By  on July 24, 2008

The spring collection of Dutch premium denim label Blue Blood signals the brand’s return to its roots — and Steve te Pas ought to know.

He founded the Amsterdam-based label in 2003 and Blue Blood quickly established itself in the European market. The success attracted the attention of Italian casualwear company Jam Session Group, owner of the popular European brand Guru. In 2005, Jam Session purchased a 53 percent stake in Blue Blood for an undisclosed price. The deal included a provision that allowed Jam Session to increase its stake to 85 percent by 2008.

At the time, Blue Blood was generating annual sales of about 7 million euros, or $11.1 million at current exchange. Jam Session’s management wanted to double revenues within a year by expanding Blue Blood’s distribution in southern Europe, including Spain and Italy, and by opening as many as six Blue Blood-branded stores.

“We want to take what is now an underground label and make it something more visible, while at the same time keeping the integrity and identity of the brand,” Jason Denham, then creative director of Blue Blood, told WWD.

But the relationship between Jam Sessions and Blue Blood soured. Te Pas felt the brand was being taken in the wrong direction and in 2007, after a year and a half of effort, he bought back control of the company.

“At the end of 2007, I got the brand back and cleared my mind,” te Pas said. “I looked at everything analytically and made some drastic changes.”

A major overhaul took place, which included changing the entire design team. And te Pas put himself back in the role of creative director. Mark Wiesmayr, the ex-chief executive officer of Ksubi, former denim director at Sass & Bide and senior designer at Levi Strauss & Co., was hired as the brand’s denim designer in February. To enhance the line’s fashion offerings and its Avelon designer label, te Pas brought in former Viktor & Rolf head designer Erik Frenken.

“The brand turned out to be too English,” te Pas said. “Jeans, for example, had more pockets and zips. There were a lot of reasons not to buy the product. It was just too flat English bloke-ie looking and that’s not what I stand for.”

Instead of “streetwear English,” te Pas wanted Blue Blood to represent “royal and aristocrat.” He believes he has repositioned Blue Blood to target a market niche he calls “new luxury” that includes brands like G-Star and Diesel on one end and luxury labels such as Louis Vuitton on the other.

The new design team has been expanding Blue Blood’s offerings beyond its traditional jeans and T-shirts. The spring collection will see the introduction of more tailored pieces, knitwear, accessories, wallets and bags. Women’s denim offerings have been pared down and cleaned up with a focus on four- and five-pocket styles. The line offers skinny, boot-cut, flare and boyfriend-cut styles, all named after actresses and made from Japanese and Italian fabrics. Retail prices range from 120 euros to 450 euros, or $189 to $711.

Expanding distribution and opening company-owned signature stores is another priority for spring. At its height, Blue Blood was sold in 800 doors, which te Pas has cut to around 600. He believes that with a retooled collection he’ll be able to expand to 1,000.

Amsterdam is already home to two Blue Blood-branded stores and will soon be joined by a store entirely devoted to premium denim. Love for Denim is set to open during Amsterdam International Fashion Week on Saturday and will feature the brand’s premium denim along with limited edition series of selvedge jeans from other labels.

Te Pas said the focus initially will be on opening stores in Europe, followed by locations in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. He’s had meetings about opening stores in Spain and also is considering a move into Russia.

“Especially in difficult times, you have to show what you can do,” he said. “In Europe, if you’re doing 50 percent less than last year, you’re doing pretty well. But we’re doing 30 percent more than last year, so that’s a good sign. We’re a new brand, so the only way for us is up.”�

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