In the span of a little over a decade in the early 2000s, Jeffrey Lubell made a mint in premium denim, starting True Religion out of a 200-square-foot shop in Manhattan Beach and selling it for $835 million in 2013.
Now he’s hoping to do it again, only this time in luxury, with Coût de la Liberté, a brand he describes as “hillbilly couture.”
“I think this is going to be bigger than True Religion,” he said at his downtown Los Angeles showroom, showing off a cool pair of black leather overalls, studded silk cowboy shirts and the stretch suede flared pants that made a fan out of Lenny Kravitz, who wore the brand during Art Basel and for several recent TV appearances.
Coût de la Liberté launched at New York Fashion Week in February 2020, just before COVID-19 struck, and is selling in 18 doors worldwide.
So far, Lubell is a one-man show doing all the design, sales and marketing for the brand, which is heavy on hand distressing and hand embellishment — Nudie Cohen meets boho East West Leather, with a dash of Alessandro Michele in the way of glam zigzag sequined pants made for the stage.
With people eager to get out of pandemic-era sweats but still wanting to be comfortable, Lubell sees the denim category on the rise, and it’s at the heart of the brand — although with nary a logo or pocket detail this time around — starting at $395. His second wife, Carrie, a former Miss Teen USA, is his fit model.
“I run a skinny, a flare, a bell, a super high-rise, a medium rise, and I’m just starting with the low rise now because I think the trend is happening. I dunno, we’ll see,” said Lubell, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. and moved to L.A. in 1976, when he wore flares the first time around.
T-shirts and knits have Basquiat-reminiscent graphics of the Statue of Liberty smoking a cigarette and drinking a martini. And there are special pieces, like $8,900 hand painted leather jackets. Lubell said he sold three of those at a trunk show at The Kingdom in Calabasas.
“Manny from H. Lorenzo gave me a monster first order, $1 million,” he boasts of the support he’s seen in SoCal. And it was David Mulvaney, stylist/owner of Church boutique in L.A., which is also stocking the brand, who made the introduction to Kravitz.
Although True Religion jeans are what took off, helping to revive the designer denim market in the early 2000s, Lubell originally intended that brand to be higher-end, he said.
By the time he stepped down as chief executive officer in 2013, he didn’t even want to wear it anymore. “I was disappointed, I wanted to bring back distribution, rethink the brand and the customers. The brand was everywhere, who knows how they got it. I had $600 million in the bank, so we could have pulled back. It just wasn’t fun anymore.” True Religion’s troubles have continued; the brand filed for bankruptcy protection in 2020.
His game plan for Coût de la Liberté involves distribution in key independent boutiques, and a retail store of his own. He recently signed a lease for a 1,600-square-foot space on West Third Street in L.A.
“I’m creating a Studio 54 buzz around this brand,” he said with his signature flash. “I think there is a big moment for anyone doing fresh, new, compelling aspirational product.”