MIAMI — Snowbirds who head down to South Beach from the brisk North, as well as Latin Americans who make the trip up, will find a wider choice of denim on their shopping trips.

Two new specialty denim stores, from Earl Jean and Miss Sixty, in the fall joined the crowd of indigenous specialty stores that offer tight, low-waisted Brazilian cuts, as well as chains that offer less extreme fare. The newcomers opened on Lincoln Road, an outdoor pedestrian mall dotted with shops, cafes and galleries.

They’re following on the heels of Lucky Brand Dungarees, which opened a freestanding store toward the west end of the promenade in early 2002.

"Our decision to come to Miami was really consumer-led. Our customers there are young, fashionable and trendy," Earl Jean president Bonnie Takhar said. The Los Angeles-based contemporary denim and clothing firm chose a 2,200-square-foot South Beach location, according to Takhar, "because it’s cool and fits the brand’s image."

There also is a strong connection between Miami and Los Angeles, style-wise, since both promote laid-back, yet fashionable looks with an emphasis on denim.

"That it’s international, South American, creates a higher demand for denim, too," Takhar said.

The store’s decor reflects the brand’s casual vibe. Natural materials like limestone floor tiles are mixed with warm earth tones, as well as antique armoires, chairs and picture frames in dark woods. Lighting is rustic and effective with a warehouse feel.

Women’s collections account for 75 percent of the store’s merchandise and range from $45 for a T-shirt to $650 for a leather jacket. Takhar said she didn’t expect the store to cannibalize sales at Earl’s wholesale accounts in the area.

"We think a freestanding store will only enhance our wholesale business here," she said.

The store’s assortment focuses on low-rise styles.

"The trend is beginning to go back to higher waists, but the demand isn’t there yet," Takhar said. She added that Miami locals seem to be looking for cleaner washes and straighter legs: "The flared leg is still strong, but now it’s moving toward a straight fit."She added that she expects white denim to gain on blue in popularity this spring, with Hawaiian prints and other floral looks catching Miami shoppers’ attention.

Other spring elements are pink twill, lightweight denim, and cargo pants either cropped or left long with zippers.

"The zipper can make the pants tighter or more flared. It’s a nice detail," she said.

The company’s balance of trendy and basic looks put the company on course for $30 million in sales last year. The brand has had more resources behind it since its acquisition by Nautica Enterprises Inc. in 2001.

"We added other collections in 1998, but denim will always be the core of our business," said Takhar of the seven-year-old company.

Founded in the mid-Nineties, Miss Sixty has built its business on denim as well. Vicenzo Depau, director of the South America and Netherlands territories for the Italian contemporary line, estimated 50 percent of the collection is devoted to denim. Reporting sales of more than $600 million in 2002, 54 freestanding stores and distribution in approximately 62 countries, he joked that even the cows in Switzerland wear Miss Sixty jeans.

Having conquered Europe, North America is the next territory. In addition to two stores in New York, one in Los Angeles and the latest in Miami, the company plans to open a second location in Los Angeles and new stores in Washington, San Francisco and Montreal by the end of next year. The company is also considering units in Dallas, Chicago and Las Vegas.

"We hope to open three to five stores each year over the next five years," said Stefano Testa, export area manager. "An aggressive expansion is the only way to establish a lifestyle brand and reach the target audience."

At 3,000 square feet, the Miami space depicts the brand’s name and message through bold colors on white, vinyl columns and psychedelic decor.

Because of its Latin American customer base and proximity to South America, the branch won’t fall under the U.S., but the South American division instead.

"There are differences between Miami and the rest of the U.S.," Depau said. "Miami, like South America, wears lower-rise jeans and sexier tops. We’ll have more lightweight fabrics too."Miss Sixty also plans to stick with low-rise styles for the Miami market.

"Ours are going as low as is legally possible," he said.

He said that winter trends would focus on cleaner styles, looser cuts and straighter legs. Since the firm produces 900 pieces for collections and 300 styles for denim per season, the Miami store offers a broad assortment, from pinstripes to dark washes to reconstructed vintage denim.

"Lincoln Road is so cosmopolitan and constantly changing," he said. "This store will be like an international window for us."

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