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Chic? Tres!

Like his line of jeans, Jerome Dahan's house mixes French flair with California cool.

January 17, 2008|David A. Keeps | 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.

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