LOS ANGELES — Lelan Zales is making the jump from funk drummer to denim designer with his new premium jeans label Nockauf.
The former drummer of George Clinton’s P-Funk All Stars, the 52-year-old Zales decided to start designing jeans in June 2008, when he noticed the draping of his girlfriend’s pajama pants while on a vacation in Hong Kong. What he dubbed the “crazy angle” of her pants sparked an idea in his head that would later become one of Nockauf’s trademarks: an asymmetric slanted waistband.
“All these denim brands have jeans that look like everybody else’s jeans,” Zales said. “The only thing that separates them is the stitching and hardware. I wanted something different.”
Nockauf, which made its debut this spring, features styles for men and women retailing at $140 and $169, respectively. The designs are made of Italian denim and manufactured in downtown Los Angeles. The men’s cut is available in a light and dark wash, and features a small hidden pocket near the left calf. The women’s collection offers three styles in a light and dark wash: skinny, straight and boot-cut, and will soon grow to include a high-waist flare and denim shorts, as well as a more extensive color palette.
With first-year sales projected at less than $100,000, Nockauf is sold online and in the Nockauf mobile boutique, a truck Zales parks outside of big events in the Los Angeles area.
“I had a vision that I didn’t want to go knocking on doors and say, ‘Will you sell my line? Will you sell it?’ So I went down and bought a FedEx truck, put a lot of work into it and I’ll tell you, it now looks like a Neiman Marcus boutique back there,” the designer said.
The truck is equipped with two 65-inch TVs and a cherrywood-lined interior displaying about 600 pairs of jeans. The brand is exploring further retail opportunities in boutiques in New York and Chicago, and plans to expand into high-end men’s leather wallets, hats, belts, T-shirts and women’s purses.
“You can call me a dementor,” Zales said, “because I am both a designer and inventor.”
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