Armani in the Eternal City

Clad in his signature navy blue T-shirt and faded blue jeans, a bronzed Giorgio Armani was perfectly at ease in his new Armani Jeans store, which opened last week on Via Tomacelli, in the heart of Rome.

The afternoon before the official inauguration, the designer supervised his bustling staff, preparing the 2,700-square-foot store for a cocktail bash, attended by Sophia Loren, mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni, Naomi Campbell and Princess Alessandra Borghese.

"For Armani Jeans, a big space is very important because young people want an atmosphere and have the desire to roam around freely. These stores shouldn’t have a boutique aspect or feeling," said Giorgio Armani. "We’re finding this formula extremely successful."

The Rome store is the eighth worldwide but openings in Tokyo, Dubai and Verona, Italy, are scheduled for the fall. Spread over one floor, the Rome store was designed by Armani and an in-house team of architects, to resemble a fitness center with floors and walls in rough-surface concrete, zinc-plated tubes as clothes racks, fluorescent ceiling lights and tents as changing rooms.

"It gives the idea of quality and seriousness," said Armani. "Also, the product assortment steers clear of hysterical fashion and throwaway trends to focus on items conceived to last in time, a strategy in line with my name."

An average of 6 million pieces from the Armani Jeans line are sold annually in 114 Emporio Armani stores plus 2,000 multibrand jeans stores worldwide. This month, the line is opening distribution to U.S department stores.

Armani, who launched his signature denim line in 1981, said he perceives jeans as a lifestyle element with no age boundaries.

"In the Eighties, jeans became the symbol of a fashion evolution that bypassed traditional elements," said Armani. "People went to cocktails wearing navy blazers, white shirts and jeans. It was a reaction to uptown chic and from then on jeans gained major momentum because it’s a serious and solid category."

Last year, Armani took full control of Modena-based Simint, his longtime jeans manufacturer and distributor, as part of his continuing strategy to control production and image.In lieu of lavish embroideries, funky washes and cascades of sequins, Armani champions good quality and craftsmanship in jeans.

"Denim is an easy product but subtle details and cut are important because a denim jacket can be either tailored or slouchy," Armani explained. "That’s the energy I pour into denim, which is just as part of the closet as a pinstriped suit or a cashmere sweater."

A sensible price-quality ratio, he added, is another key element. For spring summer 2003, retail prices average $80 for five-pocket jeans, $230 for leather jackets and $140 for dresses.

"Let’s face it, if these collections are overpriced, you always have a doubt that you purchased something weighed down by ad budgets, store locations and manager paychecks," said Armani.

Armani Jeans also give the designer a chance to experiment with alternative fabrics.

For that matter, five years ago he used wind-worn sails found on the Adriatic Coast in rust red, ivory and dusty blue to fashion the outerwear and later pushed the envelope by making raincoats with recycled bottles.

"There’s always research," he said.

Innovo Moves West

Reflecting its increasing focus on the Joe’s Jeans line, Innovo Group Inc. this week decided to move its headquarters from Knoxville, Tenn. to Los Angeles and promoted president Jay Furrow Jr. to chief executive officer.

Innovo last year moved into the fashion business when it landed the license for the Joe’s line, which is designed by Joe Dahan. Prior to that, its primary business was producing premium crafts and accessories.

Patricia Anderson-Lasko, who had been ceo, has had her title changed to president. She will remain in Knoxville and will continue to run the premiums business, which she founded in 1987.

Innovo said the growth of the Joe’s brand played a key role in its more than tripling of first-half sales to $10.1 million. The company recorded a $289,000 net loss for the period ended June 1, compared with a $62,000 loss a year earlier.

Tyte’s Plus-Sized Move

Los Angeles-based junior denim brand Tyte is tapping in to the rising need for plus-size fashions in junior departments.After a test run during New York’s junior market week in June, Tyte has added plus sizes to its holiday collection and plans to launch a full line for spring 2003.

"There is a void in the marketplace for trend-driven bottoms for the fashion-conscious junior plus-sized girl, and we intend to meet the needs of this consumer," said Alden Halpern, owner of Tyte.

According to the June 2001 "American Demographics," the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, 14 percent of teens aged 12 to 19 and 13 percent of children aged 6 to 11 are potential plus-size junior customers.

Halpern said he has received requests for larger sizes from many retailers and decided to offer higher sizes ranging from 14 to 24. Highlights for the holiday collection include stretch denim jeans and twill pants in novelty washes.

Halpern said he plans to merchandise the plus-sized styles within the company’s existing collection, rather than breaking it out into its own line or trying to secure it new floor space.

"This customer wants no special attention," Halpern said. "She doesn’t want to be different from her friends, so there shouldn’t be a junior plus-size section."

The holiday Tyte plus-size collection wholesales from $14 to $16

Isko’s New York Push

Looking to boost its presence in the U.S. market, Turkish denim mill Isko Textiles Inc. has opened a sales office in New York.

Jeannie Cumiskey, the company’s director of marketing for the Americas, said opening the office was a way for the Bursa-based company to show its fabrics directly to U.S. brands, many of which had already been using them in Turkish-made garments.

"It’s easier for them to see what’s going on here versus using sourcing offices," she said. "The majority of orders will still go through Turkish garment manufacturers, but we want to make sure the customers here are seeing the breadth of the line."

Recognizing that American buyers and product managers exert great influence on garment contractors’ choice of materials, many foreign textile companies are trying to boost their marketing presence in the U.S., even if they ship little fabric directly to the country.Isko is a 15-year-old mill that produces about 10 million square meters a month of ring-spun and stretch denim, as well as cotton twill fabrics. It’s a division of Sanko Holding, which also produces plastic films for food wrapping.

Cumiskey joined the company in March, after more than 15 years working for U.S. textile companies, including Swift Denim, Cone Mills, Bibb Co. and Greenwood Mills. The office opened in May.

Keeping It Simple

Toned-down jeans were a common theme at To Be Confirmed, a streetwear trade show that ran in Manhattan on Monday and Tuesday. Vendors showed denim looks that were not as novelty-heavy as they have been in previous seasons. Harsh washes were toned down and whiskers almost nonexistent, but rises were still on the low side at brands including Adriano Goldschmied and Marithé & François Girbaud.

Not that novelty was completely gone from the streetwear assortment. Instead, it has moved to shirts, like at Block 60 and Buddhist Punk, who showcased bright-colored T-shirts, such as pink and orange, as well as screen printing and embroideries. Sneakers were everywhere to be seen and they, too, were available in bright and bold colors, like red with blue stripes and green with yellow accents at Adidas and Hummel.

Hummel was making its second appearance at the show, and according to Jeanette Bronee, president of BB Co. Inc., Hummel’s U.S. distributor, this time round the company brought a selection of women’s wear — although the show was still largely focused on men’s apparel. Its women’s offering included the Danish denim line Psycho Cowboy, which has a limited presence in North America.

"People know the label since it is sold already in Europe, so there is a lot of interest in the brand," Bronee said. She said one of the line’s best-booking jeans was a gray style detailed with raised seams.

The Hummel line itself takes its inspiration from soccer uniforms, and its spring line drew from the Tibetan soccer team’s kit.

"Not many people know there is a soccer team in Tibet, but there really is," Bronee explained.The activewear pants, which Bronee said have a jeans-like fit with a low-rise, boot-cut leg, are available in colors including red mixed with brown and yellow. The label also introduced skirts in the same colors, which Bronee called "UPS meets McDonald’s," referring to those company’s well-known employee uniforms.

Altogether, about 80 vendors exhibited in the loft space in Chelsea, although only a small number had women’s wear. Show organizer Markus Klosseck said he hoped to attract more women’s apparel vendors at the next edition of the show, planned for January.

Klosseck began TBC in London in February 2000 with the idea of showcasing brands in a fun, but buyer-friendly atmosphere. He imported the show to the U.S. in January, keeping its quirky atmosphere, which this time included constant music from DJs, drink service and no air conditioning.

In an effort to control the show so the larger brands do not overpower the smaller ones, Klosseck only allows the brands to have very small signs, which simply say the name of the company without logos.

"It’s a way to showcase them as if they are all of the same level," he said. "They all have the same size space to show and they all pay the same amount of money to show here."

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