By  on December 11, 2008

PARIS — Mills exhibiting at Denim by Première Vision, which ended its two-day run here last Friday, showed greater flexibility on pricing as brands struggled with reduced budgets and worsening global economic conditions.

The 1,426 attendees represented a 13.5 percent rise compared with last year’s show, but visitors came with flat budgets seeking to reduce the number of suppliers and fabrics.

“To get the biggest orders, we are more ready to compromise on price than before,” said Paola Vettorazzo, area manager for North Europe and the U.S. at Italy’s ITV, which is facing growing competition from increasingly sophisticated mills in Tunisia, India and Pakistan. “We have to fight for every single meter.”

Seeking new, cheaper suppliers for the Danish label Won Hundred, designer Nikolaj Nielsen said price has become all important. Symptomatic of the challenges facing the middle market, Won Hundred has shelved plans to open its first freestanding store in Copenhagen next year.

“I couldn’t sleep at night if I was opening a store right now,” said Nielsen, who added that while Won Hundred’s chinos are selling well, “denim is just dead.”

The higher end of the denim market is attracting fewer new players, as well.

“In the last few seasons, there were an incredible number of luxury names saying we want to introduce denim to our range, but not this time,” said Eduardo Tavares, commercial director for Denim Authority.

“It’s going to be difficult to sell jeans for more than 120 euros [$155],” said Jean Lada, a former designer for Chevignon, who plans to introduce a men’s denim line priced at about 100 euros, or $130 at current exchange, in 2010.

Cost-cutting strategies are already affecting what will be on the shelves come spring 2010, with more labels using the same base fabric.

“At this point in the crisis, everybody is interested in getting the most out of fabrics, using fabrics in the most versatile way,” said Gulperi Erkanli, marketing manager for Turkey’s Bossa.

At ITV, for instance, bestsellers included a black denim that goes gray when washed or shows shades of indigo when bleached.

“You get four different washes with one fabric,” Vettorazzo said.

Belgium mill Uco also has been perfecting its Magic Black series, a black fabric producing five different colors when washed.

“It’s more efficient,” said product development manager Sibilla Vanderlinden.

Another option is trading down to secondary fabric lines, such as Bossa’s Denimwish, which costs 20 to 25 percent less than its main collections. Orta Anadolu, another Turkish mill, targeted High Street retailers looking to cut costs with its Denimus product. About 80 percent of Denimus’ fabrics are made in Bahrain before being finished in its Istanbul factory. In its second year, Denimus has doubled sales to around 6 million meters, said sales manager Aydan Tuzun.

Uco is shifting its entire production to Romania from Belgium next year in response to weakening economic conditions.

“It became necessary a few years ago, but the crisis has accelerated that need,” Vanderlinden said. “Now we really have to do it.”

Some are seeing opportunities in the downturn.

“Our clients are starting to withdraw buying denim in Far East markets and concentrate on the European denim markets like Turkey, and the African markets like Morocco and Tunisia,” said Thomas Dislich, managing director of Vicunha Europe. “People are not willing right now to let their money circulate further than necessary. They prefer shorter cycles.”

With that in mind, Vicunha has opened a production line in Turkey and offers a three-day delivery service from Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Innovations at the show included Bossa’s Therma-cool system providing heavy, yet breathable denim fabrics for the summer and lightweight fabrics that stay warm in winter, plus Trans-dry, a system that moves body heat and moisture to the surface.

Trends ran the gamut from super heavyweight fabrics to lightweight, almost mock denim materials, resembling the worn denim shirts from the Nineties and ideal for shirting and dresses. The vintage trend continues, moving into colored fabrics and ultragrunge, ripped looks and mud effects.

“There’s either destroyed or superclean and nothing in the middle,” said Pierre Dufour, head of casualwear for 150-unit French men’s wear chain Devred.

Recycled fabrics, as seen at Uco and Hellenic Fabrics, were among bestsellers, while attendees expressed hope that strong, bright colors will entice customers into stores.

One direction in tune with the economy was a move to open-end fabrics, namely denim made using a simplified, cheaper spinning technology.

“It’s very Eighties,” said Martin Gustavsson, denim designer for Sweden’s Acne.

“Denim has been through a mountain of improvement and now we’ve reached a plateau,” said Julien Walters, U.K. sales consultant for Tunisia’s Gonser Group. “We’re all waiting for the next big thing someone can do to a pair of denim pants.”

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