A Doyenne of Denim Stages Her Comeback in Brooklyn

Judi Rosen was ahead of the curve with her figure-flattering, high-waisted jeans. Now she's making a splash in Greenpoint

Rosen's straight-leg indigo jeans, among her most popular, go for $180 (Photo courtesy of Judi Rosen New York)

There’s rarely a woman or femme who doesn’t like the figure-hugging properties of rigid, high-waisted jeans. Sadly, the style went away for awhile, left on the shelf during the low-rise era. But now they’re back—and so is designer Judi Rosen, who rode to renown on the high-waisted styles she sold in 1999-2008 in her downtown Manhattan store, The Good The Bad & The Ugly

After a decade-long hiatus from brick-and-mortar retail, Rosen has opened a new store, Judi Rosen New York, at 10 Bedford Ave. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. New York promptly dubbed it one of the best shopping destinations for Spring 2018, with the eyebrow-raising headline, “Perky-Butt Jeans.” As the magazine explained, “Judi Rosen has a way with butts, keeping them pert in her famously curve-enhancing jeans.”

Among her most popular styles right now are the straight-leg indigo jeans ($180). Other styles include skinny jeans, zip-around sailor-leg pants, dresses and jumpers. All of this–and Rosen’s big personality–are jam-packed into a little storefront, along with home goods and other items.

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Her spring-summer 2018 collection includes the Bubble Jumper, priced at $280 (Photo courtesy of Judi Rosen New York)

Rosen is evidently thrilled to be back in her own retail space. “I swore I wasn’t ever gonna do it again, but I felt such a need and I was inspired to it because I wanted to be in contact with my audience again,” she told The Bridge.  “It’s always rewarding when people come in the shop and I get to interact with them and really see how the clothes fit. People are leaving so happy that it’s all worth it. I have women who come in every day who say, ‘Clothing does not fit me, so this probably won’t fit,’” she elaborated. “I love when people say that, because I know I built something that fits them.”

Rosen designs all the patterns herself and strives for “affordable” prices (she applies the quotation marks herself). “They last forever,” she said, alluding to the cost-per-wear. “Why would you spend $20 a month over and over again for two years? That’s an extraordinary amount of money.” The styles, which are all pre-shrunk, are made with denim from the U.S., Italy and Japan. “I want people to be able to afford it … if they save a little bit.”

Rosen’s foray into clothing started at a young age on Long Island. “I started making clothing for myself in high school,” she said. “I was very curvy, at a very young age, and found that it was very difficult for me to wear clothes that all the other girls were wearing and so, out of total necessity, I started making clothing for myself.”

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The designer at her new store on Bedford Avenue (Photo by Angelica Frey)

Interest in denim skyrocketed when she was in college, studying computer animation at Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design. “I found a pair of vintage 1960s jeans, these crazy bell bottoms. They were ripped all the way around and I wore them every day. I just love them and still own them to this day,” she said. “While I was in college, I was making clothing that was actually making money for me to live off of.”

A friend with a record shop gave her a rack in the store, allowing her to keep all the profits provided she would keep it well-stocked. She had a hard time doing so, since sales were brisk. Both faculty and students ended up wearing her designs. After moving to New York City, she opened The Good The Bad & The Ugly. She never went for an aesthetic that was specifically on trend at the time. “I was really into a particular kind of rock ’n’ roll that was popular in the late ’70s and ’80s, Glam Rock, so my style was emulating not only what I grew up with and was presented with, but that whole aesthetic. It really turned me on, and I wanted to emulate that as closely as possible,” she said.

In the following years, she defined her designs as “slutty daywear” and “Norma Kamali meets Victorian,” meaning cigarette pants, ruffled prairie skirts and saloon-girl jackets. Still, among all the garters, rockabilly dresses and avant-garde jewelry, it was her high-waisted jeans that made her a cult figure in the downtown fashion circles. In the era of “back pockets creating an illusion of a slimmer butt” and endless tricks targeted at minimizing the girth of the lower-body area, her jeans were designed to do something different: to hug and accentuate the posterior. “As time went on,” she reminisced, “the fit wound up being something that a lot of people were looking for, because it just didn’t exist.”

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Inside her cozy store, Rosen offers everything from jeans to frocks to housewares (Photo by Angelica Frey)

Her influence extended among VIPs. Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige and, most notably, Chloë Sevigny wore her styles. “I am a fan of the high waist,” Sevigny said in a 2007 youtube video with Gavin McInnes. “Like in The Good The Bad & The Ugly kind of way?” McInnes prodded her. They went on debating who was responsible for the trend, Balenciaga or Rosen herself.

After The Good The Bad & The Ugly closed in 2008, much to the chagrin of her loyal fan base, Rosen started working as a freelance designer and producer. But she would put out new designs or reissue customer favorites whenever she had any extra money to do so. She also had a stint as a fine artist, in 2013. She made what The Local East Village described as clown porn. “At some point, I convinced myself I was gonna become an artist,” she said. “I saved up money and I was offered a solo show at this gallery. It was a pretty good gallery, and I took it pretty seriously. I didn’t take into consideration how dedicated you have to be to going out, socializing, and being part of a particular art scene, so my art career was pretty short-lived.”

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For all her delight in being a shopkeeper again, Rosen observes that the Brooklyn of 2018 is not the creative bohemia that lower Manhattan used to be in the late 1990s. “We didn’t have to work like we do now in order to pay rent, and I think that our real estate is destroying the city. I think every borough is being decimated because of real estate,” she said. “I think that we had a much different lifestyle afforded to us. Now everything is very regimented and has to be taken very seriously. The freedom does not exist the way it did.”

This also extends to fashion, she says. “You have to be very careful. Experimenting only happens on a very high-end scale, and if you want to experiment, you have to charge an enormous amount of money for it.” Her designs are, by her own admission, safer. Her current pret-à-porter collection includes jumpers that manage to look both modest and sexy, as well as timeless tunic dresses that mix well-tailored, minimalist shapes with bold use of color.

She hasn’t lost her playful touch of old. She recently resurrected her Zip-Around jeans, which date back to her college days, when she got her 1960s bell bottoms. Back then, she had a dream of just making mix-and-match pant legs. “You had to pick out two legs to put together.” So she decided to issue pairs of—literally—legs in a sailor-pants cut made of cotton denim, with a zip running through the whole crotch seam. Current colors include lilac and poppy, and Rosen encourages customers to pair different colors—all you have to do is zip them together.

While fashion trends come and go, she notes, they don’t always work harmoniously with the female form. “The catch is that there’s always women with curvy bodies. We might as well celebrate them.”

Angelica Frey is a writer interested in all kinds of cultural expression, including occult practitioners, pop-surrealist painters, classical music, and food. Her work has appeared in special issues from Condé Nast, New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery, Classical Musicians Everywhere and Hyperallergic. She has a master’s degree in classics from Catholic University of Milan and a master’s in journalism from New York University. You can find her on Instagram at @angiehanami.