Jeffrey Rudes, the clothing designer who shot to denim dominance after launching J Brand in 2004, has set his sights a bit higher of late—both figuratively and literally. While well-fitting jeans were his longtime bread and butter, Rudes’ new eponymous menswear line (the company, Jeffrey Rüdes, assumes an umlaut that its founder forgoes) has a torso-fixated mission: “It starts with the jacket.”
What sets the label apart from the madding crowd of top-shelf clothiers for guys? “Let’s just say it’s the timeless jacket and suit with a masculine attitude to a sexy, rock ’n’ roll, jet-set feeling,” the designer explains, balking at the notion that his collection’s vibe is “L.A.” or “West Coast,” as some industry insiders have publicly suggested. “It’s European, international—it has more of a New York element than it does L.A.,” he says on the phone from his West Hollywood headquarters. “I don’t really know what L.A. fashion is.”
The idea to create the line, whose wares range in price from $360 for shirts to $3,200 for coats, alighted from the designer’s frustration over the subpar options he found when shopping for himself. That grievance, says Rudes, who sold 80 percent of J Brand to Japan’s Fast Retailing in 2012 for $290 million, had more to do with style principles than it did with fit or materials.
Even so, the label’s dominant materials are hardly ubiquitous among its menswear peers. The Fall/Winter 2016 collection, for example, is largely constructed of laundered velvets, bouclé, mouliné yarns, brushed silks and raw-cut leathers. The accent colors and prints are likewise rather remarkable: Bright shades of chartreuse, turmeric and royal blue mingle with patterns inspired by Wiener Werkstätte, the early-20th-century Viennese creative community, and Art Nouveau textiles.
At least in terms of manufacturing proximity, the brand’s milieu is populated with “the real deal,” explains the 35-year-plus veteran of the garment business, who also keeps an atelier in Italy: “Lanvin, Givenchy, Hermès and Loro Piana—so the experience that I have is like making a Ferrari versus making a Buick.”
Much like any first-rate luxury automaker, Rudes, too, pulled out all the stops when designing his flagship showroom, on Greene Street in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, which opened last summer. “When they see it, they get it,” he says of his clientele upon entering the store, a gleaming space boasting Calacatta marble floors and French lacquer walls.
He may have an innate understanding of what customers want, but he also admits that this professional departure didn’t come with a fully rendered road map. “Manufacturing in Italy is brand new to me,” he says, adding that Ralph Lauren and Hedi Slimane are among the designers he most admires. “Being in factories with these adjacencies is fascinating.”
Looking ahead, Rudes wants to grow the company into a full-fledged lifestyle purveyor, to incorporate additional brick-and-mortar and online channels, to scratch all the itches guys have for frosted shearling coats and moccasins in varnished leather. “The whole idea is to build a lifestyle brand,” he explains. “We’re not doing something that isn’t in the market—we just have our own way of executing and interpreting it.”