By  on September 6, 2007

Back-to-school has once again been a boon for denim — but it's come at a price.

Eric Beder, retail analyst with Brean Murray Carret & Co., found retailers were quick to slash prices after experiencing a difficult July. In his "Walking the Mall" report released Aug. 20, Beder found discounting to be particularly heavy in the teen specialty retail segment.

"With the weak July making August even more critical, discounting levels in the teen space have materially increased, even at major players such as American Eagle (now running its traditional denim sales event)," said Beder in the report. "[F]or the sale-driven entities, 25 percent off denim bottoms is the minimum standard."

One notable exception has been Guess, which on Tuesday reported an 81.5 percent increase in net profits for the second quarter.

"Guess remains one of the key denim players able to drive full-price selling, offering a number of unique back-pocket logos and finishes, including leather and embroidery," said Beder. "The company has continued to drive newness every month through different washes, patches and stitching. Guess denim is also reflecting the key shift to a more Seventies-driven cut, offering a wider flair and a higher waist in some premium styles."

Wider-leg styles have been strong performers across retail channels.

Brian Tunick, retail analyst with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., cited denim as a sales driver for fall in his preview of August comparable-store sales.

"At PacSun, juniors continues to gain market share in the teen space, its new Bullhead denim, dresses and baby dolls driving the business as stores layer in more fashion," said Tunick in his Tuesday report.

Denim specialists said a miserable summer has been salvaged in the last two weeks of August.

"There was just a big surge at one time," said Lawrence Scott, owner of Pittsburgh Jeans Co. in Pittsburgh. "Everyone I've talked to has had a great back-to-school season, which made up for a slow summer."

Scott said his business is up a little under 30 percent over last year. Some of the increase is attributable to the opening of a men's store on the second floor, but Scott estimates that a large percentage of the gains were directly related to women's sales.One of the strongest performing brands has been Diesel.

"We've had a great reception and it's really doing strong," said Scott.

Brands such as Seven For All Mankind, True Religion and Citizen of Humanity also have been strong sellers.

In terms of styles, wide-leg cuts have ruled the market. "Skinny jeans are dead," declared Scott.

In a report released Wednesday, Beder noted that flare-leg styles were performing better than traditional denim styles for the Cache chain.

"Denim demand seems to be widely dependent on the cut and the style, with the wide and flare legs showing more demand than other cuts," said Beder in his report.

He added that Guess was finding similar success with its high-waist cuts.

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