Denim veterans Marithé and François Girbaud want to reclaim lost ground in the U.S. contemporary market with the spring launch of a premium denim brand called Le Jean de Marithé + François Girbaud.

Produced under license by New York's I.C. Isaacs & Co., Le Jean is a move by the Paris-based Girbauds to attract trend-savvy customers after their namesake jeans line evolved into an urban label and stopped selling women's jeans in the U.S. last spring.

Already available overseas, Le Jean will kick off in the U.S. with a capsule collection of some 15 styles wholesaling from $43 to $55, or as much as 20 percent higher than the jeans sold under the Marithé + François Girbaud label. But Le Jean embodies the same attention to detail and technologically advanced fabrics that characterize the Girbauds' ventures, which also encompass a high-end line produced by Italy's Interfashion and a sportswear label dubbed Cravata Killer.

Striving to move beyond standard five-pocket blue jeans, Le Jean offers lavender capris, jeans featuring two yokes that crisscross in the front, cropped linen jackets and buttercup yellow T-shirts cut with a deep V-neck collar accentuated by overlapping stitching for an origami effect.

"We need real design," said François Girbaud, who promoted Le Jean at the Las Vegas rendition of Project Global Tradeshows in August.

Girbaud, 62, who got his start in the jeans business in 1964, said, "There aren't that many real designers in the denim market."

Girbaud's experience appeals to Shauna Stein, buyer and co-owner of On Sunset in West Hollywood, Calif., who mixes designer labels such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Barbara Bui with contemporary looks from Cravata Killer, which she imports from Paris. Having first met François Girbaud some 30 years ago in Italy, Stein praised his vision, which she said is necessary for the repetitive jeans market because "it needs to re-create itself."

While Le Jean's inaugural collection for spring is small and priced a bit too low for her high-end boutique, Stein said she wants to help grow the business with the Girbauds.

"I really want to be there when they launch the bigger picture next season," Stein said. "I have a lot of faith in these guys."So does Isaacs, which projects that Le Jean will hit $10 million in first-year wholesale sales for the U.S. women's business.

"We think [denim's] headed back toward a fashion cycle," said Robert S. Stec, Isaacs' chairman and chief executive officer. "Other than making the wash lighter or darker, there's nothing new out there."

Girbaud continues to push for innovation, especially as energy and water conservation is paramount for many consumers. One development that has been in the works for 10 years is a laser treatment that gives double-faced striped cotton a washed-out look, not to mention a soft and pliant feel, without a drop of water. Made in Italy, the lasered cotton will be available next summer in the form of cropped overalls with dark brown leather trim and a $60.50 wholesale price.

"We are opening doors," Girbaud said.

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