DIFFA’s Delight

Feathers, sequins, paint and high drama took 150 denim jackets way beyond basic at the 15th annual DIFFA Dallas runway fashion show and auction.

Held Saturday night at Dallas’ International Apparel Mart, the event drew about 1,500 guests for cocktails, dinner and a live and silent auction of customized denim jackets to raise money for the Dallas chapter of the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS.

Each year, a global roster of designers is invited to customize a denim jacket for the show, and this year included works from Calvin Klein, Nicole Miller, Todd Oldham, Arnold Scaasi, Cosa Bella, Jay Strongwater, David Meister, Frédéric Fekkai, Kenneth Cole and Tommy Bahama.

The fashion show was themed “Evolution” and included a parade of current and past denim jackets and vignettes that portrayed the history of AIDS and a tribute to those who are living with or who have died from the disease.

The live auction followed the fashion show and raised about $94,000, though proceeds of a silent auction and ticket sales were still being tallied at press time. Tommy Bahama’s men’s design team styled the top-dollar jacket, fetching a record $23,000. The jacket, which included a trip to Belize in the Caribbean and a case of Robert Mondavi wine, was a salute to life on the beach and was embellished with seashells, fishing lures, pineapples, tropical flowers, a martini glass and fishing net.

The previous record had been a Michael Faircloth design that sold for $15,000.

The number two jacket sold, designed by David Nelson, was a salute to the beaches of Mykonos, Greece, and sold for $9,500. It included an 11-day trip to Greece and a watercolor painting.

Jewelry designer Jay Strongwater’s multicolor jeweled jacket sold for $9,000 and included a trip to Villa Daffidol in St. Maarten.

Other festive jackets included a yellow-feathered salute to Big Bird designed by Henson Workshop-New York and a colorful jacket by Francisco Sastre reminiscent of Mexican tile mosaics.

All 150 jackets were donated by Levi Strauss & Co.

DIFFA gave its Excellence in Design Award to Kenneth Cole for his dedication to the fight against HIV and AIDS. Cole is known for his provocative and edgy ads that draw attention to social and cultural issues, including AIDS. Since 1985, he has served on the board of the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Each year his company promotes World AIDS Day by giving a portion of retail sales to AMFAR.Cole received the award at his fall fashion show in New York from Rene Syler, anchor of “The Early Show” on CBS.

— Rusty Williamson

Seize the Jeans

A trio of former fraternity brothers who got their start in the fashion world by souping up friends’ jeans during their college years, are trying to turn that business into a brand.

Carpé Denim jeans made their debut earlier this year at Atlanta’s women’s apparel market. The line is the creation of James Costa, the 26-year-old chief executive officer of the Atlanta-based design and manufacturing company, and partners chief operations officer Matthew Klein, 22, and chief marketing officer, Gregory Mensching, 21.

The trio got started during their years at Florida State University in Tallahassee, when they decided they were dissatisfied with the jeans business.

“We looked at the market and saw a saturation of finishes and designs — super-distressed, faded, whiskered and super-holey jeans — and it got under our skin,” said Costa.

Costa, a biochemistry major, began experimenting with new denim finishes and taught himself to sew by downloading instructions from the Internet. Along with Klein, a business and pre-law major, and Mensching, a graphic design major, he started a “denim customization” service for FSU students in 2001. After restyling and refinishing about 500 pairs of jeans, they decided to “seize the day” — that’s the English translation of the Latin maxim “carpe diem” that inspired the brand’s name — and begin designing and manufacturing their own line of men’s and women’s jeans.

The company’s first batch, Collectibles, was a limited edition of 1,000 pairs of jeans, hand-finished and numbered, which launched in October 2003. The partners said the jeans, wholesaling for $60 and up, sold out in two months. The new Basics collection is produced and finished in China.

Made of ring-spun cotton and available in five vintage finishes, the jeans wholesale for $60 to $65, depending on color and complexity of the finish. Women’s styles are named after Atlanta streets and landmarks — Crescent, Phipps, Lenox, LaVista and Pharr, in honor of Carpé Denim’s new hometown.The company moved headquarters there in December, running design, graphics and public relations out of a two-story house in Buckhead, where the three partners all live together. Greg Ereckson, the company’s new chief financial officer, lives in Florida.

Building the brand means playing to “style junkies,” described by Mensching as those who “go out of their way to be exceptionally fashion-forward. They’re seizing life through their clothing — not following trends, but creating them.”

Carpé Denim’s partners seek out “style scouts” to serve as brand representatives, both on their travels and through the Web. Style scouts get Carpé Denim business cards and free products.

“All they’ve got to do is wear the products, and tell people about them when they ask,” said Mensching.

With women’s product now 60 percent of sales and growing, the company plans to introduce denim miniskirts and jackets, along with midrise jeans next month at Atlanta’s AmericasMart.

Two logo T-shirts, a “girly gym T” and a cap-sleeve style, retail for $40, with the word “Carpé” centered on the signature brown-and-white ribbon.

The partners are hoping the line will bring in $600,000 in sales this year.

“Marketing accounts for 75 percent of our success,” said Costa. “Anybody can have a great jean, but marketing is so important. If you don’t properly and effectively market your product and look for longevity, you can become a flash in the pan.”

— Faye Musselman

Mood Indigo

For 45rpm, a 27-year-old Japanese high-end denim firm, good things come to those who wait. To wit: The brand, which prides itself on its lengthy wash procedures and meticulous craftsmanship, also took its time before finding the ideal location for its first boutique in Paris. After a successful run in more than 40 shops in Japan, Taiwan and New York, head designer Yasumi Inoue and chief executive Shinji Takahashi finally found what they consider an ideal location at 4 Rue du Marché Saint Honoré — not far away from hip shops like Colette and Comme des Garçons’ perfume outlet. The 1,100-square-foot store spreads over two floors and echoes the design of its sister boutiques. Vintage 45rpm jeans for men and women are suspended from the ceiling. The brand asserts that its inspiration springs from traditional indigo Japanese work clothes. Retail prices in the boutique range from $240 to $1,025, converted from the euro at the current exchange rate. Meanwhile, the shop’s basement level showcases leather handbags made in Italy and a jewelry line.— Emilie Marsh

A Jean With No Name

Children’s jeans vendor Anoname is growing up. The New York-based company is rolling out a junior and young men’s denim collection for fall retailing. The line includes an array of denim jeans, jackets and skirts as well as corduroy pants in deep maroon, brown and tan shades.

“I based the line on me and my friends — it’s what we would wear,” said Melissa Hodgson, vice president of sales and merchandising for the company.

Some key pieces include a denim bomber jacket with knit details on the sleeves and collar, a fleece-lined pair of jeans and a pleated denim miniskirt. The line wholesales from $11 to $25 and, according to Hodgson, the company is targeting major department stores and specialty chains. Hodgson said the company hopes to sell some of the higher-end pieces to high-end specialty stores.

Looking forward, the company is working on a line of knit tops to work with the jeans, which Anoname plans to launch for spring 2005 retailing. Hodgson said first-year sales on the jeans are expected to reach between $5 million and $7 million.

— Julee Greenberg

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