Byline: Stuart Chirls

NEW YORK — Retail sales of denim apparel, sparked by fashion and technical innovations, will continue to grow 5 to 6 percent a year through 2000, a panel of top denim executives predicted.
“Denim’s image, fostered by new colors, updated basic styling and stretch fabrics, should make it as big a seller going forward as it has been in the past,” said Terry Lay, president of the Lee Co.
Lay’s comments came during a panel discussion, “The Jeans Mystique,” sponsored by Jeanswear Communications and held last Tuesday in conjunction with the International Fashion Fabric Exhibition at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here. Lay was joined on the panel by Dutch Leonard, president of Burlington Global Denim, and Watts Carr, president of Cone Denim.
The outlook was bolstered by recent reports from Burlington, Cone and other mills that said fabric inventory levels had returned to normal, putting an end to the denim glut that had burdened the industry for more than a year.
“Denim is very youthful,” Lay said. “It is reinterpreted by each generation. Even now we are seeing changes, and that is creating excitement about the future.”
Lay pointed to the growing importance of brands, including designer names, over the past two years and added that private label denim programs continue to be important in the upper and moderate-price retail tiers.
The executives attributed denim’s enduring popularity to its ability to adapt from era to era and culture to culture, and they said that while it’s difficult to weave, it has nonetheless managed to become an icon.
“Denim has been so successful because it continues to evolve and change with every social and cultural evolution,” said Leonard. He added that “denim’s inconsistencies,” such as its lack of colorfastness and tendency to shrink, give it its character.
“It also mixes well with synthetics such as nylon, polyester, Lycra spandex and Tencel, which makes it an attractive choice for fashion today.”
Carr emphasized denim’s versatility and noted that it had recently been selected as the uniform of choice by the U.S. Garbagemen’s Association, as well as by Ralph Lauren for a family photo shoot in Town & Country magazine.
“Image is what creates the jeans mystique,” said Carr. “Denim is chic and crosses so many different boundaries. Think of James Dean in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ or Marlon Brando in ‘The Wild Ones,’ or Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein. It is fashion-conscious, brand-oriented and label-driven, and it will seek out new products and areas.”
Carr called the Nineties “one of the most dynamic decades for denim” and said that new trends will feature vintage cross-hatch looks, retro cuff styles and an increasing demand for midweight fabrics.
“The silhouette will be loose but not annoying. Technical innovations are also an important part of denim developments and will include washes, enzyme treatments, and new spinning and weaving techniques.
“It all promises to sustain the mystique beyond the millennium,” he said.

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