Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — Calvin Klein, the dean of clean American sportswear, says it’s time to get dirty.
The designer is making “dirty denim” his major global fashion statement for his spring 2000 CK Calvin Klein Jeans line.
In what is believed to be the first coordinated product initiative of this scope, dirty denim jeans are expected to be carried in over 2,000 doors that have the CK Jeans brand worldwide.
What’s more, Klein’s entire CK Jeans advertising campaign next season will promote jeans that are beaten, bruised and tinted to look as though they’d been worn for years.
“I wanted something that was really relaxed and comfortable and something that had an attitude that could look great on everyone,” Klein told WWD Wednesday. “Dark denim tends to be stiff. This is softer, worn in and it has a really personal look. It’s going to be a very strong statement.”
Klein, who is busy with final fittings for his Collection show Friday night, noted that most of the models arriving at his studio have come in wearing jeans that look like they’ve been through something more taxing than a glide down the runway.
“Everyone comes in wearing jeans that they look like they own,” he said. “This look has a familiar quality to it.”
Klein’s powerful denim dictum comes at a time when the fabric is enjoying an unprecedented renaissance in the highest rungs of fashion. Denim looks have been dominating the runways here during New York Fashion Week as designers from Marc Jacobs to Oscar de la Renta put their spin on jeanswear for spring 2000.
For his part, Klein plans to sling his message about dirty denim in multiple ways. The spring CK Jeans print and outdoor campaign, shot two weeks ago by Steven Klein in a Manhattan studio, will feature 10 up-and-coming musicians from a variety of genres, all wearing dirty denim.
The spots pick up on Klein’s CK campaign theme for fall, which focuses on musicians and young actors, including Foxy Brown, Liz Phair and Leona Naess. The company declined to immediately identify the cast members of the new campaign, nor would it specify the budget. However, it is believed the company spends about $30 million a year advertising CK Jeans.
Outdoor images are slated to break in January. Print ads will hit in February books. To promote dirty denim at the retail level, stores will be decorated with images from the ad campaign and other point-of-purchase materials.
There are even special hangtags on the jeans that expound the product’s virtues.
“Dirty denim looks and feels like it walked a thousand miles, then crawled a few more. Lived a lifetime on horseback. Fell off a motorcycle and got back up again,” it reads. “But this denim was never worn by anyone. It’s been scientifically blasted, twisted, dyed and whipped by advanced machinery until it is perfectly, uniquely worn.
“Dirty denim is stonewashed, abraded and sandpapered by hand. The yarn is ring-spun and the denim tinted for a naturally uneven look. Whiskers are added for an aged appearance.”
Linda J. Wachner, chairman and chief executive officer of Warnaco Group, which produces CK jeanswear under license, said Klein’s concept has been a hit for all divisions: women’s, juniors, men’s and kid’s.
“We love dirty denim, especially since it’s clean,” Wachner said. “It’s Calvin’s idea and we think it’s a great concept. We loved it when we saw it. We think it’s right on.”
Wachner declined to pinpoint how much of its spring 2000 sales were generated by dirty denim. However, she confirmed that all CK Jeans accounts will carry the product in all doors.
“I think we’re going to have a big increase in denim in the first half,” she said.
Wall Street analysts are forecasting the CK Calvin Klein Jeans business to reach $600 million at wholesale this year. The business rang up about $500 million last year, Wachner said.
Dirty jeans are not dirt cheap. Owing to the amount of hand-finishing necessary, the jeans will retail for $78, compared to $48 to $52 for more basic styles.
The first shipments of dirty denim are slated to bow in stores as soon as mid-November as part of early spring shipments of basics.
Observers described Klein’s initiative as bold and on target.
“It’s the year of denim,” said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president and fashion director at Bloomingdale’s. “Denim rules and Calvin is right on top of it.”
Faye Landes, an analyst at Thomas Rosell Partners, agreed dirty denim seems like a natural evolution for the CK jeans brand.
“I think the brand has always been identified as popular fashion while being a little bit on the cutting edge, so the new line seems to be on the same wavelength,” she said.
Meanwhile, Klein emphasized that dirty denim is only part of his statement and shoppers will be given many other options.
“It has to be a collection. The denim has to be surrounded by other products,” he said. “Once you’ve got the consumer in the department and she’s interested in the jeans, if you’ve got great looking knits, sweaters and outerwear that fit in with the lifestyle, there’s so much business to be done.”
Does Klein himself wear dirty denim?
The designer confessed he does not yet have a pair, but he’s anxious to get some. “When I was on the shoot,” he said, “I wanted them — and so did the musicians.”