Meet Music's New Favorite Denim Designer

Aaron Richter
Matt Dolan was photographed April 15 at home in Brooklyn, where he keeps his hand-built loom used to add texture to garments.

Springsteen had Levi's; Aaliyah had Hilfiger. Gaga and Rihanna? They're trying Matt Dolan's oversized jean jackets on for size.

Before they graduate, MFA students at the Parsons School of Design in New York are required to take a class on how to give a good interview. Sitting barefoot and cross-legged on a floral couch in his apartment, Matt Dolan is one of the few recent alumni actually putting those mock trials to use — though he admits, "I’m not the best at it." The reason behind the hype? The 28-year-old is among a handful of designers whose golden ticket came directly from Rihanna and Lady Gaga.

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In September 2014, Dolan presented a senior thesis collection comprised almost entirely of denim. "I’d never worked with [the material] up until then," he says. The Massachusetts-born, Australia-raised designer finds inspiration in the mundane aspects of American life — suburbia, Kmart, the ubiquity of jeans.

"I’m fascinated by the familiar," he says. "Taking something so common and making it tactile through weaving." His denim silhouettes soon caught the attention of Lady Gaga’s creative director, Brandon Maxwell, who called in samples last November. i-D magazine fashion director Alastair McKimm followed suit, styling Rihanna in one of Dolan’s jackets for a shoot in January. "She held on to it, and all of a sudden I was getting 50 emails a day," recalls Dolan.

As of May, Opening Ceremony, a boutique favored by artists like Santigold and Solange Knowles, placed an order to pick up the collection for later this year. The momentum has been rapid, and it has redirected Dolan’s path postgraduation.

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"Up until a few months ago, I’d just been excited about the possibility of working at a big [fashion] house." He pauses before adding: "Rihanna and Gaga changed all that."

This story first appeared in the May 23 issue of Billboard magazine.