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Daniella Clarke of Frankie B. on the Iconic Brand's Evolution

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Photos by Elizabeth Daniels

Frankie B. denim designer Daniella Clarke has a story that you typically only see on Hollywood big screens. Born in Israel, she spent most of her teen years in South Africa with her mother and siblings. It was a summer vacation visiting her dad in LA and chance trip to Hollywood Blvd that literally changed everything. "My dad took us to see the footsteps of the stars and I saw a group of people standing around watching a band film video for MTV," she told us. "I saw this really cute guy, standing on a car with a guitar, and I had tunnel vision. That's pretty much how I met my husband." Instead of returning to South Africa with her brother and sister, Clarke ran away with her man and six years later they were married.

The couple hit the road with his band—Guns N' Roses, you might've heard of them—and while they were on tour, Clarke began making her own super low-rise jeans. One day while shopping, actress Lara Flynn Boyle, obsessed with what the designer was wearing, asked if she could buy a pair. With that, Clarke decided that it was time to start her own line and took her jeans to Fred Segal, who sold out of their order the first weekend. The next big turning point for the brand was when Jennifer Lopez wore a Frankie B. jumpsuit for the cover of her album, which landed the label's name all over billboards in Times Square.

Over time, Frankie B. has evolved and expanded tremendously. Clarke has incorporated additional fabrics such as sateen, tencel and velveteen while adding pieces such as shorts, overalls and tops to their core line of jeans. And while they are best known for their iconic, low-rise bootcut jean, the Frankie B. best seller is now their Perfect Fit Skinny. We caught up with the ultra-cool denim designer at her Downtown LA showroom, where we got a little more scoop on the brand and how life has changed since its inception nearly 15 years ago.

How did you get into denim design?
"Gilby and I were on tour for the better part of four years with Guns N' Roses. I've always been into fashion but with Frankie B. it came from a consumer's point-of-view, I couldn't find what I wanted in the marketplace. I had seen some footage from Woodstock and all the hippies and Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin in that famous picture standing outside his plane wearing the tightest pants ever, they're really low and leave nothing to imagination. I saw that picture and thought 'That's so hot, I want to wear my pants that low and that tight.' But, at that point, there wasn't anything like that in the marketplace."

Where did you get the name Frankie B.?
"The name is actually our daughter's name and the 'B' stands for Barry, which is my dad's name. My dad passed away right before Frankie was born so I gave her his first initial thinking that people would ask what it stood for. That way, it would keep my dad's memory alive and we'd get to talk about him. That's the 'B' in Frankie B."

Now that you have so many people working under you, what is your daily role with the company?
"It hasn't changed. I come in every single day and nothing leaves the office without me touching it. Obviously I have more people helping me so I'm not driving around delivering boxes anymore. That part has changed! I'm still very hands-on, I pick out the fabrics, it's always my vision."

Where do you come up with ideas for new denim designs?
"Inspiration is in everything for me, I never know when it's coming. I have my moments where I can be driving home from work listening to the radio and I hear a song and think 'Oh my gosh, that point in time in the '70s was so rad. How cool would it be to do a collection based around that?' Or maybe a singer themselves. Kate Moss is a big muse for me. I am also inspired by fabrics, sometimes I pick something up and think 'How great would this be with a zipper or a cutaway here?'"

Music seems to play a big part in all this.
"Music is my lifestyle and what I've been eating, sleeping breathing for my entire adult life."

How does your design process work?
"It really starts with fabric. My team will sit around with me and we will talk about fabrics and then I'll sit with a fabric for a while and it's literally like arts and crafts to put together inspiration boards. Then I'll go in and meet with the team and tell them what I'm thinking and hear their ideas. I think it's important to work with a younger team in order to stay current and that means letting them have a hand in the design process. One of my biggest fears being in a creative industry is being stale. We inspire each other."

Who is the Frankie B. customer?
"I wake up every morning and look in my closet and wonder what's missing. That's how I started Frankie B and I really go at it every single day thinking 'What's missing? What don't we have? What could be exciting in my closet?' The Frankie B. girl to me is anyone that's confident and wants a little fun in their closet because everybody's got that dark skinny. Everyone has the staple. Where I come in is 'What don't you have?'"

Life has really changed since you started the brand, how do you unwind now after a long day of work?
"I walk my dog. Gilby and I are empty nesters which is the weirdest thing but it's kind of cool because we've been together for ions, almost 30 years. We started so young and now that Frankie's off to college, we're back to how we started. It's nice. It's just the two of us and our dog, Chopper. When I get home from work I like to cook dinner and go for a walk with Gilby and Chop."

So, what's next?
"I'm working on fall and that is my favorite season because I like to wear coats and jackets and boots, so fall is darker. Going forward, the line is a little cleaner. We're known for doing embellishments, like studs and zippers, so it's a little cleaner but it's still edgy. I feel like it's a little more sophisticated so I'm really excited about Fall."

Do you still have that original pair of hip-huggers in your closet?
"I do! Over the years I've been really good about keeping an archive, much to the dismay of my husband."
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Fred Segal

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