MILAN — At a time when many American brands are rising to prominence in the high-end jeans market pioneered by European companies, one of those pioneers — the Italian brand, Replay — is looking to retrench its U.S. business.

“We are shutting down our [wholesale] distribution in the U.S. and plan to sell the Replay line only through our brand stores,” said Claudio Buziol, president of Fashion Box Group, which produces Replay. Buziol attributed this decision to a need to slash prices and make them more competitive in the American market.

“The route from the factory to the customer will be more streamlined and direct, and we’ll be able to lower prices in the U.S. by at least 30 percent,” said Buziol. Replay’s average retail prices in the U.S. start at about $100.

In the U.S., the company plans to open between 10 and 15 stores in the next five years. “We are thinking in terms of megastores,” he said.

The first step in the transition is a planned September closing of the company’s store in New York’s SoHo district, which will be renovated, he said.

Buziol offered few other details on the pending changes in the U.S. market.

In a separate move, the company is preparing to expand its product range with the launch of a new experimental line called We-R-Replay, which will bow for spring-summer 2004 retailing at the company’s roughly 200 stores worldwide.

We-R-Replay includes women’s and men’s looks, which are priced between 30 and 50 percent higher than Replay. The line will be available at some Replay stores worldwide, as well as some multibrand stores.

“With We-R-Replay, it’s all about creativity. We want to forget about figures and budgets,” said Buziol. “We experiment with materials, artisan craftsmanship and handicraft techniques…dyes and treatments.”

The line includes styles such as patchwork shirts made up of old handkerchiefs handsewn one by one. Buziol said these techniques do not allow for big production runs. For the first season, Buziol has budgeted production of no more than 100,000 pieces. Distribution will be more selected, with the company aiming at selling to between 300 and 500 clients at the most. Replay, on the other hand, is available in more than 3,500 sales points.The first collection blends studs and motorcycle-inspired details with more romantic and sweet touches, like embroideries and laces. Colorful prints peek behind graphic lettering with references to Eighties rock concerts, while tough, oversized denim jeans with vintage finishes are paired with perforated T-shirts with metallic details. Denim makes up 30 percent of the collection.

The designers paid special attention to the labels: The company dug out of the archives old vintage labels and applied the “We-R-” logo over the Replay brand. The W letter in the pronoun evokes an angel’s wings design.

“I liked the ‘We’ pronoun in the label, the idea of a collective design, a group effort behind the line,” said Buziol, who oversees design.

Fashion Box Group sales were $247 million, or 215 million euros, last year, with Replay accounting for 85 percent of this figure. The dollar figure was converted from the euro at current exchange.

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