By  on November 10, 2005

European Mode Institute’s annual conference in Berlin was a homecoming of sorts for Andreas Kurz. The Bavarian-born chief executive officer of Seven For All Mankind and Diesel alumnus had the chance to speak about the California jeans boom in his mother tongue, an experience that is not as infrequent as one might think.

After the U.S., Germany is Seven’s second-largest market and is credited with starting the California Blue Rush among German fashion retailers.

While Seven didn’t start the American premium denim movement — that was Earl Jean’s accomplishment in 1996, according to Kurz — “the fit was limited.”

“You had to be a model [to wear them],” he said at the conference, which took place Nov. 4. “Our goal was to develop a better fit, and our mission is to make the not-perfect body look perfect — as far as that’s possible. We’re not in apparel, but body sculpture.”

In just five years, Seven has grown sales to $240 million in 2005 from $13 million, selling to 60 countries, said Kurz. Showing late and delivering early has been a plus in the U.S., but a problem in Europe, where open-to-buys tend to be locked in early in the season.

“It’s a true value that’s not being used and a means of getting something new in the store every month,” Kurz told the audience of German manufacturers and retailers.

While Kurz has faith in the ongoing power of premium denim, noting the significant growth in the luxury jeans segment in the U.S., Seven is branching out.

“The most important rule in moving ahead is ‘listen to the consumer,’” said Kurz. “Seven makes [consumers] feel confident and sexy, thinner and more beautiful, flirty, fun, comfortable, independent. It’s all on an emotional level. It has nothing to do with stitches.”

Men’s wear, now in its second year and contributing about 30 percent of sales, is generating the strongest growth, he noted. Children’s jeans are just getting started, and Seven’s collaborations with other companies and designers like Swarovski, Great China Wall and Zac Posen are picking up steam.Posen’s decorative take on Seven, an exclusive collection for Neiman Marcus, “had about a 50 percent sell-through in the first weekend,” Kurz reported. For spring, there will be a T-shirt collection called More 7, in collaboration with Ron Herman of Fred Segal.

Seven also plans to broaden the brand’s assortment on its own. Kurz said that as of fall 2006, “knits, shirts, pants and jackets for men and women will be offered, and we’re working on licenses for shoes, bags, belts and swimwear, and then fragrance, eyewear, watches and other lifestyle elements.” Asked if this could possibly dilute the brand’s authenticity, he countered that Seven is close to the market.

 François Girbaud, of the Marithé + François Girbaud denim and sportswear label, also spoke at the EMI conference on “True Values — Tidings From the Age of Honesty.” In Girbaud’s view, the future of fashion calls for “more fun, more meaning, more values, more sincerity.”

As far as the jeans industry goes, Girbaud called for more environmental responsibility. The father of stonewashing said he is now upset at what distressed treatments and other finishing processes do to the water supply, and explained how the Girbaud Blue Eternal jeans, for example, leave no harmful residues when washed.

Kurz reacted to Girbaud’s call for a “more ethical jeans business,” with the promise, “Andreas wants to help.”

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