By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The skinny-jean craze represents the triumph, yet again, of fashion over the human circulatory system. The most intimidating pants known to mankind, skinny jeans squeeze the blood from the lower half of the body up to the torso, threatening to pop the head like a cherry tomato, clamping on so tight to the butt and thighs, it seems like the only way to take the offending garment off is to fast for a few days and molt the pants like an exoskeleton.
One of the last bastions of thin in a quickly fattening America, the skinny jean hit us hard in Southern California. It slinked over from the streets and runways of Paris, Sweden and Australia several years ago, established a foothold at Fred Segal, Barney’s and assorted Beverly Hills designer-denim boutiques, then made inroads in the local malls — at Forever 21, Gap, Banana Republic — and, finally, having found no more actual skinny legs to adorn, bled out into the Southland’s various Targets and Wal-Marts, where it has remained to the present, waiting to suck the life breath out of ever more new victims.
She is a cruel mistress, the skinny jean, broadcasting every bump and ripple, threatening to rat you out should you even think of splashing 2 percent milk into your nonfat mocha latte. But if you are game to make a late conversion, you could do worse than J Brand. The J Brand skinny — arguably the most coveted in the nation — comes in three different cuts (skinny, very skinny and very, very skinny) with three different sizes of leg opening, an ankle-strangling 10 inches the most extreme. It is simple, well-constructed and deceptively, deliberately plain-looking. It lets your legs and ass and $2,000 accessories do the talking. Susie Crippen, J Brand’s designer and co-founder, attributes the popularity of the skinny jean to the recent heavy emphasis on boots. Accessories are moving at higher price points now, she says, and people shelling out money for expensive boots didn’t want to then hide them away, so, short of wearing skirts all the time, they started tucking the pants into the boots.
Crippen thinks skinnies look best scrunched up a bit at the hemline with little ballet flats, or tucked into a knee-high or ankle boot, or with a platform high heel and a flouncy shirt.
“If you think of a ballerina, she has a bottom that’s narrow and a floating, larger top with a lot of movement,” Crippen says. “The top has to be proportional with the bottom and should flow out a bit. In other words, you don’t want to wear supertight on top and supertight on bottom. As long as you even it out, pretty much any woman can look good in them. Beyoncé wears our jean, and she’s supercurvy. You have to stand in front of the mirror and make sure your shirt falls at the most flattering part of your body. Higher on the hip if you’re thinner, lower on the hip if you’re curvier.”
Other fashion houses, like Ksubi, make more of a statement with their skinny jeans. There’s even a Ksubi low-rise, zip-ankle skinny-jean overall with suspenders, which is a strange and fantastic contradiction in terms. The surfer-skater-art-rocker-punk boys who design them infamously unleashed a torrent of live rats onto the catwalk when they debuted the line in their native Australia in 2000 (estimates as to the precise number of rats vary from 169 to 250). The boys also like to hold fashion shows on boats and throw the models overboard into the water, a gimmick that, in my book at least, earns their skinny jeans a trial go-around in the dressing room.
When I asked, in an e-mail, what Ksubi co-founder (and surfer) Dan Single thinks the “perfect” jean is, he wrote, both obviously and wisely, that there is no perfect anything. “Everything has slight imperfections,” he said. “That is where you find the beauty. Perfect is boring.”
Never before have we seen so many aspects of a woman’s leg — hip, thigh, calf, ankle, midankle. Never before have we seen so many types of leg either. The beanstalk Beverly Hills–mommy leg (emaciated from decades of muffin deprivation), the defiant East Los Angeles leg (meaty as a ham hock), the athletic Westside leg, the gawky, gangly, malnourished Silver Lake–Echo Park leg. Blame it on the camouflaging straight-leg jean, the storm trooper of the denim world, which made a million imperfect legs look the same.
“I don’t like those superskinny tapered jeans,” says Catherine Hart, designer of the SkinnyJeans jean. “If you have an American body, your leg looks like a turkey drum when you wear them.”
Her SkinnyJeans jeans aren’t “skinny” jeans per se. Mainly, they’re designed to make you look skinnier when you wear them, which is the more important criterion. The back pockets are placed high on the derrière, the wash is dark and elegant, the whiskering is faint and set above the natural break of the leg, and the inseams are moved forward to make the leg look thinner. Serendipitously (and confusingly), Hart bought the trademark and domain name skinnyjeans.com just before the real skinny-jean wave hit. When it did, people began placing orders like mad. Even Oprah got a pair.