Judi Rosen New York’s 30 Years of Beloved Denim and Slow Fashion

With a new rock-inspired collection, this cult-followed brand celebrates curves

“My goal always is to make sure your ass looks fantastic,” says Judi Rosen, founder and designer at sustainable denim brand Judi Rosen New York and owner of now-shuttered Manhattan cult-favorite apparel shop, The Good The Bad and The Ugly. Many of her loyal and high-profile clients will tell you Rosen is something of a denim butt-whisperer, having pioneered jeans that flatter all types of bodies. Marking the 30th year since she started the brand, Rosen recently released the Joan Set, which celebrates the behind in even bolder, more dramatic ways.

Portrait of Judi Rosen courtesy of the designer

It all started at the age of five, when Rosen learned to sew, and eventually design and make her own clothing at an early age. The impetus was spurred on by the clothing market, whose size options often didn’t fit or suit her. “I was always super-curvy. I always had thick thighs and a big butt and a small waist; I really couldn’t find clothing that fit me,” Rosen tells us. “I could never wear jeans, but I always wanted to. So when I got older, all I really wanted was a nice, tight pair of jeans.”

In college, Rosen decided to make them herself and created her first pair of pants: a ’60s-inspired garment that had a zipper separating the two pant legs. “I sort of went from there and just kept making them, and then I made them in denim and I liked the utility of it. I loved the idea that this thing would last a long time.” Afterward, Rosen kept making jeans that accommodated curves and perfecting the art of denim, durability and fit. Eventually (and kind of by accident) she arrived at a design of jeans that sparked her brand’s prominent reputation. “In accommodating for curves, even if you didn’t have curves, the jeans still sort of accentuated the right places and it turned out that I was able to design a jean specifically to make your butt look great.”

Courtesy of Ayla Stern + Judi Rosen New York

To do so, Rosen only uses premium, organic high-quality denim, sourced from a mill that makes select development yardage and sells leftovers from large companies. “I use either Japanese, US or Italian denim,” she explains. “And it’s either 100% cotton or a 1% or 2% stretch. 100% is definitely more challenging but, ironically, my fits that are for the most curvy bodies are all 100% cotton, not stretched.” The denim is sewed into jeans in Los Angeles or New York, where Rosen keeps a close eye on production. This plastic-free practice not only ensures premium denim quality, it also champions slow fashion—something that’s been paramount for Rosen since she opened her first shop.

Her dedication to pure, ethically sourced and sustainable denim imbues the jeans with real longevity so that many of Rosen’s customers have been able to pass down their over-20-year-old jeans to their kids.

Courtesy of Caroline Tompkins + Judi Rosen New York

Rather than relying on less-durable and lower-quality stretchy materials to enable the jeans to accentuate curves, Rosen structures her jeans within the pattern-making process itself. “I try to use denim with less stretch and really concentrate on the actual shape of the garment and how it’s going to fit on the body than relying on lazy pattern-making,” she continues. Fine-tuning the smaller details—like adding more rigidity here, less structure there and adjusting the shape of the back pockets—further endows the jeans with their flattering nature.

Courtesy of Caroline Tompkins + Judi Rosen New York

For many, slipping into a pair of structured, solid denim that fits like a glove goes beyond the simple excitement of finding the right pair; sometimes, it can be an emotional experience. “I remember finally going out and wanting to try on other jeans from another company and they were so ill fitting. I was like, ‘Oh, this is what people go through when they are trying on clothing’—and I get it. I get why a lot of women come in to my store and they’re mentally preparing themselves. I have to explain to people this is safe space; I’m going to take care of you. It’s really a hand-holding experience, and I get it—if your body isn’t straight as a pin, it’s going to be harder to find something that fits you.”

Courtesy of Caroline Tompkins + Judi Rosen New York

While constantly trying on garments that are unsuitable can leave people feeling dejected or insecure, trying on clothes that accommodate inclusive body shapes can feel empowering. As someone who’s experienced this firsthand, Rosen understands: “The other part of it is just having this great confidence when you put this article of clothing on. It’s automatically going to make you feel great. It’ll take you through your day in a different kind of way.”

Courtesy of Ayla Stern + Judi Rosen New York

It’s that sense of bold confidence that Rosen evoked for the Joan Set, a glam-rock jean and jacket collection named in honor of Rosen’s friend and touring musician Joan Wasser aka Joan as Police Woman. Comprised of three different matching sets (sold separately), the line is full of drama, patchwork, flared silhouettes and Ziggy Stardust-inspired style, all of which lend the garments character. “It was an evolution of a version I did where there was just one zipper,” Rosen explains. “I wanted to throw some exposed zippers on it, make it a little flashier. Right now especially, I want to feel more dressed up every day because we’ve been stuck inside for so long. After all this, I want to feel like I’m peacocking a little bit more.”

Courtesy of Ayla Stern + Judi Rosen New York

As a musician that spans a dazzling number of genres (from alt-rock to punk-informed soul) Wasser is an apt inspiration for the collection. Rosen says, “She hasn’t been able to tour for two years, and she’s my neighbor and in turn, she’s one of my fit models. She was able to convince me to give her samples to take on tour and then she just started wearing them every single show. She just feels comfortable and confident in them and like she’s showing off. This is everything I wanted the jean to be.”

Courtesy of Ayla Stern + Judi Rosen New York

Empowered and self-assured is precisely what Rosen aims for when designing any of the clothes in her line. This ethos has remained true from day one—when Rosen opened up her first little boutique in the city—to the present day, when success hasn’t changed the intimacy and slow fashion practices of Judi Rosen New York. Located in a small store in SoHo, Rosen’s brand keeps the culture of small business alive while crafting flattering jeans and boasting an undeniably New York gasconade.

Hero image by Ayla Stern, courtesy of Judi Rosen New York