When size-inclusive designer and “Project Runway” alum and judge Christian Siriano sent denim-clad models down his traditionally red carpet-worthy runway at New York Fashion Week last October, he was not only commenting on the state of casual fashion in a pandemic but also shining a spotlight on one of the original big-name women’s jeans designers: Gloria Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt, the descendant of shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt who died at 95 in 2019 after leaving her mark on the industry, was better known to the fashion world as the “Jeans Queen”—a throne she claimed in the 1970s and 1980s by selling millions of pairs of jeans in partnership with entrepreneur Mohan Murjani. The Gloria Vanderbilt brand, owned by One Jeanswear Group since 1993, continues to dress women in jeans and is sold by retailers including Amazon, Kohl’s, Macy’s and more.
In September, the brand will launch the first styles from its two-year partnership with Siriano—a contemporary take on archival designs that includes jeans, dresses and tops available in sizes 26-34 as well as petite and extended sizing. Expect to see embroideries, patchwork and, of course, the brand’s signature swan emblem.
“We’re taking it up a notch and selling the better department stores in the industry,” said Jack N. Gross, One Jeanswear Group CEO. “I call the runway ‘the romance’ and the product you see at retail ‘the finance.’ And I think that what Christian was able to do with the Gloria Vanderbilt brand in this collaboration is combine both of those and really make a big idea for the retailers and for my company.”
It’s a key time for the brand to step out with a new concept. Gloria Vanderbilt was named the best women’s plus-sized jeans brand by The NPD Group’s Denim Retail Performance Awards based on U.S. sales revenue last year. The brand will also release a new campaign with actress, producer and philanthropist Priyanka Chopra Jonas in August.
For Siriano, the opportunity to explore Gloria Vanderbilt’s archives and design for the label tugged at sentimental heartstrings. One of Vanderbilt’s original fans is his mother, Joye, a front-row mainstay at his shows. “I was going through a nostalgic thing, looking at old photos,” Siriano said. “I grew up and my mom had a lot of Gloria’s jeans. My mom also got married in a DVF wrap dress. She was kind of eccentric and I didn’t give her credit.”
Giving credit where credit is due was part of Siriano’s motivation to collaborate with the Gloria Vanderbilt brand. In a category that relies on heritage brands like Lee and Levi’s to inspire vintage designs, a survey of Gloria Vanderbilt’s archives says more about the future of fashion than the past.
“Man, she was really ahead of the game,” Siriano said about the Jeans Queen. “She had a really amazing open mind about people and beauty. She was doing a curve jean before anybody was doing a curvy jean, which I thought was really interesting.”
The collection arrives at a time when women are stepping back into jeans after months of loungewear, but Siriano sees no reason for jeans to not be part of their everyday wardrobes. “I always thought that denim could be your casual, cool go-to,” he said. “Living life in stretch pants is a bit extreme. If you have a great jean, that’s really what you can live your life in. That was our goal—to make jeans your comfortable go-to—not sweatpants or leggings.”
What’s Siriano’s go-to jeans? “I have a pair of jeans from Cheap Monday. I only bought Cheap Monday jeans when I was in college in London,” he said of the H&M Group-owned brand that closed down in 2019. “I was obsessed with them, and I have one pair left that’s still hanging on. I actually wore them the other night and they’re still my favorite jeans.”