ANNA SUI STARTS JEANS MACHINE

Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — When model Naomi Campbell slithered into a pair of Anna Sui’s new jeans at the designer’s spring 2000 runway show here last week, she was apparently loathe to take them off.
“She said, ‘Can I have these? These fit better than any other jeans I own,”‘ Sui said, recalling the scene backstage. “Of course, she left the show wearing them.”
For the designer, it was a sign that she was on the right track with her new jeans line, which is being produced by Western Glove Works, the Winnipeg, Manitoba-based maker of Silver Jeans. Western Glove will manufacture the line for spring, as reported, and the partners intend to work toward a licensing agreement.
For Sui, a self-described denim fanatic with an eager following of young customers, the jeans line has been a long time coming. The designer had a short-lived fashion jeans collection in 1997 with Gilmar SpA, the Italian sportswear manufacturer that also once made a licensed Sui by Anna Sui bridge line. However, she said, that collection was too expensive and too dressy.
Sui said her latest venture has the potential to become a large international business.
“We’ve gotten so many requests to do it, and not only in the U.S., but also Asia and Europe,” she said in an interview in her office, which is filled with rococo imagery, fashion books, antique busts and shoes from her runway show.
“Eventually, I think it will be a category on its own. If jeans are done in the right way, with the right partner — which I believe we’ve found — I think it could be a major business. And a worldwide business. I think we’re going to make a lot of stores very happy.”
Sui has long been convinced young women are hungry for an accessible interpretation of her rock ‘n’ roll esthetic. Her flagship store in SoHo already attracts hordes of teenagers who scope out affordable items like logo T-shirts, which retail for $45 to $55. In an interview last year, Sui expressed a desire to work with “someone who has that jeans machinery.”
She said she knew Western Glove Works had what it takes as soon as she visited the New York showroom for Silver Jeans.
“They get it,” she said. “They really know their denim and they really know how to make it fit.” Later this fall, Sui plans to visit Western Glove’s manufacturing facility in Canada.
“I’ve always liked denim that looked like real denim, not fake,” she said. “I try and get it to look like the old school.”
Michael Pellegrino, who last June joined Anna Sui as president, declined to provide sales projections for the jeans line but characterized it as “plus business” and a way to widen the brand’s distribution. He noted Sui already has an established business in T-shirts and the jeans line presents another opportunity for young consumers to “buy something under $100.”
For spring, Anna Sui Jeans will retail from about $85 to $97 for jeans and $130 for jeans jackets. Studded and embellished styles, including a maxi skirt and cropped jeans, will run up to about $560. The jeans line will be sold along with her sportswear collection at the Anna Sui showroom at 275 West 39th Street.
Sui insisted the timing of her jeanswear launch couldn’t be better. The spring runways in New York last week were full of denim, from double-faced denim gowns at Oscar de la Renta to dresses knit of shredded denim from avant-garde newcomer Miguel Adrover.
As she created her spring show, Sui said she was drawn to 18th-century romantic styles — and jeans.
“When I was trying to figure out what the suit was for spring, it was a jeans jacket and jeans,” she said. “When I started sketching the collection, everything was mixed with denim.”
She said it’s a way to keep things from looking too costumey.
“To me, the most modern thing that’s happened in clothing is, every rule has been broken,” she said. “That’s how I approached the whole collection.”
Western Glove president Michael Silver characterized the Anna Sui partnership as a meeting of minds.
“What it’s about is pure passion for product, and that’s why we’re so excited to work with Anna,” he said. “It’s not hype. It’s really about understanding the fit, the wash, the finishing.”
Western, a 78-year-old company, makes Silver Jeans, distributes CK Calvin Klein Jeans in Canada and does contract manufacturing for specialty retailers, including the Gap and Nordstrom. Silver, along with his brother, Bob, and two other partners, owns the $120 million firm, which also produces Beach Patrol swimwear.