Name: Jerome Dahan
Occupation: Jean Maker
Company: Citizens of Humanity
Favorite Retailers: Nordstrom and Curve, LA
Estimated Worth: $350 million
“If you ask me today why I do this, I don’t really know. Many times I’ve said I don’t want to make a pair of jeans anymore.”
Northern Exposure: 1977–1978
I was born in Paris but moved to Montreal when I was 15 and a half. My first experience in fashion was in Canada. I had a friend at Love Jeans and I worked in shipping. One day I asked, “So, why don’t you do something on the back pocket?” So I helped design a back pocket embroidery for them that looked like a record. It took off, a huge hit, and my friend kept asking me, “What’s going to be the next big thing?” Back then, you had the triple cut jean with two back pockets and a coin pocket but I did a double seam for Love and that took off as well. Then, I had to go back to school.
Blown Away: 1980
My dad was a hairdresser in Montreal. It was easy. You didn’t even need a license. I used to work at the salon as an assistant and then I started working with all the best hairdressers in Canada. Turned out, I did the best blow dry in Montreal. I worked at that gig for two and a half years. It was the best way to meet women! Then I went to the Bahamas and was a windsurfing instructor for three months.
Permanent Vacation: 1981
My father moved to Los Angeles. I went to visit him there for a vacation and I ended up staying. He was doing a women’s shirt line, called Tess, with his partner. I worked with them and designed the line. I went to Europe and did a collection for them but it was so boring and I felt I wanted to do something cool and exciting.
Oxygen Jeans: 1981–1984
A guy I knew, Jeff Hamilton, had the license for Guess Kids and I chose to go work with him. I was working really hard so my dad came to him and asked to put some money in so I could be his partner. Jeff kept saying that the Marcianos wouldn’t allow him to bring on another partner. After finding out he never asked them, I decided to take that money and launch Oxygen, the company where I learned everything the hard way. I partnered with my dad, his original partner and another man. Oxygen took off. It was only us and Guess in the market then.
Then came acid wash. We were the first ones to do it. I was trying to get the wash to look like vintage Levi’s, getting the abrasion even, etc. Then it got so popular that companies didn’t care how they achieved the look, but we made it better and better and pretty soon everyone was doing it. After three years with Oxygen, though, I had a different vision than my partners.
“The only job I was ever fired from was Guess. Georges Marciano and I did not get along. But I didn’t care.”
Circa Denim: 1986–1989
Then I worked for the Marciano brothers for a year and left to form a company called Circa. Circa was fun because it was a real challenge. I wanted to make a European product with washes that were much more evolved. I had this amazing patternmaker and she just got it. It’s always been about the people around me.
At Circa, I worked really hard at fit and washes. To get great washes was not fun. I got stones from Turkey, talking to the consulate and having them suggest the right laundries in Europe. At that time, Diesel and Replay were the only guys in Europe but for me, it was always about Levi’s, Wrangler and Lee and I was willing to pay three times the amount for a good stone wash.
At that time, with Circa, I was sold out but the company really didn’t have the structure. The folks at Guess picked up a pair at a store and wanted to know who did it. They laughed when they found out it was Jerome. I fucked up my first marriage doing Circa night and day. I even fell asleep once, in my car, at a red light.
I was with Circa for four or five years and it helped me understand the structure of a big company. With Circa, I was also the first to bring fabric from Japan.
My business partner’s wife knew what she was doing and told her husband to invest in Circa. She even made their factory over to create just jeans.
Because Circa was doing so well, Ron Herman wanted to meet me, to find out how I did such a European fit. I told him that I was European myself and we have such an appreciation for all things American but we take our passion and want to do it better. The group of stores I was in at the time were selling Diesel. I was the European guy doing it here in Los Angeles and my price was actually a bit lower.
“Twenty years ago, you had to tell the laundries what temperature to take it to. Los Angeles is a denim capital but it took 25 years to become so because of people like us who have been teaching the laundries.”
A Gold E: 1989–1991
Gene Montesano and Barry Perlman of Lucky Jeans made me a very good offer to close Circa and come work with them but, instead, I went to meet with Adriano Goldschmied. We talked for 20 minutes and, on a handshake, he and I went to work with Ron Herman to create A Gold E jeans. After about eight months of this, I was ready to leave. Ron and I didn’t have the same opinion. At one point, I even told him, “If this jean doesn’t fit, don’t pay me for one year!” But there’s a lot of ego in this business.
“I used to be very adventurous and run a load of a thousand units and it’d be a disaster!”
Lucky Jeans: 1991–1999
So, I called Gene and Barry and they still wanted to work with me but they, of course, didn’t offer the same deal as before. At the time, I was going through a divorce and so I stayed with them at Lucky for nearly nine years. Then they sold the company and even though Gene told me that what I’d make from this would send my kids to college, I told Barry that I didn’t expect anything.
“I have always worked too much on the product, the part I love, but I’ve never made an effort to protect myself, with partnerships, and you really learn from that.”
7 For All Mankind: 1999–2003
After the sale of Lucky, I started working long hours at night. I knew it was finally time for me to try again. That’s when I started 7. Seven was a result of twenty years of experience in the industry. There are so many stories about the name of the company. It was lucky, lucky 7, meant to be more refined than Lucky Jeans. Plus no one had ever named a company with a number. And Seven has five letters like the other successful denim brands at the time: Levi’s, Guess, Lucky. I wanted 7 to be the modern Levi’s. “For all mankind” came from one of my favorite movies, Armageddon. At the end, he pulls off the patch from his astronaut suite and it read, “For all mankind.” And it clicked for me…7 For All Mankind. I refined and shrunk everything at 7, including the label.
I was working with Michael Glasser on the project and we were introduced to Peter Koral. We made a deal together and the partnership was 25/25/50.
When I started 7, I first ordered 5000 yards of material and then, a few months later, I ordered 50 thousand yards of material. We went from making 300 jeans to 1000 jeans to 5000 jeans so quickly. The product looked beautiful and it took off like crazy but my contract kept changing every few months. It was suggested that money from 7, without my knowledge, was being funneled back into other businesses that our partner owned. With 7 being my baby it wasn’t long before the partnership soured. It wasn’t working out so Michael and I left 7 together. Thankfully I met Gary Freedman who became my attorney and friend. He and I have been together for about seven years now.
“My attorney, Gary Freedman, has had the biggest impact on me. He changed my life. Also Adriano Goldschmied has inspired me with his creativity.”
Citizens of Humanity: 2003–present
Michael and I started Citizens together, another name inspiration from the movie Armageddon. Gary found us an initial investor for the brand, Swatfame. They were a great partner and helped us get Citizens of the ground. With our reputation growing from the success at 7, it was easy to get real estate on the sales floor. We made a lot of money for the retailers with 7 and they wanted to give us another chance. Citizens of Humanity was an instant success at retail and with all the excitement around premium denim it wasn’t long before an investment group, Berkshire, bought 57% of the company. In 2006/07, the economy went crazy and everyone got scared. Berkshire owed me money so I told them to forget the note and I’d take back controlling shares of the company. We added men’s in 2006 and then Adriano Goldschmied came in and took over and it’s been very steady since. Internationally we’re doing very well. We can’t complain. We had a big lawsuit in Japan a few years ago so it’s taking some time to rebuild there. We don’t have a plan to open our own store, but if we did, we’d like to have fun, to work with artists. Maybe we could open a store that sells no jeans!
“A bit of advice. Keep your passion. You have to love what you do.”