Catching up with Jerome Dahan, Citizens of Humanity

by Elise Diamantini

Jereome DahanJerome Dahan moved to LA in the ’80s (he was born in France and then lived in Montreal) to pursue his career in designer denim. Over the years, Dahan created an impressive resume: he launched 7 For All Mankind, and has had a hand in brand-building both Guess and Lucky Brand jeans. He took his knowledge and passion for denim to launch Citizens of Humanity in 2003. Then in 2007, Citizens acquired GoldSign luxury denim and brought its founder, Adriano Goldschmied, as a partner and executive vice president of product development. We chatted with Dahan and asked him about his company’s growth, rising prices and how he spends his free time.

How’s business? Business is good. We’re up in men’s over last year by 40 to 50 percent.

Where’d the growth come from? Basically from the innovation of the product: washes, fits, keeping the brand clean and classic.

What are retailers buying for fall 2011? We have a pretty good replenishment business (which is about 60 percent of our total business) which comprises a few core styles and washes ($180 to $220 retail). And then we also bring in new product every season. New product is very clean looking with vintage styling. We’re also introducing a small organic product offering using organic dyes, fabrics and recycled products. And we’re doing well with selvedge denim because we can make it super soft ($190 to $270 retail).

What are you doing about rising cotton prices? The pricepoints have started to come up for spring and fall, and we’ll have to raise them again for fall. The mills are bringing their price up and we have no choice but to do it too. Prices will go up 15 to 20 percent for retailers, depending on the product.

There’s been a lot of non-denim bottoms buzz in the market. Is that reflected in your sales? Non-denim business is definitely getting bigger. We’re doing especially well with our twills and corduroys. That said, it’s still a small part of the business (20 to 25 percent). Non-denim bottoms aren’t replacing denim, it’s just another offering for consumers. When a guy wants to wear jeans he wants to wear jeans and maybe one day he wants to wear chinos; it’s not one or the other.

How would you define premium denim? Where is the market going? Premium denim is about an evolution. It’s super creative product with consistent high quality. I started in the denim business in 1982 and I saw the ups and downs. Generally, denim has a seven-year cycle. It gets oversaturated, but it will always come back.

What else is new at Citizens? We’re doing many things. We just hired former VF Corporation executive Giorgio Presca as our new CEO. [Editor’s note: Presca was hired in April 2010 and had worked as the brand general manager at Diesel International for seven years and brand director EMEA at Levis’ for three years.] Giorgio wants to highlight what I was inspired by over the years and people who were surrounding me and the street culture. I’ve been in Los Angeles for 30 years and involved in LA street culture for about 18 years. Giorgio was very interested in that, so that’s one thing we’re going to push. We want to reflect the lifestyle of Citizens of Humanity as a brand, but we also want to give a bit more of who we are, the people behind the brand, to the customer.

What do you do in your free time? My kids are my life. I used to take my oldest son, Skylar, with me everywhere (to the flea markets and thrifts) and now I look at his style and it really reflects all of those years he was with me. He’s 21 years old and has a strong style, but the cool thing is that he puts things together in such a natural way. He is very into that vintage/Americana style. He’s got really curly hair and he looks a bit like Bob Dylan, very artistic and into music. Dylan, who is 19 years old, is the complete opposite. He is into Jiu-Jitsu, which we did together for a number of years, and his style is more urban streetwear. I think it’s because that’s the way his friends dress. I could see Skylar doing an internship at Citizens, but his main interest is film and photo and I want him to go for what he loves. But it would be nice if he came into the business, so I could kick back and relax for a little bit!