DEBATING DECORATED JEANS

Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

LAS VEGAS — Gucci-inspired decorative denim ruled WWDMAGIC’s trade show, which ends its four-day run here today, but the jury is still out on whether the look will be able to live up to all the hype.
For the most part, the bulk of decorative denim, from border treatments at the waist and hems to embroidered roses on pockets, won’t be in junior departments until October or thereabouts. However, what is already out on the selling floor has gotten some mixed results, according to buyers and vendors.
Some observers are optimistic, believing the trend just needs some more time to catch on. Others fear it could meet a quick death, killed by what they predict will be oversaturation at retail later this fall.
Another wrench thrown into the equation is how the styles with border trims at the bottoms will jibe with the latest pants hemline: the flood. And of course, that leads to another big question: What type of footwear is appropriate?
“This was a big issue that we discussed in our office,” said Lisa Engelman, national sales manager at Paris Blues, which opted for 29-inch jeans with decorative detail for holiday selling.
“Nobody can tell me what kind of shoes go with it,” she said. “Is it a boot or a mary jane?”
Clearly, there were many advocates of decorative jeans at WWDMAGIC. The roster included Candie’s licensed denim line, Boom Boom Jeans, XOXO, Outlaw Jeans and Bongo Jeans. At the MAGIC men’s show, Levi’s promoted a few of its embellished styles.
“We’ve been doing it since January, and it has been great,” said Greg Fienne, president of XOXO. About 20 percent of its fall denim styles feature some sort of embroidery, such as ribbon taping, or nail heads, he said.
“There’s definitely a lot of decorative jeans out here for buyers to choose from,” said Stacey Maron, a sales executive at Outlaw Jeans. “You just have to offer something different.”
About 25 percent of the company’s fall lineup has decorative detail, she said. She plans to keep that figure for spring.
She added that offering a competitively priced jean will help Outlaw. The line, whose sourcing network had been limited to the domestic market, will be expanding to overseas for spring. That move will help lower prices by about 20 percent, she said. The current wholesale price range is from $16.50 to $21.
Even Gary Bader, president of Bongo Jeans, which hasn’t had a stellar response at retail with its embroidered denim, remained bullish.
“The sell-throughs have been good, but not great,” said Bader, whose company started shipping about a dozen embellished-denim styles for July 25 deliveries. They included versions with taping, embroidery and appliques.
Bader said he was a bit disappointed with the 8 percent sell-throughs. He was hoping for 15 percent.
“Not everybody has shipped it yet,” he said. “When they do, that’s when sales are going to pop.”
For spring, Bongo Jeans will offer dressier embellishments in tops and cotton pants, he said.
On the other hand, Mudd Jeans and Paris Blues are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“There may be too much saturation at retail,” said Paris Blues’ Engelman. About 5 percent of the fall line is in decorative denim. The details include screen-printed flowers. “If it sells, that’s great. Then we’ll go after it,” she said.
Mudd Jeans just shipped denim styles with kissing butterflies and hearts with white stitching, both located on the seat of the jeans. For Oct. 30 delivery, the denim resource will be shipping six more styles, including versions with embroidered roses, according to Jeff Ferrari, sales associate.
He admitted that he fears oversaturation in the marketplace and said that he will closely “monitor the situation.”
“Some of my competition has shipped some embroidered styles, and it hasn’t been that great,” he said. “We don’t want to be backed up.”
In addition, he finds that incorporating embroidered borders at the hems of floods is not such a great combination.
“I don’t think they look good,” he said.
Zana-Di, which has been shipping decorative jeans styles for more than two years, is moving on, according to Charlie Jebara, executive vice president.
The firm is showing a few styles featuring embroidered dragons and floral motifs for fall, but for spring, it is going after jeans with big cuffs in shiny polyester as well as glow-in-the-dark trims.
“This is how we stay fresh,” Jebara said.
While plenty of retailers, such as Up Against the Wall, a Washington, D.C.-based 10-store specialty chain, and Kmart, were placing orders at the show for decorative styles, others, big and small, were a little wary.
“We’re trying it, but we are not too sure about it,” said John Miller, owner of Tropical Zone, a specialty store in Chico, Calif., while placing orders from XOXO. The store is about 90 miles north of San Francisco.
He added, “Our area is more of a plain jeans area. We are pretty conservative here.”
“All this embroidery can be a little overdone,” said Tom Burns, executive vice president of the Doneger Group, who was at WWDMAGIC. “However, in order to work, it has to be done in a tasteful, understated way. Some of it is a little too much.”
Burns noted that hems and waistbands are the new locations for embroidery, rather than on back pockets or pantlegs. He agreed that could cause headaches when it comes to choosing footwear.
“That is a concern out there,” he said.
Conrad Szymanski, president of Bealls Department Stores, based in Bradenton, Fla., said he is bullish about embroidered denim. He added that the merchandise, including designs by Candie’s, was shipped to the stores last week.
“It is too early to tell how it is doing, but I think it will be a strong trend,” he said, adding that he plans to make embroidered looks, particularly the border-trimmed designs, a big presence for spring.