By  on January 31, 2008

BARCELONA — Denim brands are hungry for a bigger slice of the apparel pie.

Major denim companies exhibiting at the Bread & Butter trade show that ended its three-day run here Jan. 21 were diversifying their offerings in order to gain market share and satisfy strong consumer demand for all things indigo.

"I don't think the denim market exists anymore," said Armin Broger, president of Levi Strauss Europe. Instead, Broger said today's successful denim brands are shifting their focus to become "global casual brands of the future."

"Premium lines are examples of how experience and creativity in denim are the new luxury," said Broger.

For fall, Levi's Blue and Levi's Vintage Clothing — the brand's premium lines that represent its fastest-growing category — dove into the firm's archives to resurrect authentic styles for denim and nondenim apparel. Skinny jeans, higher waistlines and jeans with pleated fronts and slightly tapered legs are expected to fill wardrobes next fall. Meanwhile, Seventies-inspired wide-leg and flared jeans in bright colors or vintage washes were also making a statement for fall.

"Louis Vuitton and Prada have been defined as luxury labels, but ultimately, they're just brands," said Broger. "We intend to do the same at a lower price point."

He noted that a new Levi's store concept was recently unveiled in Antwerp, Belgium, that promotes a casual and more relaxed shopping environment.

"Customers have shifted their shopping habits from shopping at very large, very noisy shops to something more subtle," he said. "The new Levi's format will embrace a much larger spectrum of age."

Wrangler is another iconic label looking to expand its reach and appeal to a greater segment of the population.

"We are reworking the way we do denim, expanding our customer reach," said Mark Cuthbert, European managing director of Wrangler. "We are returning to authenticity and focusing on the heritage of the brand instead of just selling jeans."

The company hopes to expand its customer base by targeting a more sophisticated clientele. Joni Mitchell-like flared jeans, as well as denim in bright colors, such as red and Yves Klein blue, were among Wrangler's key styles for women at the show.Traffic at the fair exceeded expectations, with some noting a substantial increase in visitors to their stands in the first day compared with the same period in the prior-year's session. Lee Cooper executives said the company's stand registered a 30 percent increase in traffic on the first day of the show, when it unveiled its Beatles capsule collection and premium denim line designed by French actress Lou Doillon.

Retailers also cited a shift in the way denim brands are doing business.

"Denim and streetwear are getting more sophisticated," said Martin Wieczorek, head of buying for the Printemps-owned urban apparel megastore Citadium in Paris. "Denim brands have really polished up their acts and appeal to a much wider range of consumers."

Leslie Lim, buyer for Queen Couture, an edgy multibrand shop in Singapore, said, "We've seen some real fashion direction from denim and streetwear brands that we haven't seen in the past."

While skinny jeans will continue to be a wardrobe staple next fall, denim styles with a high fashion quotient, such as flared and wide legs, some pleated in the front, will also be important. With more volume in bottoms, tops come cropped or tucked into shirts, while leather bomber jackets round out many collections.

Organic and eco-friendly collections continue to be a key trend as well. Nudie Jeans' women's collection, Denim Birds, is made entirely from organic cotton, while brands such as Komodo, which is gearing up to launch online before spring; Kuyichi's eco-friendly denim range, and VF Corp.-owned Napapijri won kudos at the show.

Retailers agreed a return to classics and vintage styles were a driving force at the show.

Edwin Jeans launched its Japanese Vintage premium denim collection for men and women that retails for 100 to 400 euros, or $146 to $584 at current exchange rates. Amsterdam-based Blue Blood tapped British vintage collector Nigel Cabourn to create a limited edition, vintage-inspired denim line for both women and men. WWII fighter pilot jackets or pants from WWI will retail for 400 euros to 700 euros, or $584 to $1,022. An elegant travel bag, for 1,000 euros, or $1,460, was also a highlight. Blue Blood's eccentric styles, such as denim with double waistlines for women and acid-washed jeans, sand-blasted, dipped in grease and oil or treated with tar resin, offer edgy denim alternatives for fall.To underline the retro trends, Pepe Jeans London looked to Andy Warhol for the inspiration of its new denim collection. The 250-piece line will include men's and women's looks and will be based around denim casualwear and accessories.

While the market for new brands has slowed in recent years, several were on hand to make their debut. Zurich-based Double M launched its fall offering of clean denim looks.

"We focused on very well-fitted, clean-cut denim," said the label's founder, Mille Monferin, who spent 20 years gaining expertise in denim from brands such as Levi's, Lee and G-Star, plus in his most recent position as president of Edwin Jeans. "At the end of the day, if you are making something that's high quality yet at a good price point, there is always space for it."

Double M jeans retail for around 130 euros, or $190.

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