Denim Lays Low in L.A.

Last March, premium denim labels such as Antik, Buffalo, Yanuk and Taverniti presented runway shows at Smashbox Studios in Culver City, Calif., under the banner of "Denim Day."

What a difference a year makes.

Last March, premium denim labels such as Antik, Buffalo, Yanuk and Taverniti presented runway shows at Smashbox Studios in Culver City, Calif., under the banner of “Denim Day.” Rock & Republic also staged an elaborate fashion presentation with potted orchids and taxidermic animals at nearby Sony Studios.

This year, as part of Los Angeles Fashion Week, denim companies are assuming a lower profile. At Monday’s party for Tag Jeans at Area nightclub in West Hollywood, models donning rainbow-colored jeans strutted down a makeshift runway in front of the bar under two floodlights suiting a crime scene instead of a fashion show. At Ed Hardy, Christian Audigier waited until about halfway through his Smashbox show before dispatching models in a sky blue denim miniskirt with matching leopard-print leggings and skinny jeans in a vintage wash.

Frankie B.’s Daniella Clarke skipped the runway at Smashbox in favor of hosting an intimate dinner next Monday at a private Los Angeles residence, where models sporting the fall collection will mingle with guests.

Other designers hoped to ride the retail momentum that frocks are enjoying by offering everything from jumpers and flowing jersey gowns to long tunics and oversize pleasant blouses that can double as minidresses. For instance, J. Crew’s Madewell, which on Sunday draped its fall apparel on mannequins in its Los Angeles shop, doubled the number of dress styles for fall from spring to complement the denim, which makes up at least a third of the line.

“There’s a really big dress statement,” said Madewell stylist Lisa Schulner.

Several jeans makers opted to sponsor low-key previews in hotel suites. Sipping Champagne in a poolside bungalow rented by Seven For All Mankind at the Roosevelt Hotel, guests checked out a more sophisticated sportswear grouping featuring herringbone capes, as well as new accessories lines, including leopard-print booties and oversize coin purses, that wholesale from $100 to $400.

Rock & Republic, which showed in New York for the last two seasons, decorated a sixth-floor penthouse room at the Chateau Marmont with jeans, sportswear, sunglasses, handbags and shoes that shared stylistic details such as foil treatment, animal prints and fur. Loomstate and Edun, both based in New York, teamed up for the second time to reserve a hotel room, even though they run sales showrooms in downtown Los Angeles.

This story first appeared in the March 22, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“No one wants to go down there,” said Loomstate representative Berrin Noorata at West Hollywood’s Chamberlain Hotel.

But what retail buyers want is new categories, denim companies said. For fall, Edun unveiled silk dresses printed with drawings of wood owls, whereas Loomstate introduced heavy outerwear, including a cropped flannel jacket in plaid with sherpa lining and a belt.

“We really want to expand it into a lifestyle brand,” Noorata said. “We want to offer more style.”

Nonetheless, denim can make a comeback on the runway. Danny Guez, chairman and chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based People’s Liberation, which produces an eponymous line, as well as Justin Timberlake and Trace Ayala’s William Rast, said he will stage runway shows for both brands in October.

There is also a new label like DeHoghton that launched this spring. Offering denim HotPants, white cigarette jeans and other items to celebrities such as actress Hayden Panettiere at a two-day gifting suite, DeHoghton designer Michael Houghton will throw a bash tonight at the Roxy Theatre, where he and Andy Hilfiger will jam with their band, Michael H and the Bashers.

“Los Angeles is definitely prime territory [for DeHoghton],” Houghton said. “It’s a great rock and roll energy out there.”