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High-End, Vintage Looks Shine in Berlin

Judging by the stands at this month’s Bread & Butter and Premium jeans shows in Germany, the high-end jeans trend is going strong.

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BERLIN — Judging by the stands at this month’s German jeans shows, the high-end denim trend is going strong.

Vendors at the Bread & Butter and Premium events showed upgraded fashion assortments for the spring-summer 2005 season, offering women a wider range of silhouettes and creative takes on next season’s vintage finishing and detailing. The shows closed July 18.

Price appears to be no object, manufacturers claimed, with consumers showing little resistance to retail prices of 100 to 200 euros — roughly $120 to $240 at current exchange rates. Levi Strauss & Co. upped the ante, offering a denim collection, limited to 501 pieces, that will retail here for 501 euros — in excess of $600. The pieces in the collection are based on a pair of 501 jeans from 1886 featuring four pockets instead of five — two main front pockets, a small watch pocket and one rear hip pocket — no belt loops and a back cinch.

Reinhard Haase, manager of the Düsseldorf Unifa Agency, which serves as sales representative for 18 American brands — including Seven for All Mankind, Von Dutch, Chip & Pepper, C&C California, Rock & Republic and Juicy Couture — suggested the boom has continued because jeans remain a practical fashion choice.

“If you walk through the streets, you’ll see nine out of 10 women wearing jeans. It’s just the way it is,” he said at Bread & Butter, where his firm exhibited. “Denim is booming on all sides and the show has been busy for us across the board.”

He said his aim is to turn cult brands like Seven for All Mankind into a fashion commodity selling for the local equivalent of $240 in Germany. A further priority is to get stock levels to the point where customers can get their reorders within 48 hours.

“Premium isn’t slowing down,” said Tim Wheeler, president of VF Europe, referring to the price point. “The 100 to 150 euro area seems particularly strong right now, but it is getting competitive. There are new brands coming up every day.”

In addition to building up its premium line Earl Jean — acquired by VF as part of its August 2003 purchase of Nautica Enterprises — he said the firm “will look at other premium brands for sure, as well as potential internal developments.”

Wheeler described denim sales as “strong, and spring-summer 2005 looks good, if you’ve got the right product and the right directional looks.”

For spring, VF’s Lee brand is rolling out a women’s version of its high-end 101 style featuring Lady Lee Riders jeans in a loose boot-cut model finished with abrasions, cuts and patches.

“The repositioning of the brand continues to go extremely well,” Wheeler said. “We have original Japanese denim at the top, 101, X-Line and core. With X-Line, that’s volume. We’re looking at a million units next year. There’s lots of variety in women’s right now. We’ve got the boys’ fit coming in, the cigarette is moving. There’s a lot of things working in women’s today.”

When it comes to fit, Levi Strauss is “staying slimmer, especially in Levi’s Red,” said Cathryn Robertson, marketing director, referring to the brand’s high-end directional line. “We’re playing with oversized tops and super-tight pants. Red is our laboratory where we can try everything.”

This season’s experiments included a slick, waxy coating for zip-accented, punk-style jeans and vinyl atex tattooed tops.

The Levi’s Vintage Clothing line is drawing its inspiration from the Fifties, with petticoats peeking out of denim circle skirts and high-waisted cotton slacks evoking a young Marilyn Monroe. But at Levi’s, as elsewhere, low rise is still the silhouette of choice.

At Mustang, a major German midmarket supplier with jeans retailing for the local equivalent of $70 to $140, chief executive officer Heiner Sefranek said of spring, “It’ll be a major denim season for sure. The people who are here are very positive.”

Sefranek acknowledged business has been tough for Mustang for the last few years. For 2004, he’s hoping for sales to either be flat with 2003 or up by as much as 5 percent.

While fashion has become more important for Mustang, “We’re happy to have the basic business, too,” he said. “The base is a relatively small assortment of relatively mainstream jeans in different washes and finishes. But then you also need emotion, lifestyle, color and fashion to attract the consumer to buy not only because his or her jeans are worn out, but through fashion. I think both businesses can be strong.”

Mustang’s fashion slant for spring also has a Fifties flair, featuring an updated version of the company’s original women’s “camping jeans.” Mustang is showing 7/8-length dungarees with red turned-up cuffs and a wide red leather belt, lots of denim jackets and vests, minioveralls, dresses and more dressed-up denim looks, like a tight pencil skirt and shapely jacket, all in used-looking finishes.

Bread & Butter featured almost 500 women’s and men’s apparel, footwear and accessories brands. A total of 29,000 tickets were sold for the three-day event at the Kabelwerks in Spandau, up from around 22,000 in January.

Premium’s 420 exhibitors, who showed in the tunnels beneath Potsdamer Platz and in a small building and tent above, drew 12,000 trade visitors compared with 8,500 last season. Of the total, 75 percent came from abroad.

Julie Gilhart, fashion director of Barneys New York, said, “I saw things there I already knew, but there was enough I didn’t know.”

Gilhart didn’t write orders at the show, but said she returned to New York with a mass of notes.

“Are there resources I’ll start with right away? I don’t know. But in the future, probably,” she said. “I like the inventiveness of some of the designers that were a bit more raw.”

She noted that the relative strength of the euro against the dollar, which serves to make European goods more expensive than their American counterparts, is one thing that holds U.S. buyers back.

“Because of the euro, it’s not competitive to what we can do” in the U.S., she said.

There were denim brand debuts at both shows. Elio Fiorucci chose Bread & Butter to launch his Love Therapy collection, which was packed with details, from garden gnomes on the hang tag to an embroidered pink heart at the fly, the red embroidered Love Therapy logo inside the waistband and the Love Therapy imprint on the pink inner pocket. The jeans, which wholesale for the local equivalent of $79 to $103, will be delivered in embroidered fabric bags.

Another denim first at Bread & Butter was J. Lindeberg’s women’s jeans range. Looks in that line included super-clean low-rise jeans, as well as a straight-leg model with a crisp, oversized flap pocket over the hip bone.

At Premium, Crossley New Zealand, a new brand from the Italian jeans company Le Noir, showed decorative ravaged looks. Under the banner of “Maori Denim,” Crossley featured fringed two-color stitching as a leg accent and graphic multicolored stitching on back pockets.

Another new Italian brand that bowed at Premium was Bad Ass. The jeans featured many decorative details, such as accent seams on the back yoke and waving lines stitched across back pockets.

“The fair was very good and the name was a real success,” said agent Giovanna Andriolo.

Both fairs also attracted major German women’s fashion houses this season, with Strenesse Blue, Escada Sport and St. Emile showing at Bread & Butter and Rena Lange participating at Premium.

Lange designed a special 11-piece collection for the show that focused on pink, feminine looks with a humorous twist.

“The [goal] was to go as crazy, innovative and positive without losing the signature,” said head designer James Waldron. “There’s a new fit, narrower in the hips and generally slimmer, and it’s very playful.”

Key items included a tailored jacket made from floral-printed terry cloth and an unconstructed tweed bouclé jacket with cut-out embroidered blossom motifs.

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