Not Going to Great Lengths
This story first appeared in the September 26, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Besides coming up with the eye-catching trends necessary to convince consumers to pull a pair of jeans off a retailer’s racks, denim designers spend countless hours fine-tuning their creations to stand up to the relentless scrutiny they face in the fitting room.
Designers know that women are picky about the fit of jeans, so they pay close attention to key details, like the placement of rear pockets, the amount of room in the thighs, even the contour of waistbands to avoid the dreaded plumber’s gap phenomenon that came along in the early days of the low-rise jeans trend.
They worry about all those things when what women are most worried about is showing too much ankle. Who knew?
That was the finding of a study recently released by Cotton Incorporated. The fiber-promotions organization polled women about their biggest fit problems when buying denim jeans, and according to Kim Kitchings, director of market research at the Cary, N.C.-based organization, the largest number of respondents — 39 percent — selected finding the right length as their gripe.
Following that, 28 percent of women said they couldn’t get jeans to fit at the waist, 15 percent said they had problems at the hips, 11 percent complained about finding jeans to fit their thighs and 7 percent said they couldn’t find a good fit for their legs in general. No women chose the sixth option, calves. The organization released the survey results at its Retail & Consumer Trend Seminar in New York last week.
The reason women can’t find the right fit might be because jeans makers don’t realize it’s a problem. WWD contacted a handful of denim executives about the findings, and not one guessed women’s biggest fit problem correctly. Three sources guessed that women would be most worried about whether the rise of the jeans would be too high or too low, one guessed women would complain about finding the right fit for their rears and another thought women wanted more stretch fabrics.
“Isn’t that something?” said Michael Silver, president of Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Silver Jeans, when informed of the top complaint. “I didn’t consider it a fit issue, but it is a big problem these days. I get an e-mail a day…that people can’t find the right length. American girls are getting bigger.”
Ersin Akarlilar, chief executive of Mavi America Sportswear, based in New York, said, “That makes sense because across a broad swath of the market people don’t make [a range of] inseams.”
Andy Hilfiger, executive vice president of marketing at New York-based Sweetface Fashion Co., which makes the J.Lo line, acknowledged, “It’s hard to find a rise to fit a girl taller than 5 foot 9, 5 foot 10. Most inseams only go up to 32 inches. I make samples of 33 and 34 inches for the models, but it’s hard to do that for a whole line.”
“It makes sense to me because I’m 5 foot 4 1/2 and I always have a problem finding the right length,” said Eleni Roselli, vice president of marketing at Faded Glory, a brand owned by New York’s Bonjour Group and sold solely at Wal-Mart stores.
Both female executives contacted by WWD said they’d personally experienced the difficulty of finding jeans in the right length.
All executives interviewed agreed that the problem reflected the reluctance of some designers to offer multiple inseam lengths and the unwillingness of some retailers to buy them. In both cases, a desire to keep inventories low prevails over the desire to offer a range of sizes.
“It’s just inventory and people trying to keep [stockkeeping unit] counts down,” said Kathy Collins, vice president of marketing at Lee Co. of Merriam, Kan., who guessed right on her second try. “I don’t think most companies realize how important it is.”
Collins noted that Lee offers jeans in four lengths: short, petite, medium and long. Faded Glory offers most of its styles in three lengths — petite, medium and long — while the higher-priced Mavi and Silver lines have inseams ranging from 30 inches to 37 inches. Diesel offers three inseam lengths: 30 inches, 32 inches and 34 inches.
Silver noted that another contributing factor to women’s difficulties in finding the right length of jeans is the fashion focus of the market. While brands often produce their basic styles in multiple lengths, they often make just a single length of one-delivery fashion pieces. Silver tests its new styles in 33-inch inseams, and then adds on longer and shorter styles, he explained.
“In basic jeans that don’t have a fancy wash, you can find the inseam,” he said. “But as soon as there’s a fancy wash, a specific kind of fabric, then you find that makers aren’t prepared to offer the large selection.”
The Parasuco bandits are at it again.
Last month, the jeans company’s outdoor ads started appearing at bus shelters in Montreal, Toronto and Quebec City. This month, they started disappearing by the score.
“I don’t know if it’s collectors or people who sell them,” said Michel Livegueur, national account supervisor for Viacom Outdoor, which handles the shelter ads. “But this is rare.”
This is the second season that the Montreal-based firm, which calls itself the “Parasuco Denim Cult,” has had a problem keeping its ads up in Canada. While Livegueur said he had no precise numbers on how many of the 6-by-4-foot color ads had been lost, he estimated the cost of replacing the ads — and the glass that was broken, in some cases, to get at them — at about $10,000.
Following the round of disappearing ads in spring, Livegueur said his firm is starting to consider putting locks on the ad enclosures, which are currently held closed by mechanical means. While he had no clues as to who has been stealing the ads, which depict women in jeans, Livegueur said he had a general hunch. “The girls are extremely sexy and guys like it,” he quipped.
Oshkosh on the Hudson
OshKosh B’Gosh, the Wisconsin institution best known for its children’s apparel, is setting up a design studio in Manhattan’s SoHo district and populating the space with some newly mined talent.
Mirian Lamberth, most recently vice president of kids’ design at Gap Inc., has joined the company in the new position of vice president of product design, and Kathryn Letson has been named to the new post of trend manager. Lamberth reports to Barbara Widder, who’s been promoted to the new post of senior vice president of product development and will continue to be based at OshKosh’s headquarters in Oshkosh, Wis.
Lamberth, who earlier in her career had held women’s and girls’ design and merchandising posts with Abercrombie & Fitch, Liz Claiborne and Polo Ralph Lauren, commented: “OshKosh B’Gosh is a premier brand in the marketplace today, and I look forward to the challenge of further enhancing the brand’s value by decreasing time to market for fresh, trend-relevant designs.”
The appointments and the intended revitalization of OshKosh’s apparel lines, including its teen collection, are part of the firm’s effort “to position the company as a premier lifestyle brand,” according to Douglas Hyde, OshKosh’s chief executive.
Paris’ Denim Battles
Competition among department stores in Paris has reached a new zenith, with two major retailers mounting dueling denim displays.
Le Bon Marché’s “Jean Et Caetera,” which runs through Oct. 5, is unapologetically commercial. Denim outfits are styled in the center of the room, with numbers on each item corresponding to a rack of merchandise from such brands as Earl Jean, Levi’s Red and Lagerfeld Gallery. The exhibit even boasts its own advertising campaign, featuring Audrey Marnay shot by Karl Lagerfeld.
Packing a punch of its own, Galeries Lafayette enlisted spokesmodel Laetitia Casta and photographer Jean-Paule Goode to herald the arrival of “Jean’s Tonique,” slated to occupy the majority of the sixth floor through the end of next month. Besides giving space to denim giants such as Lee, Wrangler, Calvin Klein and Diesel, the display features a photo exhibition of people on the street wearing jeans, an array of couture gowns that incorporate denim and videos and music by denim fans like James Dean, Iggy Pop and Serge Gainsbourg.