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Denim Dish: Levi’s Takes an Apprentice … Running With the Hounds … Get Your Hands Blue …

Levi’s Takes an Apprentice…Getting Handsblue.com., a denim Webzine…Advice from The Blue Hound…Taking Chicago’s Pulse.

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Levi’s Takes an Apprentice

In its ongoing effort to stop its seven-year sales slide, Levi Strauss & Co. has hired and fired top-level executives, rolled out two major spinoffs of its iconic 501 blue jeans style and sought the advice of top-name, top-dollar consulting firms.

Now the San Francisco-based company is turning to a team of Donald Trump emulators.

Contestants on this year’s edition of the NBC reality show “The Apprentice,” who are fighting for a job with the real estate mogul, will face a lineup of tasks working on major American brands. Among them is a marketing assignment at Levi’s, the company and NBC confirmed. The episode with that task is to air in November.

A Levi’s spokeswoman declined to provide other details, citing a “super-tight confidentiality agreement.” She dismissed the idea that consultants from Alvarez & Marsal — hired by Levi’s as advisers in December — would be in competition with contestants from the show.

“One is an overall LS&Co. issue,” she said. “The other is the Levi’s brand. They are two very separate entities.”

In its fiscal year ended in November, Levi’s reported sales of $4.15 billion, off 1.3 percent from the prior year and down considerably from the firm’s 1997 peak of $7.1 billion. Through the first two quarters of this year, the firm has posted revenue growth, though executives warned in July that they expected the third quarter to be a tougher comparison.

Since one of the most popular parlor games in the jeans business is what-I-would-do-if-I-ran-Levi’s, executives said the appearance of the brand as a task on a reality show is likely to prompt a lot of eye-rolling among the denim set.

Overall, though, observers said outside of the insular jeans community, an appearance of the Levi’s name on a popular TV show will likely be a boon for the brand. The task given to the contestants is not expected to be a major corporate revamp, but a smaller marketing project related to the Levis’ brand, according to a source with knowledge of the project.

“The demographics of ‘The Apprentice’ are, strictly speaking, quite good,” said Isaac Lagnado, president of Tactical.org, a New York consulting firm. “It’s a lot of the target demographics [Levi’s] had been long trying to reach through their advertising.”

Michael Silver, president of Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Silver Jeans, said it could pay off for Levi’s in that one never knows where a good idea might come from.

“I’ve been hearing ‘We’ve got to get out of the box’ out of Levi’s for nine years now,” he said. “This is straight out of the box.”

Still, he noted that all ideas need to be carefully vetted. He recalled the name of a losing product from the show’s first episode of this season, which aired last week.

“The kids’ toy was called ‘Crustacean Nation,’” he said. “You can only imagine what the jeans will be called.” — Scott Malone

Running With the Hounds

Looking to sniff out the latest trends in denim, former Burlington Industries executive Joe Ieraci has formed a consulting firm called The Blue Hound Inc.

Ieraci said the company’s goal will be to help new and existing jeans brands to stay on top of developments in the denim world, “if you need me for a season, for a week, for a year.”

Ieraci, 47, said he stepped down as director of product marketing and trend director at Burlington in April, and spent the summer traveling in the U.S., Europe and Italy, where he shopped top jeans boutiques and browsed the offerings of top mills. Ieraci spent the last seven years at Burlington after 10 years at trends consulting firm Promostyl.

So what’s the next big thing in denim? In the U.S., the New York-based consultant said, “Everything is cleaning up. A lot of people are just falling back to doing rinsed or rigid jeans. That didn’t work three or four years ago and it won’t work now. I prefer the idea of having a fabric that’s dark, but has a lot of character in it…a little fraying, so people see the texture, see the direction, but it’s not wet-processed.”

In other words, bring on the sandpaper but skip the washing machine.

Outside the U.S., particularly in Japan, he said, jeans that are heavily washed and faded remain in demand.

“I like to go with contradictions,” he said. “But right now we have two markets going on in denim.” — S.M.

Get Your Hands Blue

A quartet of indigo enthusiasts is preparing to launch a Web magazine devoted to the dungaree lifestyle next month, betting that consumers’ ardor for denim is strong enough for an entire publication devoted to jeans and the people who wear them, .

The Webzine, Handsblue.com, is intended to be “a mix between an art book and a magazine,” said creative director Daniele Kim, formerly creative consultant at Dutch magazine. It will focus on the lifestyles of the superpremium jeans shopper who shells out $150 or more for the latest and greatest in denim.

“The culture of this customer is very much based in art, photography and media,” said Bart Sights of Sights Denim Systems, the Henderson, Ky.-based firm known for developing denim treatments and washes.

Sights will be the publication’s editor in chief. Kim described Sights as the guru “of the denim market….He can wash jeans 60,000 ways.”

Handsblue.com will cover music, film, fashion and photography and include interviews with actors and musicians, as well as sections such as “My Point of View” where artists can sound off. The site will try to enlist jeans brands to sponsor sections.

“It’s all here in one package and it’s instant,” Kim said. “MTV took music, put an image behind it and created a culture. We want to do that with our project.”

In addition to Kim and Sights, Julia Kim — no relation to Daniele — and Wilfried Dickhoff will be publishers.

“We’re showing what’s going on behind the scenes, be it surfers, artists, musicians or skaters,” said Julia Kim. “You can view rockumentaries and hear music specifically made for each story. It combines every multimedia.”

They have lined up contributors, including fashion photographers David Sims and Craig McDean, and contemporary artist Tony Ousler. James Iha, formerly of The Smashing Pumpkins, will be music director.

“At Bart’s factory, they make jeans by hand,” said Daniele Kim. “When they’re finished, they ask, ‘Are your hands blue?’ In other words, ‘Did you work hard enough?’ We thought it was a perfect name for our project.” — Lauren DeCarlo

The Pulse of Denim

Denim reigned at the second edition of Pulse, Chicago’s new urbanwear market, where area retailers sought out the fabric with an emphasis on coordinating jeans, T-shirts, jackets and blazers.

Denim outfits topped the list for Barbara Bublick, senior junior’s buyer for Man Alive, a 40-store chain in the Midwest and South.

“Our customer likes matching tops and bottoms. They want an outfit,” Bublick said, noting that she ordered novelty denim and matching T-shirts from Pepe Jeans.

The market, which ran Sept. 8-10 at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, was a successful stop for Bublick.

“We got a lot of work done,” she said. “It was good for us, but it didn’t look like there was much traffic. I hope the show grows.”

Bublick also picked up novelty denim from Apple Bottoms; T-shirts, jeans and denim blazers from G-Unit, and jeans from Akademiks with its name embroidered up the pants leg. For tops, Bublick went with one-shoulder and tank tops.

Candice Johnson, who in October is opening a women’s urbanwear and accessories specialty shop called 2Dayz Apparel in Trotwood, Ohio, said denim was a key facet to her buy, as well. She ordered denim outfits from Johnny Girl, including long sleeve T-shirts in pink, white and red, with denim jackets and jeans with matching stitching.

In addition to jeans and miniskirts, hooded tops and body-conscious styles were among the must-haves, said Susan McCullough, vice president for apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties, which produces the show.

“It’s so intertwined with music,” she said of the urbanwear trends. “It’s about the stars and what they’re wearing.”

The show, which is about 25 percent women’s wear and 75 percent men’s, included lines such as Baby Phat, Akademiks, Azzure, Ecko Red, Rocawear and Pelle Pelle. The market, specializing in street, denim, urban and board sports apparel, debuted in June, when retailers gushed about the convenience, ease and selection.

“The feedback from the first show was all positive,” McCullough said. “We really didn’t change anything.”

While some vendors such as Rocawear Accessories reported strong sales of logo purses in pink and black with multicolors; rhinestone trimmed sunglasses in rose, lilac, silver and gold, and leather belts with nickel logo belt buckles, other women’s vendors said traffic was a bit slow.

“It’s been fine,” said Jeanette Greer, Midwest sales representative for Rocawear Juniors and Rocawear Accessories, about business at the market. “We’ve done great with accessories.”

Spring fashions did not move as well, she said. “Everyone’s concerned with immediate right now,” Greer said.

“We didn’t pick up any new clients,” Nita Ridge, the JLo by Jennifer Lopez sales representative for the Midwest and Southwest, said during the market’s second day.

Retailers who did place orders liked the line’s looks in denim, sweaters and puffer jackets.

“Everything right now is about pocket detail,” Ridge said of the JLo denim that features a diagonal J design on some pockets. The ubiquitous JLo warm-up suit is still popular in shades of pink, black, blue and green, she said.

— Beth Wilson

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