FIRMS DEBATE RUNWAY IMPACT

Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — Jeanswear designers are asking themselves: After Gucci, what’s next?
Stores are flooded with interpretations of Gucci’s Seventies-inspired jeans after the look was tested and well received for spring and summer. After several years of oversized, unisex looks, the market was primed for Gucci’s hippie-chic fantasy, jeanswear designers said.
“Nothing out there right now comes close to the Gucci trend,” said Carla Slocum, vice president, design, for Lizwear, which offers subtle Gucci interpretations for fall. “It has an emotional appeal, and works for everybody, from older customers who remember the look the first time, to young people who see it as brand new.”
Gregg Fiene, chief executive officer of XOXO jeans, said the Gucci trend represented a larger fashion direction that is revolutionizing denim.
“Jeans had become boring and dull in recent years, but Tom Ford and other upper-tier designers brought back fun and fashion from the Seventies and Eighties and made denim sexy again,” Fiene said. XOXO’s seven-month-old jeans line is 70 percent fashion and only 30 percent basics, with a variety of Gucci-inspired styles.
Led by Gucci, designer collections — often with their own denim groups — can be a wellspring of inspiration today. Helmut Lang’s dirty washes and knee pads; Versace’s embellished capris; Dolce & Gabbana’s prints and fringe; Martin Margiela’s patchworks; John Galliano’s western pony prints and whip stitching have all made their mark on denim this year.
Designer power is fueled by widespread media attention. A host of new fashion magazines and TV programs has raised consumer awareness.
“Ten-year-olds know Prada, Gucci — all the big names,” said Lisa Engelman, national sales manager for the New York-based jeanswear firm Paris Blues. “More magazines and in-your-face TV shows are making teens much more savvy than 10 years ago.”
But despite the rising influence of designers, the primary muses of denim remain streetwear, pop culture and especially music. Indeed, jeanswear designers say, many kids thrive on setting trends of their own, rather than slavishly following runway looks.
“Any high fashion image becomes dated quickly with kids, especially when their mothers start picking up on it,” said Allan Kemp, design director at Silver Jeans, a firm based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “A big trend now is no-trend, as some kids reject contrived designer looks in favor of creating their own.”
Deliberately “anti-label,” with little advertising, Silver promotes kids’ quest for individualism, offering a variety of inseams and arm seam lengths for different body types. Jeans are presented without models, so consumers can imagine themselves in them, rather than conforming to an image.
Kemp said he researches European music and pop culture trends twice a year in emerging music scenes, such as Manchester, England, rather than traditional fashion hubs like London. The wide variety of denim trends now reflects a new diversity in musical styles from techno to ethnic influences, he said. For spring 2000, Silver will experiment with East Indian tunics, crocheted and mirrored looks and Japanese prints, along with recycled used jeans.
Like Silver, New York-based Zana-Di takes an individual approach, avoiding anything that smacks of mass production that can alienate kids.
“We’re careful to have no two patches in the same place, no two distressed areas in the same place,” said Lars Klingstedt, head designer. For spring, the line will add experimental trends taken directly from the street, such as paint splatters, tie-dye washes and ombre shading.
Streetwear, once the domain of the urban scene in the U.S., is becoming distinctly more global, with cities such as Tokyo, London and Prague rising as trend centers in music and fashion.
“Everyone is searching for new direction for the millennium, and traveling more,” said Alain Audet, sales and marketing manager for Parasuco, a Montreal-based jeans line. “A strong Asian influence is coming from small Japanese designers and the technological advances in Japanese mills. Dragon embroideries, based on the year 2000, Japan’s year of the dragon, will also be strong.”
With hip-hop becoming more mainstream, new ethnic musical influences abound, trickling down to fashion. Latin music by hot performers such as Ricky Martin is taking jeans in a sexier direction, said Audet, who will add more fitted silhouettes and sheer layering to the spring line.
Along with distressed denim, Parasuco will experiment with selvage on stretch denim, rubber logo treatments and asymmetrical treatments.
Rather than silhouettes, the biggest new trend frontier is in treatments, washes and finishes, along with details such as embellishment and mixed fabrics. Boot cuts and flares that broke new ground a few years ago have become standard shapes for designers to play with. And while capris and shorter lengths will carry over somewhat into fall, they will serve to make longer silhouettes look fresh again.
“Flares, cargos and bells are basics now,” said Michelle Clark, trends manager at the Lee Co. For 2000, Lee will focus on “smart” fabrics, with technical, functional or performance textiles often influenced by activewear. Utility features, such as attached bags, should add a new dimension to jeans, said Clark.
Lee is aiming for a personalized look, with home-crafted, worn effects and “busted denim,” with stress points influenced by the wearer. While the interest is in distressed light denim now, dark denim is still important for fall, said Clark.
Variety seems to be the only constant.
“Last year, denim floors were boring, and everything looked the same,” said Paris Blues’ Lisa Engelman. “Now everybody’s experimenting with washes and alternative fabrics, and there’s something for everybody.” The next trend flash for Paris Blues should be slimmer legs, with fabrics and ruffles added below the knee.
Even if the Gucci-inspired jeans end up on the sale rack, they have had a positive impact on retailers by making once-cautious buyers more receptive to new trends.
“You no longer have to sell buyers on a trend,” said Zana-Di’s Klingstedt. “They used to be afraid of newness. Now they demand it.”