Have you ever wondered why some of your jeans with stretch keep their shape and others don’t? Or how a label even gets started when it comes to designing your denim? We wanted to find out — and luckily, we had the chance to sit down with Michael Griffin, the Product Director of Lucky Brand. He explained everything that goes into the perfect pair of jeans, from inception to testing to how you can make sure you take home the pair that’s best for your shape and style.
The High Low: Can you take us through the order of operations for developing new super stretch denim styles? Do you start with a certain cut in mind, or a particular version of the fabric?
Michael Griffin: We really start with the fabric. We work with a lot of premium mills because we wanted a stretch that did more. One problem with stretch is it doesn’t recover well — you’ve probably experienced wearing stretch jeans that sort of bag out — so for fall this year we found two fabrics that we loved, that looked great, and that stretched and recovered well.
Then from fabric, we moved on to fit. We thought the new super stretch was going to be great in slimmer fitting silhouettes and in a curvier cut, so we started developing those. We also launched a new fit for fall, Sofia, that’s curvier, and debuted in July. Then we were so pleased, during our internal and external tests, that we decided to add the super stretch to every fit in our assortment. So fit is definitely the next step.
The final thing is the wash! After the fabric and fit, we developed a whole range of washes on the new fabric.
HL: How long does the design process take, from conception to perfect prototype?
MG: Our normal process is about three months, from the inception of the idea, to getting everything perfect and to the point that we place an order with the vendor. However, when we’re reacting to business, the process is shorter. We saw a huge, early response to super stretch, for example. So it’s about six weeks if we’re reacting to specific customer demand, and otherwise it’s three months.
HL: When you work with live fit models on the denim’s creation, do you work with a range of sizes?
We do work with a range of sizes. With denim in particular, because fit is so important, we fit it on multiple sizes, and multiple body types, even within one size. A curvy size four and straight size four are very different from one another. The next step is to test the denim internally, usually on 10 to 15 people who work at headquarters. We get their feedback, then test the styles in our stores, before it’s a huge rollout.
HL: What kind of team works on each new pair of jeans? For instance, how many people are involved, and do they occupy a range of positions at Lucky?
MG: There are about ten people on average who work on the development of the perfect prototype. Initially it’s the design team and the product development team who start, then it’s handed off to the production and merchandising teams to take it from there. So there are four functions involved and ten people within Lucky.
HL: What are the biggest differences between developing men’s and women’s denim fits?
MG: The difference is in the priority of decision making. For men, comfort is the most important thing. For women, it’s all about the fit first — she wants it to have a great wash and be comfortable, also, but that’s further down the list.
HL: What’s makes Lucky’s denim and designs particularly special?
MG: I think that the thing that’s really important about Lucky is that we work with all the same mills, factories, and wash houses that the super expensive premium denim players use. If you’re a customer, what makes us special is that we’re giving you a $200 to $300 pair of premium jeans for $100, with all the same washes, fabric, and technology that you’d get for more money elsewhere. For instance, our men’s denim uses the Italian mills that the more expensive denim lines use.
Also, our Legend line is all made and developed in Los Angeles, for about $150, which is much less expensive than other [brands]. We don’t sacrifice any of the amazing washes, hand processing, or fabric for price. When you think about it, there really isn’t anyone who does that.
And we really have amazing people here who know how to make denim, and we have a 20-year history of doing so. So we know how to make great denim that doesn’t have to be $300!
HL: Speaking to that history, can you tell us what’s been the biggest denim technology game-changer in recent years?
MG: I think most of the innovation is coming out fabric. It really is the super stretches that we’re doing (and some other premium people are doing). There’s a new fabric that we’re launching next fall that takes super stretch to the next level. The part of the fabric that’s against your skin is really soft, and it keeps all the super stretch synthetic away from your skin. It creates a really comfortable, soft-handed jean and since it’s super stretch, it fits really well and recovers really well.
HL: Can you give us any tips for buying the perfect pair of jeans online, or do you need to try them on in person?
MG: I don’t think you have to try them on in person, but the biggest mistake people make is not being honest with themselves about how they want their jeans to fit! For instance, a lot of women describe themselves as curvy — we have women in our office who are a size two and describe themselves as ‘curvy.’ What you have to do is consider — do you want your jeans to fit higher or lower? If you really read the description on our site of how the jeans fit, you’re better off.
Also, a lot of people have rules about what they like, without trying the denim on. Our team did an editor event in New York and asked everyone to bring in their best fitting jeans. Then we recommended jeans based on that fit session. A lot of people said ‘Oh I don’t wear boot.‘ We suggested they try our new baby boot, and once everybody had it on, they loved it! I think people have a lot of preconceived notions about what they like, but you have to open up about what you want.
So ultimately, you have to consider how you want your denim to fit, if you want it to sit high or low, and whether your body type is straight or curvy. And then you go to the wash!
Disclosure: Lucky Brand is owned by Liz Claiborne Inc., the sponsor of this site.