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Denim Dish: The Jeans of Riley

Don’t expect Riley’s new denim line, shipping to retailers this month, to veer into streetwear anytime soon. <br><br>Riley, the casual contemporary label known for its hybrids of vintage and modern fashions, signed designer Carl Jones as...

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Don’t expect Riley’s new denim line, shipping to retailers this month, to veer into streetwear anytime soon.

Riley, the casual contemporary label known for its hybrids of vintage and modern fashions, signed designer Carl Jones as the line’s licensee and manufacturer earlier this year. But Jones, whose roots are deep in streetwear and hip-hop — he worked on labels including Jones Juke Joint and Cross Colours— said he’s taking his cues from Riley’s quirky sensibilities.

“I’ve been able to adapt to whatever is the fashion,” said the designer, whose firm is called Vintage Jean Labs. “What I’m doing isn’t too hard. I’m just emulating what Riley does.”

The collection includes pieces like a stretch-velvet fitted blazer with a Victorian, rocker-glam vibe and sewn-on denim strips and pockets. Another piece, which invokes the spirit of a geisha girl, is a long, denim skirt blocked with Asian character prints. A matching kimono-sleeved jacket has frog-ear buttons and a backside screen print. Western inspiration led to hand-sprayed twill pants with denim thigh patches.

Wholesale prices range from about $68 for jeans to $180 for a jacket.

Riley’s women’s denim line ships this month to about 250 of the brand’s existing 1,300 accounts, with first-year sales expected to reach $1 million. Riley owners and brothers Derek and Greg Banton also are seeking Canadian and Australian distribution.

“We want to make Riley a lifestyle product, something a woman can wear wherever she wants,” said Derek Banton, chief financial officer of Vernon, Calif.-based Born Again Clothing, a vintage clothing seller, which owns the Riley name.

The main Riley brand continues to evolve, with sales reaching $20 million this year. Footwear debuted in 2002 and handbags are launching for holiday with crackled leather totes and tattoo-print coin purses.

As one might expect at a company that trades in vintage goods, Banton’s office features a hoard of relics, including golf bric-a-brac, hunting trophies (including a head of a Gemsbok antelope) and rock-band screen prints cut from Eighties denim jackets.

The company’s fabric archives are kept at its 25,000-square-foot headquarters in Vernon, outside Los Angeles, where there are bales of graded used clothing piled as high as 20 feet.

Jeanine Mark designs the main Riley line.

At its peak in the early Nineties, Born Again had about 1,000 accounts, but business dried up to about 200 buyers as retailers and consumers grew more savvy about vintage clothing. Banton, a Zimbabwean expatriate who sold car stereos and imported belt buckles, turned his attention to the Riley brand in 1999, first in children’s clothing and later adding men’s and women’s lines.

The main line includes simple items like sweatshirts, made fashionable with sewn-on vintage silk scarves.

It’s a look that has earned retailer support, among them, Fred Levine, co-owner of the Agoura Hills, Calif.-based chain of M. Frederic stores.

“They’re consistently coming up with exciting novelty product and people try to copy them and they do it poorly,” said Levine, who has sold Riley since its inception and plans to carry the denim line.

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