were senior year of college. They were 7s. I felt like it was such a big deal. I remember thinking, This will probably be the only pair of skinny jeans I ever buy, because there’s no way this trend will last. It will definitely go back to straight-leg. Now it’s like 12 years later, 14 years later and we’re still wearing skinny jeans. I always want to wear wide-leg or some of the trendier styles that aren’t skinny. But then I have to decide whether to wear them with flats or heels. I hate that decision. That’s what I love about skinnies: I can wear them with anything.
That’s why they are so popular!
It generally comes back to shoes for me.
Does Neil ever buy you sneakers?
No, but he finally told me a couple of years ago that I had really bad sneaker taste, and that from now on we were going to buy sneakers together.
Why? What kind were you wearing?
I always would buy athletic sneakers versus cute sneakers. Then we went to Paragon and bought cool Nikes. But I’m not a big sneaker person. These are the only ones I’ll really wear. They’re Chanel. I got them at Jeffrey last fall. I had to be coerced into them, but I realized I could wear them with dresses in the summer and now I live in them. They’re the best thing I ever bought.
Last question: Why do you love jeans?
They’re a blank canvas for the rest of your outfit. You can pretty much wear them wherever you go these days. Case in point: We got invited last minute to Ari Emanuel’s Oscar party last year, and Neil showed up in jeans.