behind the brand
We spoke with Marianne Gallagher McDonald, creative director at Citizens of Humanity, to ask her about the story behind the Los Angeles-based denim brand. She opens up about the challenges she had to face this year, on both a business and personal level, while also identifying the silver linings of the 2020 pandemic.
First of all, how are you doing?
Thank you for asking, I am doing great. As we speak the day is coming to an end and I am looking forward to hopping in the pool this evening for a quick swim with the kids. Lately, we have been taking advantage of the beautiful Southern California weather and have made listening to music during pool time (and evening cocktails) part of our summer rotation.
Marianne Gallagher McDonald, creative director at Citizens of Humanity
Where does the name ‘Citizens of Humanity’ come from?
'Citizens of Humanity' is the name given to the company by its founder Jerome Dahan, who was inspired by the film Armeggedon, one of his favourite films. Jerome also believed in the idea of being a good citizen, and it is an ethos that is upheld by the brand today not only in name, but in our way of doing business as well. I have found that everyone at the company has a deep belief that social awareness and luxury denim can exist together - a philosophy that is supported on all levels by our CEO, Amy Williams.
"Citizens of Humanity founder Jerome Dahan believed in the idea of being a good citizen; an ethos that is upheld by the brand today not only in name, but in our way of doing business as well."
How would you describe the aesthetic identity of Citizens of Humanity?
Citizens of Humanity’s aesthetic identity is informed by the idea of authenticity and a sense of ease. Despite this sense of ease, there is a lot of precision and consideration that goes into designing our product - sometimes it is the contrast of something that adheres rigorously to vintage, that is then paired with an element that references the 80’s or 90’s to twist it and make it more desirable. This approach helps us create pieces that feel at once new, but will actually stand the test of time.
What does a week at the Citizens of Humanity headquarters (usually) look like and how has that changed because of Covid-19?
My travel schedule right before the Covid shutdown was non-stop. It was incredibly fun in that it allowed me to meet with buyers and work with our team around the world and in our offices. That being said, one of the silver linings of this pandemic is that we have been able to radically rethink how we live and work, which will hopefully result in something even better. For us, our design calendar has shifted slightly to be more intuitive with the actual seasons, we have also simplified many of our processes, and because we work remotely much of the time, our team has actually forged closer relationships with one another. While I look forward to a post-Covid world, I do think that many of the evolutions from Covid-19 will help to shape a more productive and collaborative environment.
"Our aesthetic identity is informed by the idea of authenticity and a sense of ease."
How is the current worldwide situation influencing your daily routine?
Now that we have all gotten used to working remotely, I am in the office about two and a half days a week. This has allowed for larger periods of creative and research time, which has been something we had all been searching for pre-pandemic.
"The current global situation has underscored the imperative to educate this new generation about the importance of social issues and our responsibility to create a more just and peaceful society."
On a more personal note, as a mother of four young children, the current global situation has underscored the imperative to educate this new generation about the importance of social issues and our responsibility to create a more just and peaceful society.
How do you stay inspired to come up with new designs? Where do you get your inspiration from?
New design really begins with an innate desire to create and imagine – it could be a swatch of fabric, an event, or a feeling that I want to bring to life, and then from there, it is about sculpting out what is unnecessary. Lately I have been really inspired by the Belgian architect Axel Vervoordt and his approach to design, in which he takes a wabi sabi or reductive point of view with the goal of being able to create things that make people happy.
What style advice would you give to people who are working from home these days?
Style these days can be even more inspiring. Unlike past times where everyday one meets with people and interacts with the public, now it feels more special when you see people and have an excuse to change out of leggings and a sweatshirt. These intermittent occasions spark a bit of joy and are a great excuse to try to put together new looks, playing with proportion and colour in a way that feels fresh. It will be fun to see it evolve over time, but there does seem to be a new appreciation for colour and effortlessness that serves as a contrast to some of the more structured looks we were seeing pre-Covid.
"Unlike past times where everyday one meets with people and interacts with the public, now it feels more special when you see people and have an excuse to change out of leggings and a sweatshirt. These intermittent occasions spark a bit of joy and are a great excuse to try to put together new looks."
How does the production process of a pair of Citizens of Humanity jeans look like?
I would liken the production of a pair of jeans at Citizens of Humanity to be similar to a musical production, where everyone’s part, no matter how small, contributes to the magic of what will come. Jeans are unlike any other clothing piece because of the design process, the engineering of the pattern pieces and the wash chemistry combine with artistry of hand sanding and needlework to create a unique piece of clothing that you will have for years. Because we are a vertical operation, we are able to have a really hands on relationship with our laundries and through the process we are able to bring products to life in a way that is really rare to find in the design industry.
How can you keep your Citizens of Humanity jeans in the best possible condition?
Citizens of Humanity jeans are made of exceptional quality denim and to keep them looking great just wash inside out with like colours, tumble dry low and avoid fabric softener. For your denim aficionados who may want to develop a patina on their jeans: wash them as little as possible and always air dry.
Sustainability is important for Citizens of Humanity. What do you contribute to being sustainable?
I instinctively gravitate towards using organic cotton and recycled materials whenever possible. Also, of the most important things we can do as designers is continue to educate ourselves about sustainable practices so that we can take an active roll in implementing them in the development process. There are constantly new products coming out that help to mitigate or minimize the environmental impact and it often takes a season or two of experimenting to understand how to achieve optimal results. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to have patience with the initial trials so that once techniques are perfected, it can eventually replace more resource taxing ways.
"I would liken the production of a pair of jeans at Citizens of Humanity to be similar to a musical production, where everyone’s part, no matter how small, contributes to the magic of what will come."
Citizens of Humanity is one of the very few vertically integrated denim production operations. Are there difficulties you had to face to get there?
Our CEO Amy has deep commitment to supporting creative leadership and as a designer, being vertically integrated means we have an immense amount of freedom to create and experiment and it allows us to really push the envelope in terms of wash, silhouette and design. More than anything, it reminds me of working in an art studio where you can be really hands on to collaborate with your pattern makers, sewers and wash craftsmen.
What would you name as the greatest accomplishment of Citizens of Humanity?
Citizens of Humanity is a brand that began in the premium denim boom of the early 2000’s and it has stood the test of time by being a company that has embraced culture and creativity. Humanity Magazine illustrates this ethos and is the brand’s publication that delves beyond sartorial choices to bring to light new ideas and the people around the globe that are dedicated to craft, art, and social causes which, in the end, increases our connection to one another.
At Citizens of Humanity we believe that part of sustainability, is working towards a safer and more just environment. To help support this belief, we have been using our deadstock fabric to make masks and for the month of June we donated the proceeds to Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, Rebuild Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Children’s Defense Fund, Real Justice and the ACLU. Also, we have launched the HUMANITY Tee, because as a company we believe #weareallhumanity. This is a reminder of what binds us together and how we must see one another – as united individuals deserving of equal justice. This is why Citizens of Humanity donated $15 of our e-commerce sales for each of the HUMANITY Tee sold from our e-commerce site during the month of July to Black Lives Matter and the ACLU, organizations that are working tirelessly to ensure a better future.