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WWDStyle issue 03/23/2011

LOS ANGELES — Lelan Zales is making the jump from funk drummer to denim designer with his new premium jeans label Nockauf.

This story first appeared in the March 23, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

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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