factory girl: dani stahl gets her workwear fix at madewell

overall success

Photo by Eric Helgas

If you're anything like us, then you can't wait for each issue of NYLON to see what our resident Factory Girl, Style Director Dani Stahl, has been up to that month. For our August Issue, Dani visited the Madewell NYC headquarters to custom-distress her own pair of overalls.

Everyone knows I’m forever a jeans girl, and I’ve tackled the whole spectrum of denim trends from the skinny to the boyfriend. But to be honest, overalls have always been tricky for me. Sure, I’ve purchased a few pairs with high hopes, yet they usually just end up taking up space in my closet (lots of space—have you ever tried to fold a pair of overalls?!). By now, however, it’s safe to say that the denim world has fully embraced the overall. And I do get the appeal—the style is casual and carefree, with a subtly sexy vibe. When you think about it, what’s not to like? So while I may never have been much of an overalls girl, I really want to be one. That’s why when Madewell invited me to their New York City headquarters to custom-distress my own pair, I was up for trying something new. Maybe adding the Factory Girl touch would make me a true convert.

I arrive at the offices where all of the design magic happens; it’s where the creatives behind each season’s new styles dream up ideas and create sketches to figure out how to bring their visions to life. At Madewell, denim is at the core of it all, from great jeans to everything you wear with them. The brand has an effortless, tomboy sensibility—overalls are right at home.

I meet Madewell head of design, Somsack Sikhounmuong (before he was named head of women's design at sibling label J.Crew!), who fills me in on some amazing details about the brand’s much-talked-about denim. Like, for example, it takes over 30 days to create one perfect pair of Madewell jeans, and about 47 different people are involved in the process. The distressing is all done by hand, so every pair is unique, and each person can only work on two pairs per day because all of the finishing touches are applied the old-fashioned way.

Today, I’m taking on that task myself. I’m presented with a pristine pair of slim-fit overalls in a solid medium wash. The overalls of my mind's eye are authentic, like true workwear. So, the first order of business is to make some rips. The trick to having this look natural is to find the stress points where the denim would naturally tear with wear—and not to go overboard, because you want some stringiness. Next up is the sandpaper distressing, to make the fabric feel less fresh and stiff. I use both the basic sheets and a cool, electronic tool with a rounded, rough tip until the denim feels supple but still tough. Lastly, whenever I think of overalls, I imagine a DIY house-painting project (picture it: Paint roller in hand in a cool pair of overalls!). So, I want to apply some splatter. The key here is to dip your brush into the paint and hit it against your hand first a few times to remove the excess paint for perfectly sized droplets. But for good measure, I go ahead and dip my whole hand in the paint and leave a giant palm print on the butt (because when you’re working, things can get messy).

The resulting overalls are something that most definitely won’t sit in my closet. Thanks to the special distressing, they feel very me. In the end, it turns out this Factory Girl is an overalls girl, after all.