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Looking to jump-start the back-to-school season, American Eagle Outfitters Inc. today is relaunching the AE Artist Jean with a perkier backside and sleeker profile.

This story first appeared in the July 22, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The AE Artist was our best-selling jean of all time,” said Henry Stafford, chief merchandising officer of the American Eagle brand. “It’s been newly designed to be extremely flattering all over, particularly the backside. It’s a skinny flare fit with great waistband construction and a long and lean look for all shapes and sizes. You can be really curvy and wear these jeans.”

Despite strong sell-throughs — American Eagle won’t disclose the units sold — the AE Artist Jean was discontinued last summer after a three-year run to make room for new fits. Customer requests inspired the design team to revive and re-create the jeans with changes in the pocket size and positioning of the yoke to lift the rear. There’s also a new double-button waistband, a slightly slimmer knee and a “sexier” leg shape. There are five washes, from light to dark, with three priced at $39.50, and two with destroyed details at $49.50. Four of the jeans are stretch; one is rigid.

Many retailers are banking on denim this season to lift sales, introduce looks and reset prices. J. Crew Group Inc.’s Madewell just launched its ’37s jeans line, at $59.50, a lower opening price point in jeans for the brand. Gap is overhauling denim and Guess is increasing the category in its stores, while Abercrombie & Fitch Co.’s first Hollister flagship, which opened last week in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, features denim bars and premium styles.

Despite the increasingly competitive marketplace, American Eagle sees opportunity. “Jeans are the cornerstone of the American Eagle brand,” Stafford said. “It’s our biggest category, with the majority priced $29.50 to $49.50. Our customers are wearing jeans more than ever. They’re demanding versatility, a range of washes — jeans they can wear from the classroom to hanging out or going out on a date at night. On college campuses, jeans are the base of any outfit. Ninety-nine percent of the kids are wearing them.”

American Eagle has a vigorous campaign for the relaunch. Anyone who buys the Artist Jean will receive a free graphic T-shirt. There will be billboards featuring up-and-coming model Madisyn Ritland, mall advertising in key markets, direct mail, social media, display windows, prominent merchandising in the stores, and “gifting” the jeans to editors, stylists and celebrities, Stafford said.

American Eagle’s b-t-s denim also includes in girls the true boot, favorite boyfriend, straight, skinny, superskinny, skinny crop and boy fit styles. Guys’ fits include the boot cut, low-rise boot, low loose, straight and slim straight styles.

“Our denim has been performing better than other categories,” Stafford said.

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