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Joan Smalls Talks Cropped Sweatshirts, Killer Heels and True Religion Brand Jeans

Joan Smalls is gorgeous. Flawless skin, a killer smile and legs for days—all attributes befitting a supermodel who’s one of the highest paid and best known in the world. But there’s another, maybe not-as-obvious aspect that’s gotten her there: a lot of hard work.

Joan Smalls True Religion Brand Jeans

It’s that serious work ethic that has helped the native Puerto Rican become a success in her field, graduate magna cum laude with a degree in psychology (in only two years) and, most recently, successfully collaborate on a spring collection with True Religion Brand Jeans.

We caught up with the megamodel on the rooftop terrace of the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan, where fellow models including Lily Donaldson and Jacquelyn Jablonski, as well as famed photographer and True Religion collaborator Steven Klein, gathered to celebrate what is not just Smalls’s first foray into design, but the first collaboration for True Religion too.

The Thread: How did you decide to work with True Religion?
Smalls: It was just an obvious yes. It’s a brand that everyone knows—I’ve always known them growing up—and to get into something like denim, that everybody wears, and put your own style into it was quite incredible, so it just merged perfectly.

What inspired the spring collection?
My street style and things that I love wearing. I love wearing my boyfriend’s sweatshirts all the time because of the feeling behind it, knowing it’s his and then the way it drapes on my body. It’s a little bit oversized and super comfy. So we designed a collection that included that. I also love wearing crop tops, so I was like, “How about a cropped sweatshirt?” So we did that and added a slogan, “Sueña,” because we were looking at words that meant something to me. I’m Latin, so I was like, “Oh, people can learn Spanish at the same time!” And that word is so powerful to me, having a dream and having it come true—from having this collaboration to just coming to New York and making modeling a career.

Joan Smalls for True Religion Brand Jeans

 Beautiful party people Donaldson, Klein and Smalls; all images courtesy True Religion 

Who do you envision wearing these pieces?
I mean everybody. Many of the pieces are timeless staples you should have in your closet because they look great on any body. You can dress them up with a blazer and high heels or dress them down with sneakers. You have so much versatility with just one great pair of leggings. I don’t think there’s a specific person because you have so much freedom to do as you please and style it the way you want to.

What are your favorite pieces from the line?
The high-waisted black leggings; they just go so well with everything and it accentuates your best assets. I also love the white leggings with the exposed back zipper. Summer is coming and everyone loves to wear white, but instead of the classic white pants these have a cool detail in the back. It just adds a little more flair and makes it more fun. If you’re daring, you might pair it with killer heels, but you can also pair them with booties and just unzip the back a little bit and really make it your own.

You’re clearly a jeans girl.
I am! When you wear it every day why not make it special?

Joan Smalls True Religion Brand Jeans

Jacquelyn Jablonski

Have you already started working on the fall line? Can you share anything about it?
We have! For one, it’s amazing that we have more leeway and time to be more creative. Some of the ideas I had for spring we weren’t able to do because the turnaround on this collection was super quick. It was an eye-opener. To see something and then decide if you like it and then it has to go to production and there are samples.… I had no clue because you don’t see it when you do shows—you’re backstage and you just see that one garment, but when you have to produce a gazillion things it’s like a whole different ball game. So, for the fall collection we’re playing with more cool fabrics. I love the combination of two fabrics in one garment—it gives you more dimension and makes it cooler, you know, just makes it more special. I’m all about details.

You’re a supermodel, which means you’re super busy all the time, but the last month has been insane for you with Fashion Month
I love that people are now correcting that, because it used to be called Fashion Week and there is not anything about it that’s a week. I mean, even in New York it’s not a week, it’s like 10 days! You know, it’s like where is this “week” coming from?

Yes! It’s probably just easier to brand it that way, right? Do you know how many shows you walked in?
I didn’t do as many as in the past. I skipped New York, but I did fly to LA to do Tom Ford and that was incredible, that man is just…

He’s Tom Ford. That’s all you need to say—he doesn’t need any adjectives!
Yes! And people were excited to have such a high-level designer in LA. It was tremendous, it was such a big turnout. And then I skipped London, did I think three shows in Milan, and then how many in Paris?

You did Chanel. I saw that!
Yes, I did Chanel and Givenchy.

Joan Smalls for True Religion Brand Jeans

So, how do you stay grounded and de-stress when you’re jetting all over the place?
I work out. I go to the gym. I go either every other day or every day if I can. It brings my focus back to where I am and what I want to do and ensures that my body is well kept and regulated, so it doesn’t get completely exhausted. It also gives me energy throughout the next day; it gives you stamina. Also, being surrounded by friends. I think laughter and fun keeps you so grounded and it doesn’t feel like a job. You’re around people you love and who want to have a good time. It’s very rare that we’re in the same city at the same time, so whenever we see each other it’s a bonding experience again, so that’s cool.

Did you have a favorite moment from fashion month?
Probably going to Kanye West’s party. That was the last day of fashion month in Paris, so to end it on such a high and just dance the night away and be in good company was the ultimate reward, for sure.

Last question! You’ve been in some music videos and I’m wondering if there’s a difference for you between having to perform for a video versus on the runway.
With me there’s not a difference because I don’t feel like I have to perform any less or any more depending on where I am—I’m always bringing my best. In a video, you might see more movement and more of yourself, more fluidity than you do in pictures or runway because those are more static. You all need to fit in and look the same way and walk and it’s like a pattern, but the performance level is still high. I’m still gonna go out there and make sure that I sell this garment that is on me. You do your part because the designer is counting on you to make it look good.

Joan Smalls for True Religion Brand Jeans

The spring collection is currently available online and in these stores: Aventura, Fashion Valley and our brand-new (as in Thursday, March 26) Puerto Rico location, where Joan is scheduled to make a personal appearance within the next few weeks. Then you can see how gorgeous she is in person.

—Jenny Yule