By  on August 21, 2008

Project’s show in Las Vegas aims big — and that’s how the vendors focusing on premium denim and contemporary sportswear like it.

The prospect of meeting with more than 25,000 visitors representing high-end department stores, better boutiques and a corps of journalists has lured a number of companies to exhibit at Project for the first time. Among those that will make their debuts at the Sands Expo & Convention Center are international labels such as London’s Radcliffe and LifeWithBird from Melbourne, Australia, as well as Southern California-based Grey Ant and Quiksilver. In addition, casualwear specialist Royal Plush chose to unveil its new activewear line at the show.

“Although we’re a British brand, the U.S. is our most important market. We’ve got to think like an American brand,” said Suzy Radcliffe, the founder and creative director of Radcliffe. “This is the first time we’re doing Project. And we’re really excited.”

In tune with Project’s reputation for featuring directional looks in denim, Radcliffe will introduce denim dresses, including one whose corset top accentuated with big buttons flares into a full skirt, as part of some two dozen styles in its new fashion division. Other statement-making pieces are skinny jeans mottled with a yellow acid wash and sailor pants enhanced with dark khaki piping against blue denim.

LifeWithBird also will add denim for the first time to its six-year-old dress-oriented contemporary line. In contrast to the trend steering waistbands higher to the navel, the company is going low with hipster jeans. Another highlight from the spring lineup is a mini shirtdress with silver-foiled black lace forming the skirt and a silk georgette on top. “A lot of our appeal has been in going from day to night,” said Nick Messner, LifeWithBird’s co-director and co-designer.

Several Project vendors acknowledge the difficulty in selling a premium product amid escalating inflation, sinking home values, lofty gas prices and rising unemployment. David Hwang, president of Los Angeles’ Pierce Jeans, stressed that cautious retailers want quality. “Everybody is a little tight on their budget,” he said. “They want more for their money. Overall, they are tightening down on their inventory.”

To appeal to buyers, Pierce Jeans will offer lightweight denim for its resort and spring collections. With its first shipment scheduled for Dec. 30, the resort lineup will emphasize a faded Japanese denim weighing 6.25 oz., cut into flirty styles like a miniskirt trimmed with white piping and gold buttons. The spring collection, to be delivered between February and May, will integrate 7.5-oz. Japanese denim in a dark finish with red stitching.

After creating every single shade of blue imaginable, David Lim, creative director and owner of Los Angeles’ Kasil, said it’s time to play with novel treatments such as chambray, striped denim and a rainbow of colors, ranging from overdyed black to pink and green. Kasil also will introduce a line of woven tops and knits costing around $35 for spring, while lowering prices on the jeans by 10 percent to hit a wholesale price range of $82 to $88. “We want to have a little fun for spring and summer,” Lim said.

Tadd Zarubica, designer of Los Angeles’ Denim of Virtue, is adding novelty with tie-dying, studs, shreds ravaging the entire front of jeans and an updated cotton-Tencel fabric that can withstand distressing. “As the economy tightens, things get more glitzy or sexy,” he noted.

The slowing economy also affects the way retailers place orders, often moving them closer to the delivery date. To accommodate as many as 40 percent of customers who are still ordering merchandise from the holiday collection that starts shipping Nov. 30, Zarubica said he will display key holiday pieces along with the new spring collection at Project. “It’s a catch-up,” he said of the last-minute orders.

Receiving orders closer to season and lowering prices are also commonplace with contemporary designers such as Jenny Han, who dropped prices by about 5 percent to between $68 and $98. Though she’s ready to show the safari-inspired skirts, walking shorts and tribal looks drenched in mauve, burnt orange and fuchsia from her spring collection, she also will display a smattering of holiday pieces that are available for immediate delivery. Still, her design philosophy remains constant no matter what the season is: “It is a must-have so that stores can’t turn it down,” she said.

In the case of Quiksilver, which will display the third collection for its new young contemporary line, price sensitivity can be worked to its advantage. “We’re attracting consumers who still want to shop but are being more discriminating in how they shop,” said Steve Ellingson, a vice president of sales at the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based company. Quiksilver’s wholesale prices run from $20 to $68.

For spring, the company will offer stretch denim with contrast paneling, a funnel neck laser-cut eyelet top and a slip dress in striped silk crepe de chine. It also collaborated with Lesa Wallace, a Los Angeles-based contemporary handbag designer, to craft patent leather and burlap into duffel bags, shoulder bags, small totes and messenger bags, all wholesaling from $34 to $68.

Unconventional details such as heavy canvas and rubber buttons figure prominently in Corpus’ full women’s line bowing for the spring selling season. While the Los Angeles company previously offered unisex clothing or rescaled men’s garments for women’s bodies, this is the first time that it made a concerted effort to design dresses and skirts. Riffing on a Fifties theme transported through Japan with a nautical palette of army green, cream and French blue, Corpus will show a mid-thigh denim pencil skirt with acorn pockets, a trapeze jacket with rubber closures and a tulip skirt in heavy canvas, according to Olympia Bermann, who is co-designing the women’s line.

Comfort is key for Royal Plush’s new activewear line, which integrates more stretch than the flagship casualwear line manufactured by the Torrance, Calif.-based company. With wholesale prices between $20 and $45, bottoms will be available in a boot leg, cropped version and shorts. Tanks will have built-in bras and cover-up options come in a funnel neck zip-up and a fashion wrap jacket with a hood. What’s more, gym rats can also sport trendy finishes like dip dyes.

“In the activewear market, there isn’t a lot of fashion,” said Michelle Waller, who owns Royal Plush with her husband, Steve. “Our customers really want to look pretty cute when they go to the gym.”

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