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The New Jeans Thing: Features

BERLIN — One of the most pervasive questions in the denim market for the past two years has been: Who is going to find the Next Big Thing, a style change along the lines of low rise that would inspire shoppers to head out to replace their jeans wardrobes?

The problem has been that no one’s found such a dramatic departure that looks like it will sell in large volume. So, rather than worrying about big things, exhibitors at a pair of recent jeans trade shows here focused on the little ones: Embroidered waistbands, novelty buttons, colorful pocket fabrics and other details to make a new pair of jeans appear special to the discerning shopper.

“Constant innovation is the key driver,” said Aidan O’Meara, VF Europe’s vice president of marketing. “We’ve now got a fourth ‘F’ — features, that is, all the styling details — to add to finish, fabric and fit.”

This was a common refrain at the Bread & Butter and Premium jeans shows, which wrapped up on Sunday.

Vendors also put a focus on those three basics. Finishes generally tended toward the subtle, producing the appearance of authentic wear, rather than aggressive blasting. For fabric, while denim remained the obvious mainstay, fall-winter collections included velvet, corduroy and cotton drill — a twill fabric that looks a lot like denim but is woven differently and is heavier in weight. For fit, low-rise, boot-cut jeans remained a mainstay, though slim, straight legs are gaining ground. Tomboy looks also were picking up, with baggier men’s styles downsized to fit women.

“The past few years have been all about the wash, but now it’s about the detailing,” said Alice Flynn, senior vice president of denim and corporate design at Tommy Hilfiger Europe.

The fall Hilfiger jeans collection is intended to evoke the style of an American college student spending a year in England. It juxtaposes vintage-looking blue denim with workwear details and jackets, skirts and tops in a variety of fabrics, including donegals and tweeds, with printed embroidery linings and jeweled buttons for a dressier look. Clean, tailored finishing stars inside the jeans, which are styled with larger and lower-placed pockets.

This story first appeared in the January 27, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Exhibitors at the shows said their efforts were just part of keeping consumers interested.

“We see no downturn in denim,” said VF’s O’Meara. “It’s moving all the time. You just can’t stand still. That’s the thing.”

He noted that Wrangler’s European line has grown to offer more tops.

“There’s more here than there would have been last year,” he said. “The market is segmenting, fragmenting and wanting more. So we have it.”

Wrangler also showed a new subbrand called “BY,” which stands for “Blue and Yellow,” with targeted retail prices of around 120 euros, or about $156 at current exchange rates. The line fills the gap between core Wrangler jeans that sell for 90 euros, or $117, and more premium Blue Bell at 150 euros to 199 euros, or $195 to $260.

“This product is as important inside as outside,” said David Tring, merchandising manager for the BY line. “We focus on details and use as much as we can.”

The jeans are made of flat blue denim accented with yellow stitching, oversized zippers, striped blue-and-yellow pocket lining, yellow grommets, yellow piping, a stripe on the cuff, slanted belt loops and a yellow paint splash that takes the place of a tab. The fit is exaggeratedly loose at the top and narrow on the bottom.

“This is real tomboy for women,” Tring said.

G-Star collaborated with Australian interior designer Marc Newson for a futuristic workwear look under the Marc Newson G-Star label. Manager Axel Schukies said the line was intended to evoke the look of a futuristic gas station attendant. The silhouettes are oversized, as are the details, such as the large, flat buttons that also serve as the collection’s icon. Some styles are made of waxed denim and marked with white rubber or white pique matting. Styles retail for around 250 euros, or $325.

G-Star’s main women’s collection continues to expand.

“A lot has happened in women’s and the business has grown,” Schukies said.

The denim range has been completely revamped, offering many more washes, including lighter tones. The branding at the pockets has become more visual, and other signature details include six new button styles, larger labels, slanted back belt loops, a G-Star stamp and model-name identification inside the waistband.

More basic jeans vendors also said business was strong.

At Meltin’ Pot, an Italian producer of “progressive basics,” chief executive officer Augusto Romani said sales last year were up about 50 percent.

“We sell basic, but the product represents a lot in terms of ethos,” Romani said. “It’s time to take a new approach to the business and the consumer.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Rich Hippie, a Dallas-based producer of novelty jeans, was having a field day at Bread & Butter, according to founder and co-owner Eric Kimmel. The patchwork styles with large-scale cartoon-character inserts or reworked icon tops, were being ordered by Italian, German, Greek, Spanish and Israeli retailers. Kimmel expects to increase overseas business by at least 30 percent this year, aided in part by the weak dollar. At current exchange rates, Rich Hippie jeans wholesale for 40 euros, or $52, including shipping.

There was also a plethora of high-end jeans at the shows.

Paris-based Diamant Jeans offered ultradecorated, neo baroque jeans that feature brocade insets, red velvet appliqués, designs and writing in gold, double waistbands of Thai silk, and novelty buttons, including a detachable diamond and gold button stud that can bring prices into the thousands of euros or dollars.

“Basic prices start at 200 to 220 euros [$260 to $286],” said Steve Saban, business and marketing director. “The luxury line is very expensive, from 700 to 800 euros [$910 to $1,040] with nondiamond gold buttons and 3,000 euros [$3,900] with the jeweled button….But there is a market for the luxury end. This is not a jeans brand, but a concept mixing jewels and denim in a baroque universe.”

Buyers said they were pleased with the breadth of the assortment at the shows.

Bread & Butter drew more than 40,000 visitors, up from 34,000 last summer. The Premium shows attracted 15,000 visitors, compared with 12,000 last season.

“Berlin was outstanding, gorgeous, wonderful,” said Majed Al-Sabah, chairman and president of Villa Moda in Kuwait. The luxury retailer has just started a new jeans division, and Al-Sabah and his buyers were in Berlin for the first time. “What was unbelievable at Bread & Butter was the amount of talent you can find there from Germany, Scandinavia and Italy. You can see how streetwear influences fashion and I think people from the luxury brands should watch what’s happening in this area.”

Al-Sabah said his company placed orders with more than 30 new brands of jeans, shoes, accessories and outerwear.

He said, “1921 was great, as was Teenage Millionaire. I liked Pharmacy, VSCT, G-Star, Meltin’ Pot, Surf Couture from France. We saw a lot of companies you don’t see in Paris and the talent is fantastic. Our stores need to be injected with such talent. The voice of young people gives excitement to the stores.” —Melissa Drier

Cotton Study Confirms: Celebrities’ Influence in Fashion Grows

NEW YORK — Young shoppers are more and more likely to cite celebrities as an important source of new fashion ideas, though the Hollywood set’s influence on people over 35 remains small. And clothing — while still womens’ favorite shopping item — is losing ground, with groceries gaining in popularity.

Those were among the biggest changes in Americans’ shopping patterns during the past decade, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor.

The Cary, N.C.-based research and promotional organization this month released the 2004 findings of its Lifestyle Monitor study. Cotton Inc. started the quarterly poll, in which 4,000 shoppers aged 16 to 70 are asked to answer 115 questions about their shopping and fashion preferences.

“It gave us a tremendous amount of insight into consumer behavior that we couldn’t buy from anybody else,” said Ric Hendee, vice president of marketing services. “A big part of our service effort is to find ways to get in the doors of all the people that work with cotton or might work with cotton. This gave us something to talk about.”

The number of shoppers saying that celebrities influence their buying habits has changed markedly in the last decade, though the increase has been most pronounced with people under 25. Last year, 37 percent of women shoppers aged 16 to 19 said they got clothing ideas from watching celebrities, up from 16 percent in 1994. In the 20 to 24 age group, 27 percent said so last year, up from 15 percent in 1994.

By way of comparison, in the 35 to 44 age range, 14 percent said they were influenced by celebrities last year, compared with 8 percent in 1994. In the 45 to 54 group, the influence was unchanged at 6 percent.

Shoppers aged 45 to 54 said last year that new clothing purchases were influenced by garments they already owned, up from 57 percent who reported that in 1994.

The number of women of all ages who said they loved shopping rose to 25 from 20 percent over that period, though the number of women who liked shopping fell to 29 percent from 43.

Women reported major shifts in their shopping preferences. Clothes remained the most popular item, with 49 percent of shoppers reporting that choice, down from 57 percent. Interest in food was on the rise as the percentage of people who prefer to shop for groceries increased to 21 percent from 15 percent.

Kim Kitchings, Cotton Inc.’s director of market research, noted that the group also saw significant changes in Hispanic shoppers’ interest in fashion over the past decade. Last year, 21 percent of Hispanic shoppers said they like to stay on the cutting edge of style, up from 12 percent in 1994. Only 18 percent of Hispanic shoppers said they were slow to change, compared with 34 percent a decade ago.

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