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BERLIN — Denim manufacturers exhibiting at the Bread & Butter Kraftwerk and Premium trade shows here last week expressed continued faith in the denim market, but acknowledged that the style landscape was shifting.
Traditional denim labels, in particular, are finding cause for optimism as the frenzied pace of newcomers entering the market has slowed. Consumers, who faced an overabundance of brands in recent years, are returning to more established and trusted names.
“The market is reorienting itself,” said Heiko Klauer, Levi’s director of marketing for Germany. “Over the last few years, there have been so many labels offering jeans that consumers have really lost the overview. People are now moving back to the traditional denim brands.”
The organizers of Premium, which took place Jan. 26 to 28, said that 700 labels showed and the number of visitors hit a near-record 15,647.
“I am, of course, really pleased that Berlin, which was apparently written off, was very busy,” said Premium’s co-founder Anita Bachelin, referring to the departure of the Bread & Butter Berlin show. “Next season, with our cooperation with IMG, we will be moving up to a whole other level.”
IMG, which already organizes fashion weeks in New York, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Sydney and other cities, announced last week that it would stage a Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin this summer.
Bread & Butter Kraftwerk kicked off its inaugural show in a former electric power station on Jan. 26 and 27, and gave the 30 exhibitors free reign to show their collections however they wanted. There was no lack of creativity on the part of exhibiting brands, from fire-eating cocktail waiters behind an ice bar at Timezone to a Turkish tea house at Mavi. Although exhibitors and visitors said they were impressed with the location, traffic was light. Bread & Butter’s organizers declined to give visitor figures, but said the event would take place again this summer, with around 100 exhibitors.
In Germany, the recent rush for skinny jeans has given manufacturers a boost. Over the last season, many manufacturers could barely keep up with demand. Pepe now devotes 80 percent of its collection to slim fits, while Mustang intends to expand its drainpipe range next season.
However, now that the slim fit is established in the mainstream, progressive labels are experimenting with new shapes to cater to those consumers who have been wearing skinny for the past couple of years. After all, Scandinavian labels such as Nudie started producing skinny jeans six years ago. Although Nudie executives said they were still committed to the skin-tight look, other labels, such as Danish brand Won Hundred, were looking at other avenues. Waists are rising and designers are reacting against the ubiquitous drainpipe by playing with wider legs or tapered fits.
“We are not interested in making a skinny jean which can be put in boots and would appeal to Posh Spice,” said Per Lundquist, product manager for Lee Gold label jeans.
Next autumn, Lee will introduce a Sixties flared jean inspired by rock star Janis Joplin. The flat-front, high-waist style has a narrow leg on the thigh with a subtle but distinct flare from the knee.
Wrangler’s Blue Bella is experimenting with a tapered cut that is wider at the hips and thigh, and narrow down on the ankle. Referred to as tapered cut or banana leg, the silhouette is already going down better with men than with women, who are reluctant to give up the skinny look many of them feel is more flattering.
“Wider cuts are not going to be making an impact on the women’s market until spring and summer 2008,” said Rasmus Bak, product manager at Won Hundred. “The challenge is to make wider cuts in a good fit. Baggy still has to be sexy.”
For Won Hundred, this means pleats and high waists, but Bak admitted that the market was not ready to move away from skinny.
Skinny or wide, one thing was clear both at Premium and Bread & Butter Kraftwerk — washes are clean and elegant, details subtle and authentic, and glitz and grunge are over.
“The current trend of cleaner, straighter styles is really helping us,” said Levi’s Klauer. “That’s what we are about anyway and it’s like the market is meeting us halfway.”
Other labels are jumping off the jeans bandwagon altogether.
Berlin-based label Aem’Kei has given up denim for the first time, moving the collection into skinny pressed corduroys, cotton cigar pants or Marlene Dietrich-style wool trousers. It’s a move the company said was in keeping with the upscale shift in streetwear.
“Customers want something else from us other than denim,” said Eva Renes, designer of Aem’Kei’s women’s collection. “There are so many alternatives now, all of which can be still be worn like jeans.”
Denim specialists are expanding their range of non-jeans pieces to keep up with the dressier new styles.
“Everything’s going more in the direction of smarter ladies’ wear,” said a spokeswoman for Wrangler’s Blue Bella, “so our tops are becoming more fashionable and we are using more expensive materials.”