By  on May 26, 2005

URBANIA, Italy — Pick any sequined, embroidered, stonewashed designer denim pants and there's a good chance they are made in Urbania, a city located in the Montefeltro valley, also known as the "Denim Valley."

Nestled in central Italy between Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Umbria, this stunning green valley is also tapped as the "Blue Valley" by the cognoscenti because of the area's production of blue jeans, valued yearly at around $260 million, or 200 million euros at current exchange rates.

Although Italy's manufacturing strength rests heavily on the web of its production districts, from Belluno's eyewear and Scandicci's leather goods to the Valle del Brenta's footwear excellence, the Montefeltro area is better known to fashion insiders.

"We never had the culture of branding, and for years we were content with working behind the scenes for other companies," said Augusto Gamberi, general manager of Blue Line, which produces the Jackerson line.

Blue Line was founded in 1976 by Franco and Mario Stocchi.

In addition, partly because of the people's prickly and proud personality, there never was a group-oriented, associative mentality, which usually helps generate interest and support.

"The mantra has always been to each follow one's own strategy," said Carlo Gallo, sales manager at Blue Jenius, which holds the European license for Parasuco Cult and produces the Crosby Hallen & Cobb line, available in the U.S. at Barneys New York and Fred Segal and Maxfield in Los Angeles.

Gallo, a Turin-born entrepreneur, said the status quo is changing, however, as the valley has been hard hit by competition from China and other low-cost countries. Blue Jenius itself, which was founded in 2003, is strongly focused on research, design, marketing, advertising and communication — departments which were generally entirely overlooked in the Eighties.

The strength of the Montefeltro district used to lie in its specialized know-how.

"These companies have an enormous flexibility, they quickly adapt to new situations, they are extremely fast and organized, and offer full-proof service," said Augusto Calzini, a former professor at the nearby Urbino University and author of the book "The Denim Valley."

As labor costs increased here in the Nineties and could not compete with wages in China, Turkey, Tunisia and East Europe, these firms, said Calzini, "have been reorganizing their strategies," opting for privately owned brands and licenses, investing in new technologies, venturing into distribution and eventually outsourcing.

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