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BERLIN — Denim took on a softer, more serious tone at Bread & Butter and Premium here earlier this month, as stores and their suppliers adapted to the more-challenging European business climate.

This story first appeared in the July 25, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

B&B’s new Tempel of Denim provided a fitting format for the diverse offerings of the market, which ranged from now customary themes such as color, pattern and sustainability to up-and-coming looks highlighting pattern and texture.

Stores and particularly suppliers continued to wrestle with the thorny question of to what degree they need to be “true to blue,” as in traditional denim jeans, and how much they need to diversify out of their signature products to meet and anticipate demand.

G-Star Raw, with the bulk of its sales in men’s, elected to take its women’s denim into new areas, showcasing a full collection of women’s shorts, dresses, jackets and shirts, along with accessories and shoes. “It took seven years to get to this point, growing very slowly with women’s, developing special shapes for better fit and now ready to present a full women’s collection,” said Rebekka Bach, women’s design director at G-Star Raw, who called B&B the “perfect stage” for the launch.

While economic realities led many to investigate lower price points, Mavi moved in the opposite direction with a partnership with Hussein Chalayan geared to the premium customer. Chalayan Mavi jeans, now in its third season, retail for $179 to $369, well above the main line’s two-digit price points.

Cüneyt Yavuz, general manager, commented, “This has become an enabler or door-opener for us to reach the $200-and-above customer. The idea is also to endorse our Mavi $99 jeans and keep growing. For us, blue denim is here to stay and we want to reach all generations.”

Virtually every exhibitor had a take on softer denim, whether it be stonewashed, dyed or lasered.

“The trend is soft and light,” said Daniel Grieder, chief executive officer of Tommy Hilfiger Europe. “All our fabrics are getting lighter and we are putting more work into the product.”

He expressed satisfaction with B&B’s organization and turnout. “We have very good days for our brand here,” he said. “We have seen a lot of our customers and on this side there is nothing to complain about. We have more visitors on the stand this time than we did last season.”

While some companies skipped the show in order to focus on what several called “more consumer-centric” activities, U.S. brand 3×1 put seamstresses behind glass on the show floor, sewing diligently to fulfill denim orders placed by Berlin’s 14 Oz., owned by B&B founder Karl-Heinz Müller, in full view of passersby and allowing customers to pick from rolls of selvage denim as they contemplated the right fabric choice for their orders.

The bespoke approach worked in the brand’s favor. “Customers want to see the process; they want to be involved,” said Scott Morrison, founder, who said the education process used at the business-to-business level would come back to benefit the stores’ customers.

While color remains pervasive in the denim market on both sides of the Atlantic, retailers and their resources at B&B and Premium were increasingly getting more focused on trends that help to differentiate their place in the market.

At Premium, Gaby Schneider, sales director for Current/Elliott, noted that its tribal print jeans “were on every order.” Strong activity was also reported with gold and silver metallic jeans, with snake patterns and velvet prints especially robust for the brand.

Anna Lundholm, owner of Rock Style Brands, a specialty store in Halmstad, Sweden, focuses her business on Los Angeles-based brands such as Rock & Revival and Miss Me. “The embellished pocket is a big hit for our customers for both women’s and men’s jeans,” she commented.

Splashes of denim were found at yet another trade fair, Seek, located at Kühlhaus. Creative director Oliver Saunders said he plans to stay where he is but will be more selective with the brands. “The concept of Seek is like a shop — I want to move product, refocus and stay on trend, same as a store,” he said. “Some brands expect quite a lot from their first time at a trade fair and that is unrealistic, the brands that do well are the ones that stick around, and no one in this area is talking about new. To buy new things at the moment is quite brave.”

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