Denim Diversity in Deutschland

It’s being bleached, sanded and dipped, but denim is anything but washed up in the German jeans market.

At a trio of jeans shows in Germany in early August, denim showed continued signs of strength for the spring-summer 2003 season. The focus was on new washes and specialty treatments like laser patterning, and while the palette showed a shift to lighter, bleached looks, dark indigo was still on the scene. Waists remained low, but vendors showed a variety of leg openings. They offered cropped three-quarter capri and pedal-pushed lengths, as well as stovepipe legs and extreme bell bottoms for spring. Denim jackets remained a key item, and denim skirts of all lengths were shown.

The action started in Cologne Aug. 1 with the third edition of Bread & Butter. On Aug. 2, the new incarnation of Inter-Jeans, called Vibes4U, opened its doors on the Cologne fairgrounds, and CPDxsite followed up in a very reduced form in Düsseldorf on Aug. 3.

Business conditions remain tough, especially in Germany, where the economy shows no signs of improvement. Nevertheless, the mood, as Mustang chief executive Heiner Sefranek put it, was "realistic, not bad. Everybody knows [business] is not so easy, but we’re all facing the problems and looking for solutions."

For Mustang, one of the larger exhibitors at Vibes4U, those solutions include closer cooperation with retailers, offering flash programs and special "surprise packages." From a merchandising standpoint, they also entail "upgrading the brand, and injecting modern basics with a fashion touch and a bit of sex appeal.

"You need washes — used, colored, sprayed — and there are still many things you can do [to denim] like laser" treatments, Sefranek said. He added that retailers are beginning to look for fashion silhouettes, not just fashion finishes, from his moderate brand. To that end, Mustang is offering new, seamed looks and low-rise worker pants.

"It all has to be sexy," he said.

Wrangler, another supplier of standard jeans in the German market, was focused on authenticity. The first-time exhibitor at the trendy Bread & Butter show, showed vintage Wranglers described as "oldies but goodies" under glass, and a new collection of jeans inspired by those looks."Before, we only did standards, but now we’re showing extremely used looks in stretch, new oily surfer finishes, and extreme washes with laser effects," German sales agent Markus Jaenke remarked.

Jaenke said many visitors "were surprised to see Wrangler here. But they saw that we have our history to offer, and I think the jeans market is going back to brands which have a story."

Pepe also went back to its roots and set up a flea market in the back lot of Bread & Butter, intended to evoke its early days on London’s Portobello Road 30 years ago.

Business for the brand has been "very positive," a Pepe spokesman reported, with accounts opting for both the high-fashion collection and core basics programs. Pepe’s archives were a key source of inspiration for the spring collection, which includes burnout lace insets on denim, dyed-out or appliquéd zig-zag insets, faded-out denim with a camouflage look, ticking stripes and bleached designs.

"The demand for denim is still there," the spokesman said, and even the basics reflect the "higher level of expectation of the consumer."

Levi Strauss & Co. was back at Bread & Butter, presenting Levi’s Type One jeans. Set for a global spring launch, the Type One range reflects the pumped up, iconic detailing that Levi’s Red showed last season, but in a "more down-to-earth version," said Fredrik Carling, brand manager for Levi’s Engineered Jeans and Type One.

"We concentrated on what makes jeans jeans, on what makes us proud, exaggerating and celebrating details like our buttons, rivets, stitching. Though heritage-driven, we put this into a very modern form," he said. The women’s jeans are cut very low in a tilted V in front, the back cut a bit higher to prevent unwanted exposure when seated. Type One styles are to come in a dark indigo, workwear-oriented, two-ply denim fabric that is intended to resist shrinking, Carling explained. The line will also include more worn looks.

"We want to go back closer to the Heartland, where jeans used to be, to reverse a bit of all that fashion that’s been moving jeans further along," he said. "We’ve taken a point of view and we hope kids will like it as well. It gives them a refuge to go to in a crazy world, for kids are longing for something that makes them feel comfortable versus aggressive."G Star bypassed both Cologne fairs in favor of "The Boat," a three-level ship anchored in the Rhine not far from Bread & Butter and Vibes4U. The Dutch firm started to seriously push its women’s jeans business last season, and is slowly building the business, said Jim Terwee, export sales manager.

"New markets are developing well, and women’s is an extra for us," he said. "But the growth is coming from both new and old customers. We like to grow with our existing clients.

"It’s important to innovate washes and develop new styles, but it’s also important to be able to offer stock programs," he said. Able to replenish its customer’s inventories on a daily basis, G Star has also come up with new looks like its "extreme water denim," which has been bleached and washed for such a long time that the fabric is almost white, except at the seams. Style highlights included mid-Seventies influences with sized-up belt loops, rivets and zippered coin pockets.

Lois, which showed at Vibes4U, has also exploded its icons, painting, stencilling or stamping various Lois logos on cutoff cargos and jeans. Washes have gotten "crazier," designer Paco Sifre said. The assortment included special-effects washes over color, washes that look like jeans accidentally bleached by the sun, pinstriped laser washes and laser cutout designs on dirty denim.

Noting that business seems to be getting more difficult, Sifre said the market "may be waiting for a new direction, a new brand and a change not only in fashion but in spirit. The Eighties look is finished….We’re looking for new heroes, and I feel something fundamental is changing. We need different approaches to marketing and new ideas."

Tarrant Earnings Slip

Tarrant Apparel Group’s second-quarter profits dropped more than 20 percent on relatively flat sales despite reduced expenses.

On Monday, the Los Angeles-based firm also reported it secured a new $25 million line of credit.

Net income for the quarter ended June 30 dropped 23.7 percent to $1.3 million, or 8 cents a share. This compared with year-ago profits of $1.7 million, or 11 cents.Sales for the three months declined 0.9 percent to $95.3 million from $96.1 million a year ago.

What the firm termed "prudent expense management" helped keep total selling, general and administrative expenses for the quarter at $9.6 million or 10.1 percent of sales — an improvement of 210 basis points over a year ago.

"Our continued focus on cost control fueled the significant improvement in our SG&A ratio and we look forward to our bottom line continuing to benefit," said chief financial officer Patrick Chow in a statement.

UPS Capital Global Trade Finance Corp. extended the apparel vendor a $25 million line of credit, replacing the financing available through Hongkong & Shanghai Bank.

Tarrant chief executive Eddy Yuen noted: "Both sides have started to explore the possible expansion of this relationship, including supply-chain finance in Mexico and application of the logistical and distribution expertise of the UPS group to support our long-term growth."

For the half, the firm posted losses of $4 million, or 25 cents a share, compared with year-ago earnings of $2.2 million, or 14 cents. Before the effects of an accounting change, losses for the past six months were $400,000, or 3 cents a share.

Sales for the period declined 11.1 percent to $160.5 million, against $180.5 million a year ago.

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