Wrangler Tries Premium on for Size
Wrangler, best known for its American heritage and Western lifestyle apparel, will launch the Wrangler Premium Patch collection for spring, a denim line for women and men.

Premium Patch pairs modern fits with a vintage feel. The women's line will be sold in specialty boutiques and upper-tier department stores and retail for $79 to $110. The line derives its inspiration from the personal vintage fashion library of its creative director, Monique Buzy-Pucheu, who has collected a library of thousands of pieces of denim. About 50 of them are Bluebell pieces, the line that became Wrangler in 1947.

The Premium Patch collection consists of three major fits named for cities where Wrangler has factories: the Madison, a bootleg; the Lillington, a cigarette-style jean, and the Ayden, a flared style. There are four to seven washes per fit. Buzy-Pucheu said it takes five to seven hours to create one pair of Premium Patch jeans. They are manufactured in the U.S. and in Mexico.

"Everything we do is manual," she said. "The grinding, the sand-papering, the whiskering — it's all done by hand."

The launch is the culmination of the brand's reinvention. Last fall, Wrangler started the Wrangler 47 collection, a premium line at a higher price point — $125 to $150 retail — signifying the brand's presence in the premium denim category.

"The Wrangler 47 consumer is aged 21 to 39 years old, lives in a large metropolitan area and is a trendy, fashion-forward person," said Phil McAdams, president of Wrangler specialty apparel. "The Premium Patch consumer is 18 to 45 years old and is fashion-aware, but not on the edge of the trends."

McAdams said the Premium Patch line combines the Wrangler heritage with a contemporary design aesthetic. Part of the company's business plan, he said, is to create an updated product that translates to today's consumer.

"Wrangler has been known as a Western brand, a mass brand," McAdams said. "Consumers would love to purchase it, but it's not right for them or their lifestyle. We're addressing a new consumer segment now."

With the launch of Premium Patch, Wrangler will have premium brands in almost every distribution channel. Genuine Wrangler is available in midtier and upper-tier retail channels and Wrangler 47 retails at high-end fashion boutiques and select upper-tier retail channels. Premium Patch fills the void by targeting denim specialty stores and exclusive department stores.Buzy-Pucheu has served as the executive vice president of merchandising and product development at Calvin Klein. She also has been a denim consultant for brands such as Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Polo Jeans Co. and Tommy Hilfiger, and worked on a denim collaboration for Marc by Marc Jacobs.

McAdams predicted the Premium Patch collection will constitute 25 percent of the division's total business. In 2004, VF's Jeanswear Coalition, made up primarily of Wrangler and Lee, had sales of $2.66 billion, basically flat with the year before.

"This [premium] piece is really a significant volume piece," he said.
— Lauren DeCarlo

Seven Jeans Resolves Counterfeit Suit
A lawsuit involving alleged sales of counterfeit Seven jeans at two midtown Manhattan retailers was resolved last week with a permanent injunction and consent judgment.

L'Koral Inc., which does business as Seven For All Mankind LLC, filed a complaint in January against SSS Sales Co. and Robert Apfel Associates Inc. alleging violations on five counts, including trademark infringement and counterfeiting, unfair competition and false designation of origin.

Under the terms of the agreement filed July 1 in the Southern District of New York, SSS Sales and Robert Apfel Associates were enjoined from manufacturing, distributing, and selling merchandise that uses unauthorized trademarks of Seven For All Mankind.

Trademarks referenced in the judgment included pocket designs as well as the brand name. Lawyers for both sides of the case could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the original complaint, the company has achieved sales of more than $300 million in four years. The company has aggressively been pursuing counterfeiters, filing more than a dozen suits across the nation over the last year, in preparation for an expansion campaign geared at establishing itself as a lifestyle brand.
— Liza Casabona

Getting Cashmere for Christmas
Jean Paul Da'mage can attest to just how hot the women's premium jeans market has been and wants to add to the sizzle during the holiday season with a new cashmere jean.

The Atlanta-based company introduced its first women's offering less than a year ago when the only women's style available was a basic slim-cut, low-rise fit, said David Long, a Da'mage founder and principal. Celebrity endorsements from stars such as Drew Barrymore have generated demand and innovation since.The company has three fits available — slim, boys' and core — the last of which Long described as between the slim and boys' fits. Fourteen washes are available.

"Our women's business has blown us away," said Long, who noted that women's accounted for about 50 percent of the company's $20 million annual wholesale volume.

Long said it is a balance not typically seen in the jeans market, where sales of women's jeans can outpace men's by exponential factors. It has been all about the ladies this year.

"Our men's business is still extremely strong, but we're focusing our marketing toward women right now," he said.

The company's new jean for the holiday season, the Savannah, is a cashmere blend that will retail for more than $500.

"It feels like you're wearing a sweater, but it breathes," said Long, adding that while the choice of fabric accounts for much of the cost, embellishments are a key element. "The obvious trend right now is the ornamentation on the jeans and the back-pocket detail."

The cashmere jean and some novelty pieces will feature a new back pocket logo for the holiday season.

When the company opened five years ago, it focused on producing jeans for the 24- to 38 year-old male customer, a market that Long and co-founders and principals Jean Van De Wiel and Jeff Schaefer felt was underserved when it came to premium jeans. This decision had the added benefit of avoiding direct competition with the expanding women's premium market.

It quickly paid off. Sales reached the $8 million to $10 million range within two years, spurred by endorsements from Justin Timberlake, Antonio Sabatos and the rock group Maroon 5.

Neema Worldwide, which owns the Halston, Bill Blass and Haspel labels, took note and purchased the assets of Da'mage in October, keeping its executive team in place and providing the resources to make a bigger push into the market.

The men's and women's lines are available in some 200 stores, including Henri Bendel and Saks Fifth Avenue, and retail from $190 to more than $500.

As with all Da'mage jeans, the cashmere jean will be manufactured entirely in the U.S. While that ups the price, Long said it assures quality and saves on time spent shipping product."When we first started out, we wanted to find the places that would make the best jeans for us regardless of price," Long said. "In the Southeast, there were a lot of places that were going out of business and needed business."

Some of those had previous experience in the premium denim arena, making them a natural fit for the line.

Da'mage has been heralded for its all-domestic manufacturing, but Long maintained that politically positive marketing doesn't make up for inadequate product.

"We could make our jeans in the White House, but if they don't look good people don't care," Long said. "We make them here in the States, really, because we think we get the best quality."
— Ross Tucker

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