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Joan Smalls Debuts Design Collaboration with True Religion

Joan Smalls tells us why designing is a natural next step for models, and the lessons she learned from Beyoncé.
Photo: Billy Farrell Agency for True Religion

Photo: Billy Farrell Agency for True Religion

If it seems to you that every modern-day supermodel has released her own line of denim in the past year or so, you're onto something. Karlie Kloss for Frame, Behati Prinsloo for Thvm, Candice Swanepoel for Mother and Anja Rubik for Blk Dnm come to mind first, and the list is even longer now that Joan Smalls, the Puerto Rican beauty who's walked the runway for everyone from Alexander Wang to Victoria's Secret, is getting into the game. 

Smalls just released her first-ever design collaboration with True Religion, a 16-piece capsule collection that features raglan sweatshirts (in both a cropped and boyfriend variety), super-skinny high-rise denim and sporty underthings. The urban, athleticwear-inspired range is based upon staples in the model's everyday rotation, priced between $58 and $238, and is available at True Religion and Nordstrom stores. But just because they're wardrobe basics doesn't mean they're unsexy. In fact, the campaign video and images shot by Steven Klein to go along with the collection are downright steamy (see below).

We had the opportunity to chat with Smalls just after the launch of her line — which will return for the fall 2015 season with a larger offering of styles — and in between her enthusiastic explanations of each piece, she shared some very casual anecdotes — like her "great minds" moment with pal Bruno Mars and what she learned about Beyoncé while starring in her music video.

Can you tell me a little about the fit and the feel of your collection?

It’s active and boyfriend-oriented — I’m always stealing his sweatshirts because, apparently, he has better ones than I do. I love the fit and just the thought of how comfortable I felt in them … that was an emotional thing as well. So, definitely, it came from that. And I like using crop tops, so I’m like, “How about if we merge a crop top with a sweatshirt? What would that look like?” That’s how those came to be.

I noticed the "Uptown Funk" lyric "don’t believe me just watch" on the sweatshirts — is that straight from the song, or is it something you say in your everyday life?

It’s different positive affirmations that I always believe in. Or, you know, about being the underdog or people always questioning whether you can make it. That was always speaking to me. I remember after we did this, I was listening to the radio, and I was like, “Bruno [Mars]! Damn you, Bruno!” [laughs]

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You're the most recent in a line of models doing denim collaborations. Why do you think this is the natural next step for models to dip a toe into design — denim specifically?

I feel like we’re always in that environment to begin with; we always have an insight into what things are going to come out and how things work. I think it’s just a natural evolution of a model expressing herself. And we wear jeans all day, every day. That’s something everyone has in her wardrobe, no matter what age, where you’re from, what size you are.

Let’s talk about the promotional video, which I was mesmerized by. I love your dance moves. Was that totally off the cuff? Did you just walk in and Steven Klein said, “Dance, Joan! Dance!”

I think it was always an idea to have movement and dance and to make it really fun. I just didn’t know what I was walking into. But I adore [Klein] and he’s like, “Joan, pick a song you like and just go for it. Let’s do it a couple times.” Plus, it was at the end of the shoot, after a long day, and it was the last shoot of the year. So we all had a blast. So we kept doing it over and over again. Just different moves and different ideas.

When I was watching the video, at first I thought it might be Beyoncé — but then I remembered you were in the “Yoncé” video with her. Did you channel her in the video shoot? And did she ever give you tips on set that you carry with you about how to channel your innermost diva?

Agent: She’s got plenty of diva already.

Joan: We could exchange. I think with Bey, the cool thing about it was that she was so comfortable and secure in herself to have other women and models in the video that she gave us the freedom of just being ourselves rather than saying, "Do this, do that." I think that was like the most amazing thing she could’ve ever done without having to say much, if that makes sense. So yeah, seeing her in concert, especially, it’s so incredible because she is so connected with her fans and she’s in that moment. You can feel her presence. So for sure, whenever I’m dancing or giving a little performance, you think of those things. You have to be in the moment and give it your all.

Lastly, some styling advice. Those high-waisted briefs — are those for wearing underneath clothing or on their own?

Whatever you feel comfortable in. I love it when people make it their own — it’s beautiful. I would probably wear them under a sheer dress because they're high-waisted and the cut looks really, really good. Or under an open skirt that’s like super, super slit all the way and you can see underneath. Or if I’m like walking around in the house, prancing around and I want to look cute — I would wear those.