By  on January 12, 2005

LOS ANGELES — The race of junior brands into the contemporary market keeps heating up.

The newest entrant is Hot Kiss, a denim-driven juniors’ manufacturer. Owner Moshe Tsabag is launching a line of vintage-inspired denim and sportswear called Jak & Rae, named after two of his employees’ children. He said the category’s higher price points offer room to experiment with fashion and test new concepts.

“We wanted to use better fabrics and more sophisticated designs to reach a new customer,” said Tsabag, who deliberately chose a new name for the line to clearly define it. “This isn’t a juniors’ line so we didn’t want to associate it with Hot Kiss.’’

In addition, he hired two executives to oversee the collection and report to him. Joe Pham is Jak & Rae’s head designer. He previously worked at the junior brands Rampage and Zinc. Stacia Diamond is the line’s vice president, and a former sales manager of Hot Kiss, who most recently was vice president at Blue Line, the contemporary New York-based label.

A number of junior brands have faced a tougher retail market and access to prime locations has dwindled because of company mergers or closures. To grow, many have turned to new categories as well as international distribution, including Hot Kiss. The vendor will open two stores in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and in Bahrain in March with its distributor Liwa Trading Enterprises, and plans to open as many as 20 in the next five years in the Middle East. Another store will open in Seoul in April.

Diamond said she wants to position the line as a cross between a designer and upmarket contemporary label. The collection, crafted from Japanese denim, European printed silks, tweeds, wools and cashmere blends with a men’s wear edge, focuses heavily on fashion items.

Trousers are fitted at the hip and cuffed big. Denim jeans bypass five-pocket styles for trouser and tuxedo looks detailed with scratched hardware and navy and cream back-pocket embroidery. A printed silk top is a fusion of three fabrics and a side-wrapped silk top is embellished with sequins and rhinestones. Hallmarks of the line are lace piping on the inside waistband and trousers that break midthigh to slenderize the leg.Wholesale prices will range from $40 for a tank top to $100 for denim, and the line will target upmarket stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. First-year sales are anticipated to reach $10 million. Private label work for higher-end stores such as Anthropologie will help boost sales volume, Diamond said.

Tsabag, who tabled the launch of his young contemporary line 2Kiss last fall, joins contemporaries Bubblegum USA, Necessary Objects and Guess Inc. with the debut of its Marciano collection. Each is trying to carve out a piece of the contemporary market.

The 80-piece Jak & Rae line officially bows during the apparel market here Jan. 14-18. But a few retailers got a sneak peek, including Tiffany Wendel, co-owner of Dari, which is in the Studio City neighborhood here, who picked up the denim pieces.

“We’re so excited about the fit of the jeans,” Wendel said. “The market is so saturated with basic denim and we’re not actively looking for a lot of new denim, but it was great to see this line offer something new and different with its trouser looks.

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