06/13/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT
Anna Kournikova recently walked into Fred Segal in L.A. where a sales rep approached her to peddle the latest pair of It jeans. "You've gotta check out these new Paige Premium Denim," she said. The tennis star simply turned around and pointed to a Paige label on her backside: "Oh. I'm way ahead of you."
For those left behind, a quick primer: Meet Paige Adams-Geller, the denim industry's top-fit model. For nine years her posterior has determined the rise, inseam and shape of designer jean labels from Blue Cult to Seven for All Mankind. Now Adams-Geller, 36, is taking her bottom to the top with her own line of indigo. Since its February launch, Paige Denim has become a hot seller across the country—and drawn rave reviews from celebrities like Rachel Bilson
, Eva Longoria
and Amber Valletta. "They fit me like a glove," says Desperate Housewives
' Longoria. "They lift my body in all the right places."
That's just what Adams-Geller likes to hear. "I'm obsessed with making women feel good in their jeans," she says. "And in their bodies."
Maybe that's because she was once so uncomfortable in her own. Growing up the youngest of three kids in Wasilla, Alaska, "I was a chubby girl," she says. "Kids called me Pudgy Paigey."
But winning Alaska's Miss Charm title at 13 bolstered Paige's confidence. After success on the teen beauty-pageant circuit, she set her sights on becoming a model only to hear an agency scout tell her, "Your face is so beautiful, but you need to lose some weight."
She took that advice to the extreme. By exercising to Jane Fonda videos and limiting herself to 600 calories each day, the teen whittled her 5'8" frame from 135 to 96 lbs. "It became a sickness that I couldn't stop," she says. Her condition grew worse after she graduated from high school at 16 and signed on to the Elite modeling agency in New York City. "Everyone's controlling you—agents, manager and parents," says Adams-Geller, who quit the runway after a year. "I couldn't deal with what everyone else was telling me, but I could control how much I weighed."
She went on to study broadcast journalism at USC and got minor acting roles on soaps and Evening Shade
. But her eating disorder persisted. "I starved myself so much I didn't have enough energy to get out of bed," she says. "I couldn't eat with normal people. I couldn't really be normal."
Dissuaded by doctors from returning to body-conscious Hollywood, she was introduced to fit-modeling in 1996 by a friend in the business. Suddenly, weight loss became an occupational hazard. It was actually better for her career to remain a little more curvy. "You can't fit on someone pencil thin because you can't see the way jeans hug the butt and legs," she says.
But she remained obsessed with her weight. In 1999 she finally sought help from a psychiatrist, who sent her to an in-patient treatment center in Tucson. "I opened up and I got to deal with my insecurities," says Adams-Geller, who now weighs 122 lbs. and attends support-group meetings up to three times a week. Still, she says, "everyday I have to face the struggle of eating."
As Adams-Geller was getting better, she was also learning about denim. She began voicing her opinions about such matters as pocket placement or fabric shading. "I really became involved in the design end of fitting," she says. Top industry brass took note. Says former Seven jeans executive Trent MacLean: "You can have a model put on a garment and say, 'Yes, it looks good.' The difference with Paige is her ability to give feedback to the pattern maker."
Creating her own jeans label was a natural step for Adams-Geller, who launched her L.A.-based business with Michael, 52, her husband of five years. Now the only jeans she models for are her own, available at high-end retailers like Henri Bendel for up to $200 a pair. The job comes with certain fringe benefits. "I'm spoiled," she says. "I probably have as many jeans as Imelda Marcos had shoes."
Michelle Tan; Tom Cunneff; Alison Singh Gee in Los Angeles