FRANKIE B. JEANS ON THE (LOW) RISE
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
LOS ANGELES — Super-low-rise jeans, with zippers as short as three inches, are catching on in a big way with this town’s celebrities. Many of those enamored of the look have Daniella Clarke to thank.
A year after convincing a buyer at Ron Herman-Fred Segal to buy her first and then-only style, Clarke is reeling from the overnight success of Frankie B. She said that she expects sales to hit the $1 million mark by year’s end.
Last week, actress Charlize Theron strutted down the red carpet for the second night in a row wearing a pair of precariously low-riding jeans. Asked what brand of jeans she was wearing, she twisted her body to consult the label.
“Frankie B,” she responded.
Days before, Rosanna Arquette, at a celebrity-studded luncheon at Spago, muttered the same two words. Ditto Darryl Hannah at the “MI2” premiere upon arriving in a dark denim jumpsuit.
While Hannah now frequents Clarke’s downtown studio, stylists are just beginning to learn her address.
Others, famous and not, find the now-expanded collection of denim boot-cut pants, short jackets, hip-hugging A-line skirts and sexy capris — which wholesale from $45 to $75 — at hip boutiques nationwide, such as Traffic in Los Angeles and Patricia Field in New York. The line also sells at select Nordstrom stores.
In Japan, Frankie B is available with the more modest 4-1/2 inch rise at specialty stores, including Freeze.
But the short rise isn’t for everybody, admits Clarke, acknowledging her limited customer base.
Even risktakers Ron Herman-Fred Segal admit to initial reservations.
“I was a little worried about the short rise,” said Brett Wagner, denim buyer for the Los Angeles institution. “We agreed we’d give them a test, and the reaction has been skyrocketing ever since. The woman who wears this jean is pretty much fearless. This is a type of thing she’s looking for, and Daniella did a wonderful job in terms of fit.”
It hasn’t come easy.
The 31-year-old designer has gotten used to squabbling with pattern makers and contractors who disbelieve her specifications for ever-lower and tighter jeans cuts. She’s become accustomed to repeating requests for snugger seats and longer belt loops to accommodate wide hippie belts.
Despite the “Charlie’s Angels” comparisons, Clarke’s muse is more timeless rock ‘n’ roll than kitschy sitcom. In fact, she began ripping the waistbands off her Levi’s when she hooked up with the thriving Los Angeles rock scene at age 16. The Israeli native had recently relocated from South Africa, where she grew up, when she met Guns N Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke.
“I all of a sudden, had a stack of pants by my sewing machine. I’m lowering everybody’s pants — the girls’, the guys’ — and altering them to fit real tight,” Clarke said in a recent interview at Sue Goodman’s California Mart showroom.
Following years of touring with the band and the birth of a daughter (the Clarkes were married in 1991), Clarke awoke on her 30th birthday ready for a challenge. She had continued to customize her pants over the years for herself and friends and figured there had to be other women who shared her taste.
The closest she’d ever been to the denim business was through her father, who headed production at Lee Jeans in Israel when she was a young girl.
“He used to bring home all these cool jackets and jeans and, of course, I’d change them,” she laughed.
Fittingly, the B represents her father’s name, Barry. Frankie is short for Francesca, her six-year-old daughter.
Without any orders, Clarke ran production on the “Charlie” jean and headed straight for Fred Segal.
“I wanted to be able to walk into stores and say, ‘Do you want it? I can give it to you right now.’ I was petrified that people would change their minds and say “You’re crazy. That stuff’s, like, way dangerous,” she recalled.
But danger is evidently what Pamela Anderson, Jennifer Lopez and Sarah Michelle Geller — who all have sported Frankie B styles — want in a pair of jeans.
This year, Clarke introduced candy-colored snake-print woven and neutral mini-wale corduroy.
For fall, the handful of silhouettes will also appear in black, white and caramel soft leather and a charcoal and plaid polyester, rayon and Lycra spandex blend. Frankie B will also introduce two western-style leather belts to pair with the low-slung pants.
Of course, stretch denim in dark indigo and a faded blue will remain hallmarks of the Frankie B line, she said.
“I only make what I would want to wear, and I love denim,” she said. “But you won’t ever find any stonewash in my collections.”