Interviews Men’s Fashion

Introducing PAIGE Jeans for Men with Paige Adams-Geller: Rock Singer, Fit Expert and Dream-Follower

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Images courtesy PAIGE

Launching in sync with our justifiably famous Anniversary Sale (early access ongoing now) is PAIGE jeans for men, the division of the California brand that, especially for men, targets the sweet spot between fashion and comfort.

We jumped on the phone with Paige Adams-Geller, the Paige behind PAIGE, to talk about her brand’s evolution over the years. She has a unique history with Nordstrom—and just a unique history, period, finishing high school at 16 in Alaska, jumping straight into the fast life of NYC modeling, singing in bands in bars. The conversation even got a little existential from a professional standpoint, touching on one difficulty about which we can all relate:

When you’re good at a lot of things, how do you narrow down your options and focus on a career path?

SHOP: PAIGE Jeans for men

Nordstrom blogs: Let’s start with you talking about your time at Nordstrom.

My time at Nordstrom was amazing. I grew up in Alaska, where I started my love affair with denim because it kept me warm and was just something everyone wore. I started at 13 years old modeling for Nordstrom in Anchorage. I did their fashion shows, and I did some print modeling for The Anchorage Times, and I did a lot of what they called back then “mannequin modeling” in the women’s departments. I’ve always had this special bond with Nordstrom. My mom and I would have mommy-daughter days, where we’d go shopping, sit in the café and then buy a box of Mocha Habits [ed. note: the old name for our chocolates now called Makers] and I swear I would eat the whole box on the way home to Wasilla. We’d even fly to Seattle and do a little back-to-school shopping in the downtown store. So Nordstrom feels like a second home to me. I grew up there.

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Amazing. Sounds like you have a very nostalgic feeling.

It’s crazy. My sister worked at Nordstrom, too, in the men’s and women’s shoes departments. And my best friend sold men’s suits in the men’s department. I remember walking into Nordstrom, going by the cosmetics counter, looking at the shoes and then heading up stairs where the piano would be playing. And then I’d do my modeling jobs and try to stay as still as possible. I would freak all the little kids out doing my mannequin poses with the piano player in the background. I’ll never forget those days.

Did Nordstrom get you into modeling more widely?

My first modeling job was at Nordstrom in Anchorage. But then I left Alaska when I was 16. I graduated from high school early and went to New York and modeled with Elite for a bit. Then I came to California, which is and has been always the city of my dreams. I couldn’t wait to leave Alaska someday and move to California. I was obsessed with the California lifestyle. I moved out here when I was just barely 17 and went to college at USC, and got to live in the full southern California vibe. After college I sang in a band, then ended up falling into the world of fit modeling, then fit consulting and then became a fit expert.

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Fit modeling and fit in general is such a weird part of clothes. Fit models are supposed to be standard sizes, but sizes vary brand to brand.

It’s very true. There used to be a universal size chart. I think over time that changed and morphed because of how sizing is different in different countries, Europeans like a different fit than Americans sometimes, all kinds of factors. It used to be for men that size 32 inches was the measurement of the true waist line, below the belly button: the size was 32. But as rises change—high rise, low rise, drop crotch—that’s been diluted. What’s interesting in the world of fit is that if you find a brand where the fit model is similar to your body type, you’ll be really loyal to that brand. Our fit is really consistent. I take pride in the accuracy and consistency of our fits.

It’s definitely something a man appreciates, not having to think about the sizing.

Consistent sizing, whether or not it’s going to last, overall reliability: that’s what we’re striving for.

At what point did you know you wanted to make denim, and that it should be made in Los Angeles?

I had an a-ha moment when I was fit consulting in L.A. It’s sort of embarrassing but I saw a career consultant. A life coach, I guess. And I was throwing some ideas out there about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I thought I wanted to explore singing on a deeper level again. I had something creatively brewing, I just didn’t know what it was. The life coach said, “Paige, I know you like the creativity of the entertainment industry, but you love clothes. And you love creating things that make people feel good about themselves, and you should pursue that.” It hadn’t crossed my mind. But because of that creativity in me that was about to explode, I was like, Oh my god. She told me to do some homework, investigate brands I was inspired by and come back to her. I pondered it, meditated on it, and really that moment of clarity when it hit me that there was no denim brand in L.A., the denim capital of the world, that had been created by a woman that could speak to denim in a little more fashionable way. Every designer I worked with had been a man. There was something I could do differently. Something that was fashionable, and could turn into a lifestyle brand, and anchor it to a person, a name that people could emotionally connect with. With our brand, people know that, know that there’s a Paige. I can connect with customers, connect on the floor, and do what we’re doing right now in this conversation. I realized this was the path. This was the trajectory.

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When you’re talented in multiple areas, it can be tough to know which path to take.

I was lost, and she helped me figure it out. I embraced everything I knew how to do and loved. My major in college was broadcast journalism. I love the interview process like we’re doing now. A part of my path was teenage pageants. I was eventually Miss California and went to the Miss America pageant. Even that training helps me when I’m in front of people and to bond with people. And because I love the California lifestyle, and the music scene, I inject that into what we do too. That easy California lifestyle injected with that rock ‘n’ roll music scene, that’s what we do.

What was your old band like?

With my Alaska roots, there’s a lot of country in my background. And my family’s from Utah. I liked rock and pop and indie music a lot more, though. So our band was like the Wilson Phillips of country. The Dixie Chicks before the Dixie Chicks. It was me, a brunette and a redhead. I was the front man. I also sang in a cover band in Manhattan Beach, playing beachy bar scenes, playing weddings. I think I truly was a British rock star in my past life. I even dyed my hair red and channeled David Bowie in recent years. I still sing in the car all the time. I’m not very serious. I think fashion should be taken seriously but not too seriously. I sing all the time at the office, and am always playing music when we’re getting into the groove, creating playlists for collections. We just did a campaign with the model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and she loves to sing. I wanted to channel what it would be like if Rosie and I had a band, or if she was a groupie, or the singer. We shot at the Troubadour in L.A. We felt like we were rock stars for the day.

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What’s the music you think of when you look at the men’s PAIGE collection for Nordstrom?

I think about the Doors’ “L.A. Woman.” And what if the title were “L.A. Man”? Because the Doors are classic and timeless and quintessential L.A. Everything on the floor at Nordstrom now for men is classic and easy.

Recently we featured Nick Bradley from Pangea on our blog, and he said you were a big mentor to him as he got his swimwear line off the ground. Can you talk about mentorship in your life?

That’s a huge compliment from Nick. I adore him. I love his energy, I love people who always want to be better, professionally and personally. I can honestly say that I didn’t have anybody growing up that was a mentor to me. Nobody around me had done what I wanted to do. There weren’t people leaving Alaska and exploring other worlds. People would leave and come back. I felt like a pioneer. I didn’t know anyone who went to New York to model, or went to college in California. So that’s why I mentor now, because I was craving it back in the day. But when I was a fit model in L.A., I was around so many creative people. This was the premium denim explosion in L.A. People thought nobody was going to pay more than $80 for a pair of jeans. I got to watch 7 For All Mankind start from its first day. I watched Citizens of Humanity start at ground zero. It was a lot of fun for me to be around that mix. That was a kind of mentorship, just absorbing all that creative thinking and energy. But there is someone who has been a mentor to me later in life with PAIGE: Eula Smith, who was a legend at Nordstrom [as a buyer, store manager and merchandise manager] and who now works at a consulting company. She helped me figure out our first PAIGE store. She helped me visually put it together and helped me concept our initial men’s line. She’s still in my life and we get together all the time. An my life coach, Elizabeth Gamza. She changed my life by planting that seed for my brand. I was so apprehensive to start my own business but she said that if I reached out to all the contacts I had built over the years and explained what I wanted to do, asked point blank—”I’m starting my own company: Will you be my pattern-maker?”—I would be surprised at the support I’d get. And she was right.

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What did you and Eula discuss when you were first getting into men’s? What was your initial vision and how closely did you follow it?

It’s interesting. I think men back then were really uncomfortable about the word “stretch.” Even thinking about stretch jeans. This was 2006. I believe men want comfort just as much as they want fashion. And I wanted PAIGE for men to be a perfect blend. I would go into meetings and talk about stretch jeans, even 2% stretch jeans, not like leggings or anything, and people would shut me down: Men only wear rigid jeans. They’ll never wear stretch. Especially in Europe, people would tell me, crunchier was better. In Italy, men remembered their mom drying jeans outdoors on a line, and the crunchier the jean, that meant the jean was cleaner and fresh. But I couldn’t believe men wanted to run around in jeans that didn’t feel good and were uncomfortable. Super-authentic, rugged, masculine: I got those qualities but knew that wasn’t the whole story. So I would do wear tests, give guys jeans and just ask them to wear them and tell me what they thought. They’d say they were the most comfortable jeans, that they could live in them. That was another a-ha moment. You just don’t tell them there’s stretch in there, and they’ll never take them off. Eula and I knew men would come around to that word, that it would lose its stigma. We were ahead of the curve there. PAIGE now makes jeans for men that won’t lose their shape, but still have that essential comfort. We’re known for it and trusted for it. Our vision paid off.

–Andrew Matson