LOS ANGELES — Two decades before he would go on to launch Joe’s Jeans and become one of denim’s most influential designers, Joe Dahan spent his afternoons careening around downtown L.A. on a moped, fetching dress patterns, picking up buttons and zippers, and delivering wads of cash to textile manufacturers for his older brother, Albert. “I was probably all of 14,” he says. “One time I lost an envelope with 20 grand in it.” He stares blankly, as though this were clearly the end of the anecdote.
“And?” Albert says as the two hung out recently at Albert’s L.A. office. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Joe replies as he snubs out a Marlboro Light. “I never found it.”
“Yeah, he said, ‘I’ll pay you back,’” Albert says with a shrug that hits his ears. “I’m still waiting.”
Not that big brother is doing all that bad without his promised payback. The Melrose Avenue headquarters of both Albert Dahan’s premium denim label, Stitch’s, and the Da-Nang line that he runs with wife Estelle sports room after room of ornate Moroccan furniture and a verdant second-floor terrace the size of a tennis court.
Albert also doesn’t shy from singing his kid brother’s praises. “Joe is a purist, truly an artist,” he says. “In denim, there are very few people like that, who are perfectionists, who are anal, who are product-driven and very methodical and creative in what they do. Adriano Goldschmied is. So is [Citizens of Humanity cofounder] Jerome Dahan.” (Contrary to rumors, Jerome is unrelated to the Dahan brothers.) “And then there is Joe.”
Born in Casablanca, Morocco, the Dahans have been mainstays of the Los Angeles fashion scene since the 1986 launch of Joe Dahan, a collection of men’s formalwear and dress shirts that scored a humble $8 million in annual sales when Joe was still a year short of being able to smoke legally
The ’90s brought continued collaboration between the two, with the dress line NC-Love (originally called NC-17, until the Motion Picture Association of America threatened to sue), a denim line called Hippie and a $25 million-a-year casual line called Joe’s Tees.
Now plugging separate denim lines, Joe and Albert have diverged a bit in their retail strategies. Joe’s Jeans, which is owned by Innovo Group Inc., headquartered in nearby Commerce and reportedly rakes in four times the annual revenue of Stitch’s, seems to be the more ambitious of the two companies.
A lucrative women’s line dominates Joe’s business, and branded stores with all-white interiors are in his crosshairs. Five leases are finalized for next year, starting with outlets in Orlando and Woodbury, N.Y. (“I’m new to retailing, so we’ll see it how it works,” he explains). NorthPark Center in Dallas, Union Square in San Francisco and Bleecker Street in New York are to follow. Melrose Place in L.A. is under consideration, though, as Joe puts it, “strictly for image.”
Albert, on the other hand, appears content with a limited distribution for Stitch’s, which began with the belief that men’s denim need not be viewed as a phase-two afterthought. Wide seams and thick stitching give the three-year-old line a distinctively macho feel, one that lends itself well to the southern California gay publications where Dahan often advertises his wares. And it shows. Stitch’s slightly beat-up jeans and corduroys made of a cotton/rayon blend with ultra-narrow wales are now worn by anyone from Gibson Dunn junior associates hobnobbing at The Abbey in West Hollywood to CAA agents schmoozing at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills.
“Stitch’s is not about chasing the trends every five minutes,” Albert says. “We wanted to set ourselves apart, to be very expensive and to be in a few number of doors. We’re not very big, but we certainly have loyal fans.”
What both designers seem to agree on, however, is their dislike for the heavily distressed, torn styles that are slowly creeping back onto the racks. “The whole distressed, loud thing is too much for me, so I don’t look in that direction,” Joe says. “It’s just too fromage for me.”
“Fromage?” Albert says.
“You know, loud and cheesy,” Joe replies. “Which can be done well. But I prefer for it to be a little more refined.”