"I want women to be able to look at someone and say, 'I want to look like that,' " said McCall, 36, the retailer-turned-denim-designer known as the Jeans Whisperer because of his ability to find flawlessly fitting pants for women. "And then I want her to try on my jeans and for her to see they can fit like that."
In other words, perfectly.
McCall, whose full name is Sebastian Charles Porter McCall, quietly rolled out his premium denim line in May. The jeans start at $165 and go to $198. And of the roughly 1,000 pairs of jeans he sells from his Old City store each month, 52 percent have been his signature pant.
That's serious business in a specialty boutique that offers of-the-moment lines J Brand, Joe's Jeans, and Paige Premium Denim.
To date, McCall has manufactured 8,000 pairs from a California-based premium-denim plant and is on target to make 8,000 more before the end of the year. And starting Wednesday morning, they will be available at his new second location, the 2,200-square-foot Charlie's Jeans at 1735 Chestnut St.
Thanks to the recession, clothing sales nationwide have been dismal. Locally, favorite fashion haunts such as Pants in Ardmore, Leehe Fai in Center City, and Tony on Third in Old City have closed.
Yet over the last two years, new stores like Rittenhouse Square's SA VA, run by local designer Sarah Van Aken, and Carmelita Greco's edgy Old City boutique Carmelita Couture, have popped up. In February, New York-based Brooklyn Industries opened a Philadelphia location on Walnut Street showcasing the designs of owner Lexy Funk.
Much like the Main Line's own Tory Burch, these businesses are flourishing because the owners are the designer, manufacturer, and merchandiser. Fashion is saving costs by cutting out the middleman.
In debuting his own line of jeans, McCall joins the trend. His store won't be completely filled with his label, and he still plans to sell competing denim lines like Sevens and Citizens, as well as dresses and shirts from contemporary favorites Theory and Free People.
Ultimately, he wants to sell Sebastian McCalls to specialty stores, such as Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, or even Nordstrom. McCall also plans to debut a lower-priced line called Charlie's Jeans that will range from $98 to $129.
The timing may be tough, though. According to NPD Market Research, overall denim sales in the first six months of this year increased 7 percent to $8.629 billion, from $8.09 billion during the same period in 2009. However, sales of jeans priced over $50 dropped 2 percent, from $1.455 billion to $1.424 billion. Premium jeans, defined as those costing $100 or more, are included in that group.
But as we rev up for fall shopping, there is a chance that Sebastian McCalls may buck the trend. Why? Because the fit is phenomenal.
I tried on one pair in a darker-washed boot-cut style, size 30. I grabbed the jeans by the waist and squatted - just like McCall showed me. The bottoms eased over my bum so the pockets with McCall's signature ML were placed perfectly.
The waist was higher in the back and fit flush against my body. There was also no pulling at the hips; that means a lot to a girl who often has to go up a size because her hip-to-waist proportions aren't in line with mainstream fits.
McCall spent two years working on jeans that would hug curvy girls and skinny girls alike. He shopped dozens of denim mills, eventually settling on cotton spun at a North Carolina shop with just enough stretch and a new denim technology that ensures the jeans won't bag out after several wears.
Sebastian McCalls are available in eight styles, including skinny, straight, boot-cut, and cargoes that come in high-rise versions. There is a trouser cut, too. Surprisingly, McCall didn't make a boyfriend or a jegging. Too gimmicky, he said.
"With the economy the way it was, designers were coming out with things that were new, but that is not my concern. I'm about fit," McCall says. "And why would I want my customer to spend that kind of money on styles that don't capitalize on fit?"
The best news is that the jeans are sold in a waist size 23 (a size 2) to 36 (size 18), which means premium jeans for plus-size girls. (The standard length is long, but McCall has arranged with a nearby tailor for customers to get them hemmed at a discount.)
"I went through about 100 sketches and I secretly brought in several different fit models when I was working on the brand," he said. Designers typically use one model's dimensions to create patterns. Most work with a size 6 or 8 and grade up. McCall said he used several body types to make his jeans.
Why did he do it? After fitting women for more than a dozen years, including his wife and his sisters, McCall decided he could do a better job.
"Everybody has a perfect jean body," McCall said. "So everybody should be able to buy a pair of jeans that fits them well. It's really up to us to make it work for them. I wanted to make it easier for them."
Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter on ewellingtonphl.