Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Jeans designer

snug in his Calif. home

Jerome Dahan and Lela Tillem's Moroccan entryway , framed by bamboo and foo dogs and bougainvillea, opens to a tapestry by French surrealist painter Jean Lurçat. The 1927 Mediterranean-style home is in Santa Monica.
Jerome Dahan and Lela Tillem's Moroccan entryway , framed by bamboo and foo dogs and bougainvillea, opens to a tapestry by French surrealist painter Jean Lurçat. The 1927 Mediterranean-style home is in Santa Monica. MARK BOSTER / Los Angeles Times
Jerome Dahan and Lela Tillem's Moroccan entryway , framed by bamboo and foo dogs and bougainvillea, opens to a tapestry by French surrealist painter Jean Lurçat. The 1927 Mediterranean-style home is in Santa Monica. Gallery: Jeans designer
Jerome Dahan, the Paris-born creative force behind the hip denim fashion lines 7 for All Mankind and Citizens of Humanity, approaches his home with the same eye for detail that infused his Hollywood blue jeans with City of Light street style.

His residence is pure Left Bank elan woven with kicked-back California charm, a 1927 Santa Monica Mediterranean that seems fashioned from 1960s French cinema.

"Like one of Jerome's favorites, Claude Chabrol's Les Biches," says Lela Tillem, Dahan's fiancee and Citizens' head of sales, who lives in the house, as do Dahan's two teenage sons. "Though his aesthetic is everything-just-so, we have a really casual lifestyle. So the house has to fit like a good pair of jeans."

Two years ago, Dahan sold a majority stake in Citizens for $250 million, but his home is hardly the compound some might expect. Hidden behind a steel gate, the lot is less than a quarter-acre. The two-story house has three bedrooms and 21/2 baths. A cabana in the backyard has been transformed into a guest room. The old garage is a laundry room.

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"When I saw this house, I fell in love with everything - the proportions, the doors, windows, molding and finishes," Dahan says. "For me, it doesn't matter how big it is or whether it is new or old. It has to have character."

Though modest in scale, the house exudes timeless grandeur. Landscape designer Jay Griffith created two entrances. The first opens from the sidewalk into a space that incorporates a driveway and stepping stones surrounded by tree ferns and philodendron, all leading to an old Moroccan door framed by bougainvillea. A courtyard features all-weather furnishings grouped around a concrete water wall.

The roof is red tile, and the exterior is painted mossy gray trimmed in glossy black.

A window-lined galley kitchen defines the south wall, with a kitchen floor that previous owners imported from an Italian monastery. Skylights illuminate marble countertops, white cabinetry and an island surrounded by iron stools.

Off the kitchen, a leather banquette wraps three sides of a table that accommodates eight. There, under a Moroccan lantern hung from oak beams, Dahan and Tillem drink espressos, field phone calls or enjoy the view.

"You feel you are in St. Tropez for the day and don't need to get on a plane," Dahan says.

With potted bamboo and foo dogs standing guard, the home's dazzling formal entry beckons with a neoclassical English accent. Across the threshold, a mirror-topped console is crowned by an autumnal-colored printed canvas by French surrealist painter Jean Lurçat, often credited with reinventing the art of tapestry in the 20th century.

"Most Americans are not into tapestries," says Noam Hanoch, who designs the women's collection for Citizens of Humanity. "There is a richness, warmth and coziness unique to them."

Dahan was born the son of a Moroccan hairdresser and his French-Italian wife, a coiffure model. "I remember the places we lived, the furniture we had, the clothes that she wore by Courreges, Pucci and Chanel," he says.

At 15, Dahan joined his divorced father in Montreal, where he had become a sportswear designer. Earning a living as a hairdresser, Dahan also contributed ideas, such as embroidering phonograph records on the back pockets of his dad's denims.

Inspired by the old French architecture and interiors of Montreal, Dahan began decorating his apartments in a style he calls "roco-baroco."

In the early 1980s, Dahan followed his father to Los Angeles, and set his sights on becoming a jeans manufacturer. He worked for Guess and Lucky Brand and attempted several short-lived collections before launching 7 for All Mankind in 1999. He left the company less than three years later in a legal dispute.

He found the Santa Monica house in 2003, while setting up Citizens of Humanity. "This was my very first house, and I was a little overwhelmed," Dahan, 48, says.

Fortunately, previous owners had made additions and upgrades that did not have to be redesigned. Although Dahan and Tillem, 34, met with decorators, "at the end of the day we thought we should do it ourselves," he says.

The guiding principle was simple. "My whole inspiration is what I remember of mid-century, but keeping it classic," Dahan says.

Tireless shoppers who rarely pass by a flea market without stopping, the couple amassed a collection of 20th-century furniture. Many of their favorite items come from estate sales.

"When we buy for the house, we end up buying a lot of custom designs by Hollywood decorators in the 1950s and '60s," says Hanoch. "The scale is substantial. You can see that these glamour pieces come from huge homes - and it's modern but much more luxurious than something by Eames."

Though their rooms are filled with musical instruments, video games and vinyl figurines by contemporary American artists and Japanese anime illustrators, Dahan's sons already have their share of family heirlooms.

Dylan, 15, uses 1950s rattan end tables from his father's old apartment. Skyler, 18, is the custodian of Italian-style glass and wood side tables and coral-pink lacquered table lamps.

Both boys hang out in the sunroom, built as a sleeping porch in the days before air conditioning. The room, which has an Indonesian daybed, overlooks the black-bottomed pool with Italianate scalloped-cement frame. Much of the family entertaining takes place there, thanks to the small field kitchen.

The living room best encapsulates the owner's decor sensibilities. For Dahan, this means a tasteful melange of fine wood furniture, metal accessories and richly textured and finely tailored fabrics.

Throughout the room, ashtrays from Hermes and Cartier share tabletops with crystal match holders.

"I don't smoke anymore," Dahan says, "but I still collect them because they are so beautiful."

David A. Keeps Los Angeles Times