Chic? Tres!

Times Staff Writer

JEROME DAHAN, the Paris-born creative force behind the hip denim 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. The residence is pure Left Bank elan woven with kicked-back Californian 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 along with 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 an oxidized Cor-Ten steel gate, the lot occupies less than a quarter-acre. The two-story house has just three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths. A free-standing cabana in the backyard has been transformed into a tiny poolside guest room. The old garage is now a laundry room.


“When I saw this house, I fell in love with everything -- the proportions, the doors, windows, molding and finishes,” he says. “I was captivated by the sophisticated details. For me it doesn’t matter how big it is or whether it is new or old. It has to have character.”

THOUGH it is modest in scale, the house exudes a quiet and timeless grandeur all the same. 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 Australian tree ferns and philodendron, all leading to an old Moroccan door framed by pink and peach bougainvillea.

Beyond that lies an inner paved courtyard with all-weather woven furnishings grouped around a concrete water wall.

It is in this lush garden that the house begins to beguile, transporting visitors into a setting that seems more European than California Spanish. Though the roof is red-tiled, the house is not painted in any sunny shade usually applied to stucco.

Instead, the exterior is a cool, mossy gray trimmed in glossy black. A window-lined galley kitchen defines the south wall, evoking a country home near the French-Italian border. Through the beveled glass panes of French windows lies a stone-paved patio, the look echoed in a kitchen floor that previous owners imported from an Italian monastery. Skylights illuminate marble countertops, white-paneled cabinetry and an island surrounded by iron campaign stools.

Right off the kitchen, a massive banquette covered in glove-quality brown leather wraps three sides of an X-based table that can easily accommodate eight. Here, under a Moroccan lantern hung from sandblasted oak beams, Dahan and Tillem often can be found drinking espressos, fielding phone calls or simply enjoying the garden view.


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

Adds Gary Freedman, Dahan’s friend and attorney: “The space is so inviting that people don’t use the front door that often. You just walk through the kitchen doors and sit down.”

Yet with potted bamboo and foo dogs standing guard in front of sidelight windows set into fluted pilasters, the home’s formal entry is what really dazzles, beckoning with a neoclassical English accent. Across the threshold, a mirror-topped console once used as a display table in I. Magnin is crowned by an autumnal-colored printed canvas by French surrealist painter Jean Lurcat, often credited with reinventing the art of tapestry in the 20th century. It is one piece in Dahan’s striking midcentury collection that includes a surreal under-the-seascape from Tunisia and Aubusson woolen by Parisian furniture designer Mathieu Mategot.

“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.”

They give the house a French flavor, Hanoch adds, but the bold graphics, muted colors and intricate designs are also reminiscent of 1960s California modernism.

“In his clothing designs and his home,” Freedman says, “Jerome gravitates to things that have a vintage, a heritage to them -- things that speak about the time they were made in and are also pleasing to his eye.”

DAHAN was the son of a Moroccan Jewish hairdresser at a fashionable salon 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 the Old World interiors of Montreal, Dahan began decorating his apartments in a style he calls “Roco-Baroco.”

“It was the ‘70s,” he recalls, “so it was a mixture of hippie and antiques from the flea markets in Quebec.”

In the early 1980s, Dahan followed his father to Los Angeles. Although the famous hairstylist Jose Eber offered him work, Dahan set his sights on becoming a jeans manufacturer. He worked for Guess and Lucky Brand and attempted several short-lived collections of his own designs before launching 7 for All Mankind in 1999.

Before then, Dahan contends, “women’s jeans were boyish.” His solution -- a “tighter, sexier fit with a bit of stretch” and softly washed denim -- was an immediate success, but Dahan left the company less than three years later in a legal dispute.

“He was living in a one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood when I met him,” Tillem says. “With his kids sleeping over, they were like three little mice.”


Dahan didn’t care.

“I was doing what I have loved for 23 years,” he says. “I don’t think any of us really knew we’d be successful.”

He found the Santa Monica residence in 2003 while in the throes of setting up Citizens of Humanity.

“This was my very first house and I was a little overwhelmed,” Dahan, 48, says with a laugh. 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 midcentury, but keeping it classic,” Dahan says.

In Los Angeles, Tillem adds, “there’s a tendency to create an obvious temple to that era, which is like living in a museum. We wanted to create something timeless, like a high fashion coat from the ‘60s that you wear today and no one can tell if it’s contemporary or vintage.”

Tireless shoppers who rarely pass by a flea market without stopping, the couple had amassed a collection of 20th century furniture. Many of their favorite items came from estate sales on Stone Canyon Road in Bel-Air, including one at the home of Cedric Gibbons, the art director for “The Wizard of Oz” and former husband of film star Dolores del Rio.


“That was the mother lode of all estate sales,” Tillem says. Among the finds: Baker side tables, a marble-topped Chinese coffee table, and lacquer and silver and gold leaf ball column lamps with custom shades. These purchases set a tone.

“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, a frequent companion on shopping trips. “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.”

Although many of the vintage items have a designer pedigree and came from L.A. galleries including Fat Chance, Empiric and Modern One, other furnishings didn’t. In the master bedroom, two dressers with raffia-wrapped handles by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings sit next to a Deco tub chair of unknown origin, and the bed is covered in linens by Calvin Klein Home.

A reading nook off the bedroom has a tufted velvet settee bought in Palm Springs and a wall filled with books and gifts including mounted buffalo horns. On the top shelf, tucked in a corner, are a pair of Russian painted glass vases.

“Those are two Rose Bowl mistakes,” Tillem says with a sigh. “They looked so beautiful at the flea market that day.”

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, has 1950s rattan end tables from his father’s old apartment. The pieces sit by a bed done up in covers by Laguna Beach textile designer Kerry Cassill. Skyler, 18, is the custodian of Italian-style glass and wood side tables as well as coral pink lacquered table lamps.

Both hang out in the sunroom, originally 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 not in the living room but here, poolside, thanks to the small field kitchen and a built-in daybed for lounging.

“I love the living room and I don’t think we spend enough time there,” Dahan says. “If you are going to entertain people, it feels a bit formal.”

As is often the case, the living room is what best encapsulates the owner’s decor sensibilities. For Dahan, this means a tasteful yet timeless melange of fine wood furniture, metal accessories and, of course, richly textured and finely tailored fabrics.

A lean B&B; Italia sectional covered in boucle sits in front of a 1960s brass and walnut coffee table, across from a fireplace with an aluminum Art Deco screen and andirons. The Ralph Lauren table with a pharmacy lamp and Gucci clock stands next to one of two side chairs that Dahan had built and covered in a rich striped fabric reminiscent of Missoni.

In the other end of the room, Dahan often can be found in front of a flat-screen TV rocking out with the video game “Guitar Hero.” Moroccan leather poufs sit at the foot of roll-arm sofas upholstered in a custom-dyed twill that also was used for Citizens of Humanity trousers.


The material isn’t the only thing that has been given a second life. Throughout the room, ashtrays from Hermes and Cartier share table space with crystal match holders.

“I don’t smoke anymore,” Dahan says, “but I still collect them because they are so beautiful.”



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SHARED INSPIRATIONSOME of the design details in Jerome Dahan’s house may solve decorating dilemmas of your own. Among his solutions:

Bath mat makeover: After retiling the bathroom floors and walls in white marble, Dahan decided that plain white bath mats were too blah. So he simply laid colorful Hermes beach towels over the mats for nonslip instant color.

A mix of art: Though he has a special fondness for midcentury French tapestries, which he hangs in expensive brass frames, Dahan is equally attracted to paintings found at flea markets and estate sales. “One of my favorite pieces of art is a piece of hand-painted silk that I bought for $10,” he says.


Two-tone palette: In every room Dahan painted, he used two shades of the same color. “It brings life and depth to a room,” he says. “When there is a team of colors, it’s not as plain.”

Neutral floors: To match the dark hardwoods on the ground floor, Dahan and fiancee Lela Tillem selected low-pile espresso carpeting for upstairs. Both floor coverings emphasize the couple’s richly colored and patterned Afghan carpets and lighter-tone, solid-color area rugs.

-- David A. Keeps