By  on June 12, 2008

PARIS — Attracting brands from Marc Jacobs to Diesel to H&M, the second edition of Denim by Première Vision here confirmed its status as a European denim destination.

Showcasing 61 exhibitors, the event attracted 1,500 visitors from across the sector, a 22 percent rise over the inaugural edition last December. Attendees during the two-day run that ended June 5 came from 40 countries, led by France, followed by Italy, Turkey and the U.K., with the U.S. ranked eighth.

"This is a snapshot for us," said Kees Scholten, a buyer at Tommy Hilfiger, who added that while the dollar-euro rate remains challenging, the show provides fresh ideas to improve product in an ongoing development cycle.

"This is a fair for luxury, high-end denim," said Walther Manfroi, director of Blue Men distribution, an agent for Japanese weaver Kuroki, adding that demand for premium fabrics is soaring among major denim manufacturers as retailers like Zara and H&M continue to steal market share from their lower-end lines.

Certain private label manufacturers are also trading up. YM Inc.-owned Bluenotes, a 120-door Canadian denim chain, for instance, will introduce a premium collection next fall.

"There are no other denim fairs of this caliber," said Bluenotes buyer Dinah Luxton. "We're finding some great suppliers," citing Hong Kong's Central Fabrics.

Fabric trends, meanwhile, ran the gamut.

"It's not new, but vintage will continue," said Kathrin Röttger, head of technical development for jeans at Hugo Boss. "And also the clean lines of the Swedish brands. You cannot say there is one direction anymore."

Novelties included wool blends and double-sided fabrics.

"They're trying to use the fabric inside out, to use it both ways," said Sybille Mezger, head of creative management for Hugo Boss. "It's not for us."

Instead, Mezger said deep blue shades, as seen at Kuroki, and the clean look will remain key at Hugo Boss for fall-winter 2009.

Mills showed increasingly sophisticated organic fabrics.

"Organic is more successful, for sure," said Röttger, cautioning that it remains a niche product. "It's hip to use organic cotton, but it's still just for one special line."High price tags continue to deter customers. At Japanese mill Collect, organic, natural indigo-dyed fabrics take six months to make compared with two months for traditional indigo, and fetch 50 euros, or $79, a meter, compared with 10 euros, or $16, for the chemical-dye version.

"People are eco-conscious, but they still don't realize organic cotton is very expensive and dyeing with indigo takes a long time," said Manfroi of Kuroki, which was also offering natural indigo-dyed fabrics. "It takes a field of leaves to make 10 liters of natural indigo."

Selvage denim remained high on designers' shopping lists.

"Today it's absolutely crucial, if you want to sell no-wash denim, it must be Japanese selvage denim," said Marco Dell'Oglio, a designer for Italian firm Idea Mode.

Hilfiger's buying team spotted selvage denim at Italian weaver Denim Areas founded three years ago when it acquired looms traditionally used in the Sixties to specialize in selvage denim. The company's silk and cashmere blends led sales.

Other designers welcomed a move away from the clean look.

"After being clean for so long, there's a trend toward the worn, distressed, rugged look, washed or painted, ripped or braided," said Jessica Humphrey, women's denim designer for Polo Ralph Lauren Blue Label.

"We're seeing some very interesting vintage treatments, with torn, broken styles," said Barbara Pignotti, product manager of MaxMara's edgy young brand, Max & Co.

A key proponent of those styles was Collect, which specializes in innovative vintage designs.

"They put all these paints on the jeans with new brushes to give a really original effect and whisker designs," said Ebru Tugalan, head designer at Mavi jeans. "There were really worn fabrics, bleached but not aggressive washes, not artificial."

Multilayered finishes at Vicunha Europe, where elements such as weft color were combined with dyes or coated resins, offered brands the opportunity to customize.

"In the wash, these elements have different reactions to chlorine or permanganate, for example," said managing director Thomas Dislich. "The customer can achieve different effects from one variant."

However, visitors to Vicunha, one of the world's largest denim producers, fell by 12 percent versus the first edition."Nowadays the denim business in Europe is focused on relatively few players," said Dislich. "There has been a steady concentration in retail, as well as in garment making and brands. The times when you used to see new faces at every show are over."

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