By and  on December 6, 2011

PARIS — Denim diehards are kicking into creative overdrive for the spring 2013 season as they look to maintain their momentum in a women’s bottoms market increasingly enamored with khakis and chinos.

Jeans manufacturers and denim mills were continuing to tout colored denim in a wider variety of shades, stretch fabrics and an assortment of coated and vintage fabrics at the Denim by Première Vision trade fair at the Halle Freyssinet here last week. For creative distinction, they also were showing fabrics with resin coatings and luster treatments; variations on indigo shades, and fabric hands that emphasized softness and slubs.

While the mood was hopeful and the exhibition reported a 22 percent increase in visitors, including a 41 percent spike in those from the U.S., there was a sense that denim had lost some of its previous edge.

Hannah Llewellyn, assistant denim buyer at Topman, said, “Rather than denim, consumers are buying into nondenim and chinos, though denim is starting to pick up.”

“Maybe it’s because of the economy that people need more color, or maybe indigo was just boring,” observed Alberto Candiani, general manager of TRC Candiani, whose innovations included a power-stretch knitted denim with a two-ply yarn. “It’s a cycle. We just need Lady Gaga to wear a pair of jeans and it will all turn again.”

Chloe Lonsdale, founder of MiH Jeans, noted, “People are still spending; they just want more value for their money. They want product with longevity and attention to detail.”

For Neil Lewty, design director, men’s wear, for Tommy Hilfiger, the middle market is denim’s most vulnerable segment. “It’s competitive, it’s really hard. You’re either at the bottom or the top end. People either want jeans cheap or expensive, so the middle-market stuff is just dropping away,” he said. “I think it’s going to be hard for mills and brands in the middle to make a statement.”

Despite a slight decrease in prices on collections by weavers, vendors remained price sensitive. Many said they hoped to trim prices on collections.

“Price points are coming down — we’re trying to lower our prices and are doing a lot of private label,” said Marcy Feldman, creative director of New York-based denim label Saltworks, which does private label for J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Limited Brands Inc., Forever 21 and Zara.

As stretch denims in skinny silhouettes continue to hog the spotlight, designers were looking for new takes on the trend incorporating washes, coatings, weaves and details.

“Considering the state of the global economy right now, it’s not really a time to revolutionize the denim market,” said Kelly Tyrrell, a denim designer at Acne. “Brands will continue to do what is working, what girls want.”

Omer Ahmed, director of Pakistani weaver Artistic Milliners, which counts Levi’s among its clients, said: “The skinny jean is the new normal fit. Nobody wants regular fit anymore. Everyone wants a superstretch, skinny or jeggings.…It’s flattering, it makes the leg look slim, plus it’s comfortable and breathable — you can run in it, you can go to a nightclub in it.”

The company has been working with G-Star on a women’s stretch version of one of its homespun men’s denim fabrics.

Artistic Milliners, which has seen production grow by 30 percent over the past year, produces 3 million meters of fabric per month, split 50-50 between the U.S. and European markets. Ahmed also is seeing rapid growth in the Far East.

With the recent global success of colored denim, merchants were particularly responsive to new shades, coatings and treatments.

Saltworks’ Feldman mentioned metallic coatings and sherbet colors among highlights. She lauded Orta Anadolu’s range of yarn-dyed denim in washed-out smoothie and milkshake shades like strawberry, apricot and green tea.

“Everything is getting softer and softer,” she said. “There is quite a lot of chambray and carbon-coated denim. Animal prints are also here to stay, but there are some interesting new prints as well.”

For its 60th anniversary, Bosso showcased a special denim finish, dubbed Glowing Whispers, which emits a hologram-like glow when moved under lights.

Several weavers had set out to bring the aesthetic and feel of sustainable denim up to par with regular fabrics. Among these was Turkish giant ISKO, which presented a capsule fashion-focused sustainable denim collection, “Up to Denim — Innovation Looking Beyond,” developed in tandem with Italian apparel and denim brand Dondup.

Water-saving techniques remained a key concern, with several weavers citing growing interest from brands for fabrics produced under the Better Cotton Initiative program.

Tommy Hilfiger’s Lewty, who predicts the sustainable denim segment is “just going to grow and grow and grow,” lauded Cone Denim’s expanded range of colored sustainable denim, using a natural warp yarn and recycled weft yarns dyed soda pop green, water cooler blue and food tray black.

“What is amazing about these guys is the whole story, with the Cone brothers, who started out providing all the fabrics to Levi’s, Wrangler and Lee, and now they’re still going and they’re actually pushing forward rather than just trading off of their tradition,” he said.

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