By  on June 26, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Philippe Naouri, former co-designer of Antik Denim, is motoring his way to a new premium jeans line that he hopes will be the first seed of a new fashion empire.

Five months after leaving Blue Holdings Inc., where he helped launch Western-inspired Antik Denim with co-designer Alexandre Caugant in 2004, Naouri has teamed with Christophe Sauvat and Uito Chau to develop a motorcycle-inspired denim line called Pratt's Motor Spirit. In tribute to the line's namesake — an engine oil brand founded in 1909 — the signature style is modeled after a motorcycle pant accentuated with side zips, crisscrossing seams above the knee and zipper teeth running along the yoke.

Though Naouri is starting with only four women's designs — a miniskirt and jeans in skinny, flare and boot-cut styles — he is offering them in 58 washes. He's also capitalizing on the emerging trend for distressed jeans by ravaging them with rips and extreme hand-sanding. For next spring's collection, he has developed a bleached tie-dye wash.

Naouri hopes the washes and moto-inspired aesthetic will interest retailers who are reluctant to take risks in an uncertain economy but are still on the hunt for special looks.

"The more the wash is intriguing, the more they're going to buy," Naouri said at the downtown loft that doubles as his studio and showroom here. "They buy a product if they love it."

Pratt's has already received orders from retailers including Kitson, Saks Fifth Avenue, Intermix and Lounge. With jeans wholesaling from $75 to $105 and logo T-shirts and hoodies costing $24 and $79, respectively, Pratt's is expected to hit $7 million in first-year sales for the men's and women's businesses. As Pratt's adds categories such as shoes, leather jackets, dresses, bags and watches in the second year, it expects sales to more than triple to $25 million in 2009.

Pratt's is the first venture incubated by Next26 Groups Inc. Sauvat, the founder of French hippie-chic brand Antik Batik, and Naouri each hold a 25 percent stake in Next26, while Chau, who produces clothes for labels such as Gap, Giorgio Armani, Esprit and A|X Armani Exchange, owns the remaining 50 percent.Next26 aims to acquire fashion brands that have annual sales between $5 million and $15 million. The goal is to cultivate businesses that have good ideas but lack the finances or know-how to grow. The priority is to establish Pratt's as a business, but Next26 will look to make its first acquisition in 2010.

"[The brands] can all be different as long as they have a cool vibe and attitude to it and [offer] something different," Naouri said.

In the meantime, Pratt's is developing 50 new washes and a trio of new bodies for the spring season, including motorcycle pants with a flared leg, a narrower boot-cut style and shorts. Also in the works is a moderately priced subbrand that will be launched next year with a $32 wholesale price tag.

"As a designer, you want to change," Naouri said. "You have to have an evolution. You can't be stuck."

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