LOS ANGELES — After setting denim trends with skinny styles, fitted cargo silhouettes and bright colors, J Brand is jumping into sportswear.
For the first time in its six-year history, the premium denim label is moving beyond jeans to offer 140 sportswear pieces beginning next spring. With retail prices running between $200 and $1,500, J Brand is aiming to sell its new collection alongside Helmut Lang, Rag & Bone, Isabel Marant and Carven on the retail floor.
“The initiative we set out from the very beginning was to build a fashion brand,” said J Brand chief executive officer Jeff Rudes. “We don’t want to put ourselves out there as [just] a jean brand.”
A look around Rudes’ office in a gritty part of Los Angeles revealed that J Brand is moving in that direction. Blown-up photos from ad campaigns showed model Lily Aldridge crouching in jodhpur-style jeans and a fur vest or standing proudly in velvet jeans and a matching tuxedo blazer. The company already has flirted with high-end fashion through denim collaborations with Hussein Chalayan and Proenza Schouler.
Waiting until 2012 to introduce the new line — well after rivals such as Seven For All Mankind, Joe’s Jeans and True Religion have churned out several sportswear collections — allowed J Brand to build a significant denim business at retailers such as Barneys Co-op, Harvey Nichols, Ron Herman, Net-a-porter.com, Montaigne Market and Bloomingdale’s.
“It was all about timing — the distribution, the growth of the brand, the brand recognition in the marketplace,” Rudes said. “So when we did launch ready-to-wear, our customer base was ready for it.”
Arnie Gale, J Brand’s president of sales, said that only 60 of its 2,500 current retail doors will carry the line in the first season. Retailers will get a peek at the collection on Sept. 7, when J Brand will hold sales meetings in the Meatpacking District around the start of New York Fashion Week. Afterward, the company will meet with buyers in London, Milan and Paris.
Rudes expects the initiative to contribute less than 10 percent of total sales in its first year. With about 190 employees, J Brand projects company sales will exceed $100 million this year.
J Brand has goals beyond sportswear. Rudes aims to open a flagship in London or New York within the next three years. In five years, he plans to be operating a store in every fashion capital. “L.A., Paris, Milan, Tokyo — beyond that we’ll see,” he said.
The company’s aspirations were helped last year when Star Avenue Capital LLC acquired a majority stake in J Brand in a deal said to be worth more than $50 million. It was the first major investment for Star Avenue, which is a three-way partnership involving unlikely associates — Star’s management, Irving Place Capital and Creative Artists Agency.
While the sportswear effort will be the focus for 2012, J Brand is eyeing more product extensions, such as shoes and handbags, in 2013. A men’s sportswear component is already being discussed to launch within the next 18 months.
Although Rudes decided not to give the new collection a different name, he set up a staff that handles sourcing, patternmaking, design and sales separately from the denim division. Spearheading J Brand’s sportswear launch is Donald Oliver, a Scotsman who joined the company six months ago as design director for the new collection after stints at DKNY Jeans, Vera Wang, Gap Inc. and Calvin Klein.
In describing J Brand’s sportswear customer, Oliver said, “From Day One, we wanted her to be easygoing, uncomplicated, subtly sophisticated. We wanted her to feel relevant, not trendy, not like she’s trying too hard, which is why I think the garments have an ease about them.”
J Brand’s debut sportswear collection is clean, minimal and full of unexpected details. The palette is muted in black, white, lilac, heather gray, sky blue and peach. With the exception of some striped linings, prints are absent.
Despite his knowledge of denim, Oliver limited the use of the rugged fabric to the selvage taping sewn on the epaulets of cotton-silk chambray shirts. Instead, he preferred unusual but rarefied fabrics, such as garment-dyed Cupro and cotton blended with Japanese paper. He also applied treatments that J Brand uses regularly on jeans to nondenim fabrics. For example, he crafted wax-coated cotton twill into trousers with an elastic waistband.
Intended to complement denim, several of the jackets and tops could be tossed nonchalantly over jeans. There’s a cropped khaki mackintosh coat cinched at the waist with gray cotton taping, as well as a hand-knit bolero sweater.
“We paid a lot of attention to details, making the garment feel special to the wearer,” Oliver said, pointing to the pin-striped acetate lining and slate blue polished silk panel sewn inside a gray linen blazer and contrasted with black leather trim along the edges of the lapel and front hem.
The collection also provides something if a woman can’t wear denim — for instance, at a corporate office. High-twist cotton twill forms the base for matching flat-front trousers, chinos, shorts and a blazer.
“It’s important that we looked at her as a whole,” Oliver said. “We just didn’t want to look at her as working or going out. It’s about building an aspirational wardrobe for our girl.”
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye