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Denim has done a lot for Diane Gilman. It’s given her a successful career, financial freedom and a sense of purpose — and turned her brand, which was launched in 2005, into HSN’s leading apparel label.
This story first appeared in the June 9, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Gilman, 68, who is celebrating her 20th year on HSN, is still setting records. DG2, the collection she launched nine years ago, did $11 million in sales during the month of May. The brand, which did $6 million in sales in its first year, is poised to hit $100 million this year.
“That tells you the power of one great idea,” she said. “That’s how I got to write my book and how I’ll get to write the next one.”
“Good Jeans: 10 Simple Truths About Feeling Great, Staying Sexy and Aging Agelessly,” published by Running Press in April 2013, is Gilman’s personal primer to health, happiness, beauty and sex in your 60s. For her next book, she’d like to curate the experiences of others who’ve successfully reinvented themselves after age 50.
DG2 jeans resonate with women “of a certain age.” They flatter the figure because the back of the jeans is raised and shaped to give a boost to the derrière, said Gilman, who sold silk separates when she signed on to HSN in 1994. “I liked what I did, but it didn’t have that strong a connection for me. I saw the customer from a distance.”
When Mindy Grossman joined HSN, the chief executive officer asked Gilman what she really wanted to do. “Design jeans,” Gilman said. “I was ready for a fight. I expected her to say old women don’t wear jeans. [HSN] could not be a better platform for explaining your invention.”
Bill Brand, HSN’s chief marketing and business development officer, calls Gilman “a force. She’s so inspiring and empowering. She has that connection with women. She’s honest. She’ll show before-and-after pictures of herself. She’s sharing stories and talking to [viewers] as if they’re girlfriends.”
Gilman’s “aha” moment came when she couldn’t find a pair of jeans that vaguely fit her. So, she designed a jean that she and her Baby Boomer cohorts could wear. “Honestly, I thought, ‘I’ve really got something here,’” she said. “I did it for myself initially. Then, I realized this was fashion for an entire generation. We were totally overlooked.”
DG2 was designed for Gilman’s body, not the body of a young fit model. She said wearing the jeans was transformative. “That jean was such a revelation to wear,” said Gilman, who sometimes makes it sound like jeans could save the world. “It was interesting how different people treated me. I love it because it’s purpose-driven and solution-driven clothing.”
When Gilman designed the jeans, she was in need of a solution. Her husband had died after a seven-year battle with cancer. His death left Gilman bereft. She did what many unhappy people do: She ate. By the time she was finished, her doctor told her she was half a pound shy of obesity.
“I had rolls in my midriff,” she said. “When I sat, I could barely breathe. I was 59, I wasn’t happy, I didn’t date and I looked like an old woman. I had made food my husband. Once I understood that I’m an emotional eater I could start working on the problem.”
Gilman had other motivation — her fans. She was gaining weight on TV and viewers weren’t always kind. “I had to [lose weight] to keep my validity,” she said. “Television is a tough taskmaster. I was getting hate mail. People said, ‘You’re too fat to wear that outfit.’”
Now, Gilman and her customers wear skinny jeggings, boot-cut jeans and stretch denim flares. Soon, there will be the dressier Forever Black collection. She is also working on a project that involves putting the lyrics of classic Sixties songs on jeans.. “We’re doing the Rolling Stones’ lyrics” on jeans, she said. “My generation broke out in the Sixties. One of the great battle cries of the Sixties was girls wearing jeans. If I could capture that Baby Boomer audience, there’s a million golden memories in every pant leg.”