By  on February 5, 2009

LOS ANGELES — To help lure shoppers back to specialty shops, J Brand is launching a higher-end jeans line that it’s keeping outside the reach of Web retailers and department stores.

J Brand Boutique will kick off this fall with an emphasis on exclusive washes and wholesale prices that run at least 11 percent more than the starting price for the flagship line. While J Brand stayed true to its clean, lean look with Boutique, the company also broadened its portfolio with a dark-tinted wash lightened by hand-scraping and a stone-wash finished with whiskers and abrasion.

“We want to bring the customer back to the boutique,” said Jeff Rudes, who co-founded J Brand with Susie Crippen five years ago. “We want the line to be sold and romanced the old fashioned way with service and trying it on in the boutique.”

Dover Street Market in London, Maria Luisa in Paris, Biffi in Milan, Ron Herman in Los Angeles and Susan of Burlingame in Burlingame, Calif., are among the specialty stores that will carry Boutique. Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman are also joining the mix, as Rudes considers them specialty retailers.

However, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom — all of which sell J Brand’s signature line — won’t carry Boutique. Rudes said Boutique also will bypass online distribution at Web sites such as He minimized any negative fallout from the major retailers, saying J Brand continues to sell well for them.

“We’re not taking away from them,” Rudes said. “They have a solid J Brand business. No matter what level of brand or luxury you have, there is no more exclusivity for the specialty stores because of the major stores having those brands.”

The result is an environment in which specialty stores struggle to survive. Within the past three months, independent retailers such as Linda Dresner in New York and Tracey Ross in West Hollywood, Calif., have closed.

Rudes estimated that Boutique would generate $12.5 million to $15 million in sales in the first 12 months, representing 20 percent of the company’s overall volume. He said he expects Boutique to grow through the specialty stores to make up half of J Brand’s sales in 2011.

In J Brand’s loftlike design studio, Crippen said Boutique is the latest brand extension for the company, which already produces the eco-centric Green Label, the curvier Blue Label, the Mama J maternity line, the men’s J Brand Denim Co. and J Girl for tweens. She said Boutique will replace a higher-end group called Black Label that incorporates expensive fabric such as Japanese denim.

All nine bodies in Boutique are also available in the main line, ranging from a pencil leg and the signature skinny to extrawide bell-bottoms and a boyfriend style that is fitted to the knee and gradually flares to the hem. The wholesale prices are concentrated between $80 and $90, though the boyfriend jeans cost $96 because of the cloudy light wash on the rigid denim, further marred by shreds around the knee.

Boutique is also differentiated from the flagship line by olive-colored threading, golden arches stitched on back pockets and belt loops, rusted buttons and a polkadot pocket lining inspired by a vintage Japanese rice bag.

In addition, Boutique serves as an experimental haven for J Brand to introduce women’s knit tops, such as a long-sleeve polo and a collarless button-front shirt, wholesaling from under $100 to $125 depending on the fabric. Covering everything up is a $125 overdyed jeans jacket.

“For us to step outside of the box, it’s important for us to be nurtured by specialty stores,” Crippen said. “I know the reason why J Brand grew the way we did is because we were in specialty stores. That girl who is a boutique shopper, she’s usually the trend starter.”

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