Denim’s New Blue

Denim has been an oasis of strength in the current retail downturn.

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The updated jean jacket, April 77’s cotton jacket.

Thomas Iannaccone

PRPS’ cotton jeans, Tse’s cashmere sweater. Florsheim by Duckie Brown shoes.

PRPS’ cotton jeans, Tse’s cashmere sweater. Florsheim by Duckie Brown shoes.

Thomas Iannaccone

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Men's Collections issue 03/16/2009

Denim has been an oasis of strenghth in the current retail downturn. Here, form trade shows in New York and Las Vegas, are seven key men’s trends set to take off this fall.

This story first appeared in the March 16, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“The jean jacket has been a staple in fashion for decades, and every man and woman should have a good denim jacket to call their own,” says Brice Partouche, founder and designer of the überhip Parisian brand April 77. While it’s hard to beat a vintage Levi’s or Wrangler model, Partouche has tweaked his version with enough innovative details to make his stand out from the pack. The style shown here is fashioned from Japanese red selvedge denim, infused with 2 percent stretch to allow for a little flexibility in the slimmed-down fit. The denim-heavy April 77 brand was founded in 2001, and has made its way into top specialty retailers like Barneys New York, Seattle’s Blackbird and Los Angeles’ American Rag. April 77’s cotton jacket.

After several seasons of clean denim dominating trend headlines, vintage washes have returned in a big way for fall. Not only have some consumers tired of the plain raw look, the heavier denims used in fall collections tend to be more suitable for intense treatments. “At Prps, distressed denim has always been a signature of our brand identity. Heavily destroyed denim and washed jeans are tried and true and never get outdated,” says Donwan Harrell, founder and designer of the New York-based brand. His “Barracuda” jean, shown here, is an updated version of a 1940’s Levi’s painter pant. “It’s enzyme washed and stone washed, with an irregular tight slub and hand bleaching and distressing,” explains Harrell, an expert on vintage washes and treatments. “It also has a hidden applied patch with repaired single-needle stitch. The great thing about this piece is the snag ripping effect instead of the standard fray, and the hint of paint splatter.”

The explosion of new premium denim brands over the past decade has slowed to a trickle in the current economy, but there are still a crop of promising young labels on buyers’ tongues, including Revel Seven, Civil Smith and Current/Elliott. The latter has made the biggest splash so far, with its emphasis on supersoft fabrics and subtle, low-key styling. “The men’s line, while very rugged and masculine, shares the same philosophy of comfort and slouch as our women’s line,” explains Emily  Current and Merritt Elliott, the two Los Angelesbased fashion stylists who founded the line in 2007. The brand boasts an experienced financial backer in Serge Azria, the owner of the Joie contemporary brand (and older brother of BCBG’s Max Azria). For fall, the brand has added a “Night” wash, shown here, its worn-in version of black denim. Current/Elliott’s cotton jeans, Ralph Lauren Black Label’s cashmere turtleneck. Florsheim by Duckie Brown shoes.

Exclusivity is a big part of premium denim’s appeal, so how do you keep shoppers interested in a widely distributed brand? Launch limited edition sublabels, as Seven For All Mankind is doing this year. The VF Corp.-owned leader in the category is debuting two new lines, called Premiere 7 and 7*7*7. (The asterisks are necessary to avoid impinging on the Boeing 777 trademark.) The former label will be available only in upscale specialty boutiques, with no department store distribution, while the latter will have just 777 pairs made of each style. Each 7*7*7 jean, such as the style here, is numbered and made from top-end Italian denim and hand-sanded and repaired, with unique pocket treatments. “These are handcrafted jeans that represent our newest and most luxurious treatments,” notes Topher Gaylord, president of the Los Angeles-based company. Seven For All Mankind’s 7*7*7 cotton jeans.

Workwear and Americana are big themes in fall sportswear, and those looks are apparent as well in the railroad-stripe jeans that have popped up in denim collections. “This season we have focused on an authentic vintage-inspired aesthetic, using genuine workwear details,” notes Eleanor Ylvisaker, a partner at Earnest Sewn. The New York-based brand offered several railroad stripe designs in its fall lineup, such as the style here, which provide a noticeably different look than standard denim— and a reason to buy in this stagnant economy. Earnest Sewn’s cotton jeans.

Along with vintage washes, rips and repairs are also making a comeback, with brands like Los Angeles’ AG Adriano Goldschmied, Australia’s Nobody and Justin Timberlake’s William Rast putting some of their jeans through the virtual shredder. “The wash and finishing creates a modern yet authentic look, which is handcrafted at our factory in Los Angeles,” says Trace Ayala, co-founder of William Rast, of the heavily distressed and ripped jean-chino hybrid, shown here. “We are establishing a unique language that is grounded and wearable, yet full of attitude and direction.” William Rast’s cotton jeans, Ralph Lauren Black Label’s cashmere sweater. Florsheim by Duckie Brown shoes.

As the name suggests, carrot fit jeans feature roomy thighs that narrow down to a tight leg opening. It’s a progressive look that some might find unflattering, but fashion-forward denim makers are pushing the style for fall. “We’ve been trying to sell carrot fits for six years, but this is the year we’re getting the best traction on it,” says Louise Du Toit, U.S. sales manager for Sweden’s Acne brand. “It takes some confidence to wear. It’s not a sexy look—it’s more of an intellectual look.” The Acne carrot fit, shown here, is an alternative to the skinny cuts that have been popular for a few years, providing a narrow leg opening that allows the shoe to show, but more volume at the top for a compelling silhouette.


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