By  on January 15, 2008

NEW YORK — Blanc de Chine is kicking things up with bleu de chine, a new collection for men and women inspired by the Chinese martial arts.

The line's casual, active positioning is a departure for Blanc de Chine, which is known for refined Chinese-inspired clothing displayed in Zen-like surroundings.

"Bleu de chine introduces energy and durability," said Cherylann Robinson, U.S. retail manager. "The clothes are younger and easier to take care of."

They're also less expensive, with prices from $200 to $1,000 compared with $400 to $7,000 for Blanc de Chine.

"We expect bleu de chine to be responsible for about 30 percent of the overall sales of the Fifth Avenue store," Robinson said, adding that Blanc de Chine does about $1,200 a square foot in the location.

Because bleu de chine — launching for spring — is rooted in the Chinese martial arts, comfort and freedom of movement is a priority. Garments are made from techo fabrics, wool, cotton and linen.

Blanc de Chine emphasizes luxury fabrics. Whether it's Loro Piana cashmere, paper thin sequins by Jakob Schlaepfer or sueded silk, which gets its leatherized texture from multiple fruit juice washes, the retailer stresses quality and form over decoration.

Blanc's Dao collection features styles made from one piece of leatherized silk fabric. There's a pleated tunic ($480) based on a Chinese scholar's robe and a top ($560) that looks deceptively simple lying flat on a table — a square piece of fabric with an oblong hole cut out in the center — but on the wearer, the fabric falls in such a way that it creates a collar.

Bleu de chine's designs include a clever wrapping motif that runs through the line with wraparound tops and wrapped sweaters. A skirt with a knot roll detail in the front looks as if a cardigan sweater was casually tied around the waist. One outfit consists of a crisscross short-sleeve T-shirt under a denim bolero and cotton capris.

The utilitarian side of bleu de chine is evident in the multiple ways a garment can be worn. Robinson demonstrated the point with a black cropped jacket ($600), which became a long jacket when worn upside down.Accessories such as polyester necklaces and scarves are high on the fun scale. Necklaces look like one-dimensional squares made up of small colorful circles. Lift up a circle and the necklace cascades down. Polyester cutout flowers that look like a woodcut print have been made into a scarf.

"We'll add more jewelry and accessories," Robinson said. "Customers were looking for more daywear."

The third floor of Blanc de Chine's flagship at 673 Fifth Avenue is being converted into retail space for the launch of bleu de chine. It will be another departure for the company, which is accustomed to clean white walls and natural elements such as pebbles on the floor of the main display window and bamboo screens used as backdrops for mannequins. Even the music is calm.

"On the third floor, there will be louder music and more energy," said Robinson, noting that walls will be blue and reproductions of tables from the Ming Dynasty will make up the furniture. About 30 bleu de chine styles were tested for fall in a small area on the main floor.

"We'll turn bleu de chine into a lifestyle collection," she said.

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