BERLIN — Germany is beginning to give back what it gets, as more denim firms here work to extend their international reach.
Well known as a jeans-consuming nation — Germany is Europe’s largest denim market and the world’s third largest after the U.S. and Brazil — the country is still not widely recognized as a denim fashion source. Mustang literally got things going, producing the ﬁrst pair of jeans outside the U.S. in 1948. Since 2008, the 78-year-old, Künzelsau-based, mid-market brand has been rolling out stores at home and abroad. There are now 220 company-owned Mustang stores: 50 in Germany, and the remainder in Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic, with the newest focus on China, India and Russia.
German brands Closed, Tribeca, Rich & Royal and Camouﬂage Deluxe have also been getting into intensiﬁed cross-border play. Founded in the mid-Seventies by François and Marithé Girbaud, Closed started as an Italian label and quickly became known for its pedal pusher jeans and stone washing. The brand was acquired by its German distributor in 1992 when the Italian holding company went out of business, and, in 1997, that distributor’s twentysomething son, Gordon Giers, came aboard. Giers is now one of the ﬁrm’s three managing directors.
“It’s been a gradual rebirth of the brand, but every season has gotten better,” said Giers.
He wouldn’t disclose sales ﬁgures, but industry sources estimate volume at 70 million to 75 million euros, or $98 million to $105 million at current exchange rates. Women’s dominates the business, with men’s wear now contributing 15 percent of sales. However, Giers added men’s has grown 40 percent for each of the last three seasons.
While Germany and neighboring Austria, Switzerland and Holland have traditionally been Closed’s main markets, Giers said the brand’s casually sophisticated fashion stance gets an even stronger reception where it is less known. “They think it’s new or Danish,” he said.
France is the second most important market, but Giers predicted Italy would move into that slot in two to three seasons. It’s been primarily a wholesale push, with the brand selling to 1,500 retail customers in Europe, plus 52 doors in the U.S., including Fred Segal, American Rag, Barneys New York and Atrium.
“We’re in all the [U.S.] stores we wanted to be in, which for our ﬁrst real sales season is great,” he said.
Closed opened a Los Angeles showroom this summer, and participated at Blue, ENK Vegas and the Coterie. Celebrities also have helped broaden the brand’s exposure, including Katie Holmes, Drew Barrymore, Brad Pitt, Patrick Dempsey and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Rich & Royal was launched for spring 2006, but the Stuttgart-based family-owned company behind it has 25 years of sportswear experience. Another second generation story, managing director Patrick Stupp and his brother thought up the name, which ﬁrst graced a small T-shirt line but then branched out into a complete head-to-toe lifestyle range for contemporary customers. The collection has a rock vibe.
“Germany doesn’t stand for innovative, extravagant fashion, but we’re a bit different, a bit cheekier,” Stupp said.
Denim plays a leading role, and the jeans generally run up against competitors like Guess and Boss Orange. However, with 500 points of sale in Germany, Rich & Royal is nearing domestic saturation, Stupp said. Last year, the brand began expanding its realm into Russia, France, Benelux, Greece, Scandinavia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Canada, and exports already account for 35 percent of sales.
Tribeca New York dates back to 2007 and the Bremen-based label seeks its inspiration in the lower Manhattan neighborhood for which it’s named. The collection for men and women is targeted at “denim lovers who like little, hidden details” like spring’s little sparkles, red buttons or back lacing, and appreciate high-quality denim from Japan and Italy, said sales director Volkmar Liebhart. There’s a bit of boyfriend action for women, even in 7/8 lengths, but the current focus is on skinny silhouettes for gals, and straight and slim looks for guys, in lightly distressed ﬁnishes.
Tribeca New York ﬁrst opened in high-end boutiques and specialty stores in Germany, followed by Austria and then Switzerland last season. Next up is Europe-wide expansion, but even at home, Liebhart said buyers are now open to pick up new products.
Camouﬂage Deluxe is the newest kid on the block, and the Hamburg brand got its start two years ago with its deluxe camouﬂage shoulder bag for men. Designer Franco Storck then did some jeans for his own fashion show and the reaction was so favorable he brought out a limited range of hand-ﬁnished jeans, jackets and bags, this time more with women in mind.
Low key it’s not. Nor low price. Jeans styled with python accents, studs, appliquéed peace and skull charms, hand-engineered patterns and stitching run 200 to 600 euros, $278 to $834 at current exchange, or under the Camouﬂage Deluxe Handmade in Germany label, while the even more limited Camouﬂage Deluxe by Franco Storck selections fetch 350 to 800 euros, or $486.50 to $1,112.
Storck has sold to 70 boutiques in Germany, including the important trendsetter Jades in Düsseldorf. He’s already taken his latest Punk collection to Mallorca and Ibiza, two German outposts, and is also eyeing Los Angeles.