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The Consultants: Christine Rucci

The Consultants is Rivet’s regular check-in with denim industry business and creative consultants to get their take on topics ranging from the status of sustainability to future trends. In this Q&A, Christine Rucci, founder and creative director of Godmother NYC Inc., discusses the fundamentals of enduring denim design.

Name: Christine Rucci (a.k.a. Godmother NYC)

Location: New York City

What was your first gig in the denim industry?

My first gig in the denim industry was working for the Rosen family who owned [the brands] Calvin Klein Jeans and Marithe and Francois Girbaud. It was my first design job. I would go to all the fabric mills and work directly with the pattern maker and run between the sample room and the executive showrooms to present the denim samples. That was back in 1982.

Describe your design point of view.

My design point of view is really simple. It’s based on what I call the “5F’s of Denim,” based on a published paper I wrote for The American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists back in 1999. Fabric, fit, finish, factory and fashion—all of these things work together to create product.

I strongly believe that fabric is the ‘premier vision’ and the driving force behind all of denim design. I can touch a piece a denim unwashed, and in my mind, I can the finished product. I can feel the hand and then I start development from there.

Next I think about the fit, which is key. I start by understanding what customer demographic the client is targeting. I study their lifestyle, what they eat, where they live, and then I start to build fit blocks for each brand. Sometimes I will actually take a client’s existing product, and on a live model, sculpt it with safety pins on half the garment so the client could see what improvements need to be made to their existing blocks. Once I establish the blocks, I can change the leg shape or I can lower the rise up or down. And I’ve also utilized 3D body scanning technology.

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In the early ’80s, I had the opportunity to work directly with Francois Girbaud who taught me about washing and I became one of the first female denim garment finishing experts in the entire denim industry. I have always been involved with textile chemistry and technology and was one of the earlier designers working on lasers going back 10 years. I’ve worked in every laundry in the world including Martelli Pizzaro and one of the first American designers to work in Kojima, Japan.

Many denim people tend to be wash or design [experts] and don’t know all areas of the industry. I am considered not only a denim expert but a fit and grading expert on the technical design. Having started my career in the back of the house, I learned everything about the factories and laundries and spent 30 years of my career traveling the world to sewing factories setting up sewing lines.

When it comes to fashion, I often like to go back into history and archives, and then re-create it for more modern customer through fabric, fit and finish. I don’t believe in trends in denim. I don’t believe what you photograph on the street is a prediction of what people are going to wear a year from now. If it’s in the street and in the stores, it’s been done. However, I do get a feeling about a certain time period and I’ll research everything about pop culture and take inspiration from that and see how it relates to today. I am always two years ahead of the trends.

In this Q&A, New York City-based denim consultant Christine Rucci discusses the fundamentals of enduring denim design.
Christine Rucci at New York Denim Days Angela Velasquez

What is the most common challenge that denim brands encounter in their design?

One of the challenges that I see is that most companies often try to be everything to everyone in an effort to capture market share and forget their heritage and the core of their business. Executives will go to stores on the weekend, asks a sales person about what’s selling and then knock it off. It’s not flattery—it’s copying and that’s not design.

Other challenges are convincing a client or brand to use sustainable materials. Often they only care about margin and the bottom line and will opt for cheap raw materials, which never produce the right look.

What makes you optimistic about the denim industry?

What makes me optimistic about the denim industry is that the celebrity and influencer as designer mode of business seems to be fading. Finally, the industry is waking up to the fact that experienced denim designers and consultants are the best option to get the job done. As I like to say, what didn’t come out in the denim wash is coming out in the rinse.

And I’m really glad to see women taking a leading role in this industry, or at least getting the recognition, because most of the women in the denim industry I really respect. They have been the earlier pioneers who built many of the brands which are coveted by young designer today.

Name a denim trend you hope to never see again.

Celebrities or bloggers being designers, but if I had to say a style which I hope never comes back is the ’90s JNCO Jeans which was predicted to be coming back. I have to laugh at what people claim are going to be trends by so-called denim experts whose scope of design only relates to what they grew up with and don’t know denim history.

What is your favorite industry event to attend, and why?

In the early days, there were only two fabric shows a year and it was Premier Vision in Paris and there was a huge section that specialized in denim. Then in the early days of Kingpins, when it was a boutique show, it was more like a party atmosphere. Probably the best sub-show of Kingpins was the Continuum show, where it focused on sustainability and technology, which I found most interesting because it was hands-on and practical.

Sadly, in recent years it has become the sea of sameness. I prefer to just work with my nominated vendors that I consistently have been working with for 20 years.

BPD Expo was really great for having workshops and demos like tie-dying and shibori as well as the Vintage Market, which made that show really outstanding, in my opinion.

But truthfully all the shows seem to be trying to out-do each other and there’s just way too many shows. It’s the same people traveling to multiple cities and none of it is sustainable and the carbon footprint is huge. I think small groups, seminars and workshops with hands-on applications, smaller denim collections and mills that specialize in different kinds of product instead of the same exact thing at every price point [is the way to go.]

What advice would you give to someone at the beginning of their denim career.

The best advice I could give a young person beginning their career is to learn about fabric, fit and finish and immerse themselves in research. Spend time on the sewing floor and in the back of the house. It’s not about the parties and the fashion shows. You have to roll up your sleeves and do the work. Put your phone away, take notes, research and be knowledgeable in history.

What is your favorite jean to wear, and why?

My favorite go to jean is usually a vintage 501, made in the USA, pre-1980s, not always selvedge. It just has to be the right color in the perfect fades. My casual skinny jean I like is Levi 711 and my favorite dress-up jean what I call my ‘little black jean’ is Paige’s Verdugo Ankle.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I would have to say my greatest achievement is launching my own brand with a newborn baby, while dealing with breast cancer and starting my consulting company. Collaborating with artist Ian Berry on The Secret Garden and contributing on a limited-edition Double RL book, which featured denim I developed, are highlights in my career. But I’m most proud of my son, Owen, my original “geneline.”

What’s your vision for denim in 2025?

I really don’t think that anyone can look that far ahead. I don’t even believe that we can predict 2021 trends. But I do think that we have to think globally and make locally and really focus on sourcing closer to where you are. As I like to say, yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery, today is a gift—that’s why they call it the present. So, I like to be very present. I think that short-term planning and designing is the best way to go with less liability and I think that companies need to go into the stock and wherever possible upcycle excess inventory. We can create more with less.