Michelle Siwy Thinks Your Jeans Tell a Story

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Photo: Melissa Hom

If Michelle Siwy, founder and designer of Siwy Denim, had a mantra it would probably be "Make It Happen." Her childhood was dominated by the aftermath of getting hit by a drunk driver, but Siwy was determined to still run, jump, and learn to ride a bike — things she was told she'd never do. And though her mom envisioned her as a doctor, Siwy still plowed ahead into the fashion world in New York. After toting around a six-piece collection at Vegas trade shows in 2004, her jeans were picked up by big-time stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's. They've since been worn by global trendsetters like Kate Moss, the sight of which gave Siwy "a small out-of-body experience." Siwy spent an afternoon with us to talk trends, the future of denim, and how she got her mom into her pants.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?
I knew when I was really young. I spent a lot of time in hospitals when I was a kid because of a bad car accident, and my parents would bring me all kinds of magazines. So I was like 8 years old, reading French Vogue and sketching what I saw. But my mom, who worked in a sewing factory, didn't approve. To her, it was like setting out to do what she did, so I first went to school for nursing.

How did you make it to New York?
Well, while I was at University of Rhode Island, I was secretly taking classes at RISD to build up a portfolio. Then one semester, instead of signing up for more classes at URI, I applied to transfer to F.I.T., got in, told my mom that I was in at F.I.T., hadn't signed up for more classes at URI, and was just like "Whatcha gonna do now?" So she drove me to New York soon after.

What made you decide to focus on denim?
For me, denim really is very personal. When I was younger and buying all kinds of jeans from vintage stores, my favorite part was imagining the people who wore them. Like, you'd know the shape of their wallet from the impression on the back pocket, or you could imagine a bike accident from a rip in the leg. I love that I design the beginning of other people's stories.

What do you think will be the next big denim trend?
I think it’ll be the mixing of more fabrications. There are some denims coming out soon that are so lightweight they hardly feel like denim, which also makes it a lot easier to mix them with other things, like embellishments or lace.

Who are your favorite designers?
Proenza Schouler, Altuzarra, Isabel Marant, Balmain, VPL.

What's the first designer item you ever bought?
When I first started to have a little money, I bought Balenciaga cargo pants and wore them all the time.

Which trends are you appreciating right now?
The skinny look — it's more flattering.

Which trends are you ready to see retired?
Jeggings, but the ones without pockets. They're scary.

What should every woman have in her closet?
A classic pair of heels that are very clean, with a nice shape and hidden platform.

Are there any big plans in the works for Siwy?
We've added children's and maternity for fall. Next year, we're adding tops and hopefully shoes. But I want to do it all slowly. I don't want it to seem cheesy.