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WWD Denim In Depth issue 11/19/2009

MILAN — Customers may be shying away from paying for premium jeans retailing upward of $300, but the idea of personalizing high-quality denim styles appears to be tempting enough to wave away any price resistance.

This story first appeared in the November 19, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Customers are looking for distinction and diversity as there is a new-found and strong desire to add a personal touch,” said Marco Tiburzi, commercial director of the Italian brand Jacob Cohen.

Tiburzi said clothes and accessories that conveyed “a sense of belonging” were bestsellers a decade ago, while many customers today would rather not “be perceived as part of a group or somewhat labeled” through fashion.

Nicola Bardelle launched Jacob Cohen in 2003, concentrating on valuing quality and longevity over large volumes. He differentiated the brand through the use of precious fabrics, such as a denim and cashmere blend, and handmade tailored pants. He even went so far as to provide a set of tools for maintenance, including a pumice stone to redefine the pants after washing, threads for the stitches and a cloth to shine the silver rivets. Tiburzi said Jacob Cohen has evolved its sartorial production into a full-fledged made-to-order collection, which will be launched for spring-summer 2010.

Tiburzi defined the project as “an itinerant laboratory, a traveling atelier,” with “an enormous case” comprising different materials, from exclusive Japanese denim to gabardine and linen, buttons, rivets and the brand’s staple pony-hair labels in 100 color variations to be proposed to selected retail partners.

“It’s all quite difficult to manage and customers have very high, sometimes unrealistic expectations,” said Tiburzi. “The only limit we set is that of good taste.”

While retail prices for the brand’s limited edition sartorial pants range from 240 to 350 euros, or $360 to $523 at current exchange, made-to-order styles will retail at 600 euros, or $897, and higher, with three-to-four week wait for delivery.

“We are convinced that customers today are knowledgeable and have the tools to understand the quality that lies behind these prices,” said Tiburzi. “It’s fundamental, however, to communicate the real content of the project, its handcraft, artisanal techniques and superior materials.”

Sebastian Shul, chief operating officer at Prada, said, “If you can have a made-to-order shirt, why not also a pair of jeans?”

Prada launched its made-to-order project in 2005, offering exclusively at the brand’s Corso Venezia store in Milan and included denim in its product offer. Shul said the company treats denim “as a classic,” mixing it with formalwear as an integral part of the wardrobe.

“Separating two worlds apparently distant — classic and jeans — and rejoining them in a personal way, we have created a unique, strongly recognizable offer,” Shul said.

Industrial, interior and fashion designer Dimitris Zoz introduced his sartorial jeans brand Ikoon in June at men’s trade show Pitti Uomo. Zoz said his goal was to evolve denim by emphasizing quality, artisanal techniques and details such as pockets lined with sartorial fabrics.

Zoz said people often downplay the complexities of the denim fabric, which is seen as poor and industrial. On the other hand, the designer said treating denim comes with plenty of hurdles, such as cutting the material, with dimensional drops depending on the washes, for example. Production in Italy is a must for Zoz, who works with outside laboratories in Italy’s specialized districts, such as in Tuscany for leather.

The Florence-based Ikoon also offers more exclusive made-to-measure denim pieces where customers can choose the fit, fabric and buttons, and have the jeans monogrammed. They can also select the label among different hides ranging from ostrich, crocodile, python, lizard and ray fish.

“Several Arabian customers asked us for diamond-covered tags,” said Zoz.

Made-to-measure Ikoon jeans range from 290 to 490 euros, or $434 to $733, and Zoz defined them as “new luxury.” The jeans take more than a month to produce, but he hopes to reduce the wait to three to four weeks. His paternal grandmother was a men’s tailor who passed on his love of craftsmanship. As an industrial designer, Zoz is keen on promoting this kind of product as functional and comfortable, not simply a “image-centric” item.

As part of his efforts to promote the brand abroad, Zoz will be in Miami this week for the Consorzio Centopercento Italiano Wine & Fashion Florence event at the Biltmore Hotel.

“Some may think our techniques are too much for denim, but we disagree,” said Maurizio Caucci, chief executive officer and one of the founders of the Re-Hash brand.

Launched last year, Re-Hash denim jeans are sewn as classic, tailored pants with an embroidery and not a stitching machine. Caucci sets his faith in his customers’ understanding of the product and search for high-quality pieces. Retail prices range between 140 and 250 euros, or $209 and $374. Every aspect of production is made in-house at the plant in Teramo, Italy.

“Our brand is not well-known yet, but we think that if we will continue with our strategy, sooner or later it will pay off,” said Caucci.

Customers can choose tags, colors, yarns and accessories to personalize their jeans and Caucci pays special attention to the packaging, which includes a pamphlet explaining the product.

Mauro Grifoni’s expertise and passion for denim has led him to launch a project called Tailored Laundries for spring. Grifoni said sartorial denim is nothing more than “an extreme care for the materials, researching treatments and accurate washes.” The designer, who is also in charge of his namesake brand, sees it as perfecting a good recipe.

“It’s a fantastic cake with fantastic ingredients,” he said. “It’s striving to do one’s best with the best fabrics, skills and washes with the best fit. We are not inventing anything but improving it as much as possible with our culture and craft.”

Grifoni employs 12 artisans, including a Japanese technician and antique Japanese looms. Tailored Laundries is available at 40 points of sale from Milan’s 10 Corso Como to London’s Browns.


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