Denim Expert Benjamin Talley Smith on Making Best-Selling Khaite and Reformation Jeans, Plus the Styles to Shop This Summer

Who What Wear Podcast: Benjamin Talley
(Image credit: Todd Tyler)

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Benjamin Talley Smith, the founder of the renowned denim atelier Talley Creative, has been making waves in the fashion industry. Recently dubbed "the most influential jeans guy you've never heard of" by The New York Times, Smith has become a mastermind in the denim world. His atelier offers comprehensive services in design, production, and marketing, aiding brands in creating or enhancing their denim collections.

Over the years, Smith has built quite the repertoire, collaborating on denim collections with some of our favorite denim brands, such as Helmut Lang, Earnest Sewn, Ulla Johnson, Jordache, Re/Done, Everlane, Reformation, and Khaite. His expertise and innovative approach have earned him the unofficial title of a true denim whisperer. With one of his most anticipated projects—a line with Spanx—set to launch in 2025, Smith's influence continues to shape the evolving denim industry.

For the latest episode of The Who What Wear Podcast, Smith shares how he discovered his passion for denim, offers his insights on the best denim available today and the resurgence of low-rise jeans, and even opens up about the personal touch in his work, including naming Khaite's iconic Danielle jeans after his wife.

For excerpts from the conversation, scroll below.

I'd love to hear a little bit more about how you got into denim and how you ended up choosing to study fashion design.

I grew up in a teeny, little town called Putney, Vermont, in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road. It's amazing, and the foliage is amazing with all four seasons, which I love. From there, I moved to Boston and went to Massachusetts College of Art.

Actually, in between, I went to a school that's actually in the town of Putney, which is a self-sustaining high school where you have to milk the cows in order to have coffee in the morning or milk for your coffee. [It was a] pretty amazing "work with your hands" kind of school, which I think started me on my way to wanting to do something really creative and work with my hands.

From there, I went to Mass College of Art, where I had actually signed up to be in film. During the first semester, I basically was like, "Hey, this is all going turn into video, and I'm going be on my computer all the time, and I wanted to do something where I actually work with my hands." So I switched to fashion, where you have to build your own collection and have to sew it all together by yourself, including the pattern.

That really got me into it, and it was just something that I could … touch and feel. Even to this day, when I'm surrounded by jeans at all times, I'm always feeling them or making sure the fabric feels right or touching them.

Kendall Jenner.

Kendall Jenner wearing Khaite denim during Paris Fashion Week.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One pair of jeans, in particular, that sticks out to me is the TikTok-famous Khaite Danielle Jeans. For those who aren't familiar, it's high-waisted, straight-leg, pure cotton denim, and it's been very popular with celebrities like Kendall Jenner. Can you share some insight into what went into bringing the Danielle to life?

Most importantly, it's named after my wife—that's number one. Throughout the process, Khaite always designs different silhouettes. I've helped her from the beginning to build them, do wash development, and help create the process. But every season, to this day, we're creating new silhouettes that hopefully will guide the market. The Danielle was along that line.

It's amazingly high-waisted, which is cool. The unfortunate part about it is that it doesn't fit my wife Danielle perfectly because she's not that tall, and she complains about it all the time. But what's amazing about it is that it's a viral success.

You've also worked on brands like Ulla Johnson and Reformation. Across some of these very fashion-beloved brands, what are some jeans that you think are just as worthy of a spot in closets as the Danielle Jeans?

There are tons. For me, Ulla's always been great. We have a jean called the Olympia that's a really cool workwear-inspired jean. It's awesome.

What is great about Reformation is we have put out so many products that there are so many great silhouettes. The Val is another viral success, which is a little bit more relaxed. We also have done the Cynthia for years, which is another straight-leg style. The Cary is another best seller for Reformation. Those are the highlights.

Khaite also has the Abigail Jean, which if you're a little bit shorter, is nice. There are a ton of new, exciting things coming from all of them—I will guarantee you that.

What would you suggest for everyday staple jeans that you could wear all year long and will never go out of style? For instance, if you're going to buy one pair of jeans, which pair of jeans should that be?

It changes so much, but really, it's just a classic straight leg. It's the Danielle, or it's the Cynthia from Reformation. The jean should be timeless. Also, to me, durability is super important. I recommend buying something that is a heavier denim with potentially no stretch, something that's going to last for a long time, and you will get your price per wear out of this jean.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Next, check out our interview with our editors, who share how Lilly Pulitzer created her iconic shift dress.

Freelance Editor