Blue Cult: Back to Basics
Blue Cult is counting on an overhaul of its image to kick-start sales and keep it from being lost in the expanding sea of premium denim.

Caroline Athias, who cofounded the brand in 1999, initiated the reworking of the line, bringing in Susan Woo to take over design responsibilities from Nicolas Peyrache, simplifying the offerings and raising prices.

"I'm seeing a tremendous amount of competition," said Athias. "Buyers, by the mere fact that [something] is a new name, go for that. We want to have a great product. We want to make sure we stay on top."

The emphasis is on elevating construction and quality. The brand has pared down its styles to 13 from 80 and has switched to double-needle from single-needle stitching. The jeans will feature an inverted yoke and two back darts to improve fit, and the brand's signature embroidery has moved from the back pocket to the inside of the waistband. The red cloth label will disappear, replaced by a brown leather patch embossed with "Blue Cult handcrafted in the U.S.A."

The fabric was also an area Athias wanted to improve.

"The reaction to our fabric here wasn't great," said Athias. "In the American market, at least in stretch, they want a better recovery."

She said the fabric the brand previously used tended to become "saggy."

Athias expects distribution for the revamped line, which is sold at department stores and boutiques such as Intuition, Spirituali, Bloomingdale's and Elyse Walker, to remain the same. However, wholesale prices will increase to between $72 and $125, up from $69 to $115. The women's line will make the transition first and will be unveiled at next week's Fashion Coterie in New York and MAGIC in Las Vegas trade shows. The men's line will be ready for next spring.

Athias said she saw the need for change after returning from a leave of absence last year. "At the beginning, Blue Cult was a high-quality, great-fitting jean," said Athias. "The company got bigger and [our direction] got lost."

After its inception in 1999, Blue Cult expanded to 800 retail doors in the U.S., 800 in Europe, 150 in Japan and 150 in other regions."Because we became global, it was quite difficult for us to handle the growth," Athias said, adding that she expects the retooled line to boost sales by 50 percent.

Rebuilding the flagship brand is the company's latest project in the past year to improve business. It started a program to allow retailers to customize back-pocket designs and launched a pricier offshoot brand, Elite by Blue Cult, which is also designed by Woo. Blue Cult accounts for more than half of sales for Vernon, Calif.-based parent company Ancami, which also produces Blue Cult Knits and the Sacred, Sacred Blue and Blue 2 denim lines.
Khanh T.L. Tran

Predicting the Denim Fallout
The next trend to make a splash in the premium denim market will have less to do with styles, washes and fits, and everything to do with price.

Denim manufacturers exhibiting at trade shows in Europe during the last several weeks said that, in addition to increasing competition, the constant stream of new players entering the denim fray has created a fresh challenge — selling to an educated consumer.

At the Bread & Butter and Premium shows in Berlin last month, manufacturers said they expected the denim market to slim down in 2006 as much as the silhouette of the jeans. The shakeout will leave only the strongest labels standing, said the executives.

"There are so many different brands that the market has become very confusing," said Andrea Bernholtz, president of Rock & Republic, which was showing at Premium. "The brands that are just hype are going to fall away."

Vendors agreed that the competitive environment has resulted in a more knowledgeable consumer, one that demands better value and has an eye for the details needed to command premium values.

"Today's customers are more educated about jeans and much more savvy," Samuel Ku, co-director of European operations for Adriano Goldschmied, said during Bread & Butter. "If a pair of jeans is retailing at $200, you can't get away with manufacturing in Mexico."

The feeling among many labels is that consumers are more attuned to shortcuts in production and appreciate quality more than ever. In response, companies such as Edwin and Adriano invest in top Japanese denim and have shifted aspects of production, such as washing, to Italy."Prices have really come down and $250 is seen as too much nowadays," said Barbara Calmes, product developer at Edwin. "In fact, after $150, things start to get difficult. To get that sort of price, you really have to offer something pretty special in the way of detail or wash."

Other manufacturers agree, although the upper threshold for jeans varies from label to label. Mustang, for example, is trying to stay under 100 euros, or around $120, but Ku believes most people are unwilling to pay more than $180 to $200. Price is also a matter of geography, with manufacturers noting that customers in the U.S. have been willing to pay more than those in European markets.

Despite the pressures, optimism remained high among exhibitors at Bread & Butter and Premium.

"The market is great for us right now because Mustang has its own real and unique tradition," said Doris Menzel, creative consultant for Mustang, one of the first brands to manufacture jeans in Europe. "That heritage gives Mustang a lot of credibility and we have incorporated that into our collection."

Inspired by gold-rush days of old, the collection features sleeveless denim overalls and pleated, checked knee-length skirts with matching tailored jackets.

As for skirts, exhibitors agreed with Mustang about the issue of length. "There are three important lengths — mini, three-quarter and to the knee," said Axel Schukies, G-Star's head of sales in Germany. "But the knee-length is the most important."

But according to most manufacturers, the key silhouette remains the skinny leg. Lengths are everywhere: from jodhpur-inspired knee lengths at Phard, and three-quarter-length capris at Adriano Goldschmied, to the superlong, 37-inch drainpipes at Chip & Pepper worn scrunched at the bottom.

"The skin-tight leg just hit the U.S. a few months ago and now girls are in a frenzy to get them," said Ku.

Despite this, many manufacturers, such as Seven For All Mankind and Rock & Republic, are still also carrying a boot-cut line, which is still a major seller because of its flattering shape. There is the added benefit of being able to cater to two different sorts of customers, "or the same customer, just in a different mood," said Rick Crane, executive vice president of Seven For All Mankind.The more experimental lines also have raised waists drastically, such as Mavi's Marilyn Monroe-inspired skinny, high-waisted jeans. But for the mainstream, the rise is staying on the hip, although not as low as in the past.

"Girls are just not going for high waists," said Ku. "Even when they have a perfect body, most women feel like they end up looking like their mom."

Super-low waists are out and many manufacturers, such as Rock & Republic and Adriano Goldschmied, are cutting slightly higher at the back.

"It's just not quite as low as before with everything hanging out," said Rock & Republic's Bernholtz. "It's that quarter of an inch between sexy and slutty."

Jeans labels are also experimenting with different fabrics, introducing five-pocket velvets, cords and checked flats, all inspired by the trend toward the classic.

While jeans are getting cleaner and less embellished than in previous seasons, detail remains an important way of standing out from the crowd. At Mustang, rear pockets are entirely covered with handmade cross-stitching, while Firetrap has gone after a rock 'n' roll vibe by using metal skull-shaped studs and black lace, jet-beaded details.
Damien McGuinness

Pepsi Goes Beyond the Pop
Soft drink behemoth Pepsi has a new flavor — denim.

"This is the first time Pepsi has diversified its business in the fashion industry," said Jacques Valléau, a French fashion entrepreneur and president of International Fashion Network, the new licensee for Pepsi Jeans in Europe.

He unveiled the collection at the Porte de Versailles in Paris last weekend. Using Pepsi logos and advertisements from the Forties and Fifties, the collection hums with a heritage feel.

"To begin with, we wanted to target the same age group as Pepsi, appeal to its consumers and then branch out," said Valléau.

That initially means girls and boys between the ages of eight and 16, but Valléau is going beyond that.

"A sportswear line for 18- to 24-year-olds is already in the works for the summer of 2007," he said.The Paris-based jeans line isn't Pepsi's first brush with the denim industry. In 1999, Phil Marineau left Pepsi to become president and chief executive officer of Levi Strauss & Co.

Manufactured in Mauritius, the new Pepsi jeans and cargo pants wholesale between 16 and 24 euros, or $19 and $29, and sturdy yet elegant parkas with sheepskin linings go for 33 euros to 50 euros, or $39 to $59 at wholesale. Valléau has plans to open a 750-square-foot Pepsi Jeans shop near the Les Halles district in central Paris in July. He said plans for six Pepsi Jeans stores in Dubai were also under way, and the first two openings are expected by September.

"The visibility of the brand is already extremely strong," Valléau said. "Customers will be curious when they see a Pepsi Jeans Store. The label will recall something from their past and they will want to go inside."
Emilie Marsh

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