By  on February 7, 2008

VERNON, Calif. — Alexandre Caugant is launching two tailored sportswear and denim lines for the fall selling season five months after leaving Blue Holdings, where he embellished jeans' back pockets with a Western flair at Antik Denim and plastered snake skeletons and butterflies on clingy T-shirts at Life & Death.

Caugant hopes his sportswear label, AC Collection, and his denim line, AC Jeans, will appeal to a savvy clientele.

"The fashion now is more sophisticated and stylish," said Caugant, a native of Marseille, France. "The woman now wants to look more dressy."

Wholesaling from $95 to $200, AC Collection includes skinny pants and snug vests made of stretchy sateen, polyurethane pants that feel like crushed velvet and slick biker jackets embossed with a subtle python print. The line is divided into three groups: Tokyo encompasses vinyl, fake leather and crocodile prints on polyurethane; New York emphasizes high-rises, and London offers an assortment of pencil skirts that have a cummerbund waist and two-way stretch denim dotted with metal paillettes on the waistband.

AC Jeans, which wholesales for $75 to $95, is a more pared-down selection of four fits — boot, skinny, a wide leg with a 24-inch leg opening and a trouser with a 26-inch leg opening — along with microshorts and Bermudas. Caugant hopes to differentiate AC Jeans with 10 different treatments, including one that overdyes blue denim in a lilac tint and another that mixes glitter, wax and oil for a sheen resembling a street after a rain shower.

While he hopes to place AC Collection and AC Jeans in specialty shops and high-end retailers, Caugant also aims to appeal to department stores with AC Jeans' variety of washes and fits. He has already inked deals with distributors in England, France, Italy, Spain and Germany, with another in the works for Japan. After making his first shipment of 200 women's styles for both lines in July, he projects combined first-year wholesale sales to hit $3 million to $5 million. Next year, he will collaborate with Julien Chambon, designer of the French line Rock 'N' Luck, to produce T-shirts and hoodies for AC Collection.

The new ventures reflect not only Caugant's growth as a designer but also the changes under way in the premium denim industry. A former designer for Goa and European juniors giant Chevignon, Caugant partnered with Philippe Naouri to design Antik at Commerce, Calif.-based Blue Holdings in 2004. In 2005, Antik opened a flagship on Melrose Avenue and sponsored a risqué fashion show that featured bared breasts and a mechanical bull in Los Angeles. Riding high on Antik, Caugant and Naouri teamed with artist Cynthia Tello to launch Life & Death in August 2006.As part of an effort to boost profits in September, Blue Holdings abandoned Life & Death, shuttered two stores and cut a quarter of its workforce. A month before the restructuring, Caugant had left the company and set up shop outside of Los Angeles with 10 employees in an industrial loft.

Caugant's wife, Julia, oversees operations at the start-up. She said her husband has been ahead of his time, pushing polished looks that didn't fit into the Antik mold. With the new labels, however, "He's going to follow fashion," she said.

Caugant said he is determined to grow his company slowly. Though he financed the start of the company from money he made through selling his Blue Holdings shares, he said he is in talks with a silent investor to buy a third of the company. He also learned from his experience at Blue Holdings to keep production in the U.S. rather than to delegate it to factories in Mexico.

"I want control," Caugant said. "To put your name on the brand is a risk. You put yourself in it."

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