By  on August 13, 2009

DALLAS — Michael Glasser, a denim veteran who cofounded Seven For All Mankind and Citizens of Humanity, was surprised when he saw curvy women break into tears after fitting into a pair of Cj by Cookie Johnson jeans, his latest venture in premium denim that fits waists from 24 to 38 inches.

“I have seen the women start to cry and that was amazing,” Glasser said. “I had never seen it before and this is not just one. If she can find a style that fits her well, psychologically there is a change. She is overwhelmed. I can’t believe this.”

He can thank Earleatha “Cookie” Johnson for that. The wife of basketball legend Magic Johnson was so demoralized by shopping for jeans that she contacted Glasser about making styles for fuller bodies.

“I had a hard time finding jeans to fit me because I have a butt and thighs,” said Johnson, who is 50 years old. “I’d try on 20 pairs of jeans and couldn’t get them past my knees. After beating myself up, I realized this really isn’t about me, it’s the industry.”

Glasser was skeptical at first, but was swayed when Johnson described having to buy a size 31 pair of jeans despite her 29-inch waist.

Forming a joint venture and hiring veteran Joie Rucker, who is also a partner with Glasser on the Rich & Skinny denim brand, as designer, the pair launched Cj by Cookie Johnson in Nordstrom as a small test in February. Two days after Johnson first visited a Nordstrom in February, the chain upped distribution from three stores to 25. Now distribution is at 74 doors, and Cj has also picked up Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s.

“Customers are responding well to the line,” said Anita Ortiz, national merchandise manager for the Individualist department at Nordstrom. “It has all the styling and hallmarks of premium denim, and it’s cut to fit a real woman’s body. The point of difference is that most premium brands only fit up to a size 12 and Cj by Cookie Johnson fits up to size 18.”

The jeans are made of Japanese and Italian denim, and the top styles have been a slim boot cut, distressed boyfriend and snug legging. The brand also offers styles with straighter fits for women who want hip jeans that aren’t low rise. The line retails for $145 to $198.

“This has the potential to do more business than Seven,” Glasser said. “Premium denim was negligent not to address this. It is a wide-open area and kind of reminds me of when we started Seven.”

He predicted the label will do $5 million its first year, $15 million the second “and after that, it will explode.”

Johnson clearly has some of her own magic. She said her husband has been “very supportive” and signed autographs at her first store appearance in Scottsdale, Ariz., during NBA All-Star Weekend in February.

“He is a businessman morning, noon and night, so he’s asking, ‘Did you do this? Did you do that?’” she said. “He’s great.”

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