Byline: William Middleton / with contributions from Sharon Edelson, New York

PARIS — Setting his sights on the huge denim market, Helmut Lang — one of the industry’s most influential cutting-edge designers — has launched a jeans collection for spring selling.
Helmut Lang Jeans is made up of 400 pieces — about three-quarters of them for men, the rest for women.
“It’s called Jeans, but it really extends to the whole line of basics,” said Lang. “Although there is a heavy focus on unwashed denim, the line covers all shades of denim — blue, black, white, red and other colors. Then there are also military khakis, leather, nylons and cottons.”
The women’s items range from sheer nylon blouses to canvas versions of some of Lang’s signature dresses. Wholesale prices range from $50 for a pair of jeans to $90 for a nylon dress to $350 for a leather jacket.
Lang created the line because, he said, his customers don’t limit themselves to designer merchandise.
“Everyone combines elaborate pieces of clothing with more basic pieces — that’s the modern look of today,” he says. That’s also why he showed part of the Jeans line with his ready-to-wear collection for spring.
“It’s not about dividing the lines,” he said. “It’s about expanding the offerings — making it richer.”
The core collection will remain the same, but new pieces and categories will be added each season. Manufactured by GTR Group SpA, which is based in Iseria, Italy, the collection includes jeans, pants, suede and leather jackets, and nylon pants and dresses, as well as denim skirts.
The line will be launched in the U.S. next spring. For the first season, distribution is being limited to stores that currently carry Lang’s collection sportswear.
American distribution, handled by New York’s Onward Kashiyama USA, includes Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue nationally, Alan Bilzerian in Boston, Maxfields and Ron Herman in Los Angeles, and Charivari and Untitled in New York.
“A decision was made to keep distribution selective for the first season,” said a Kashiyama spokesman. GTR projects a goal of $200 million in wholesale business within the first five years, through 600 to 700 retail outlets worldwide.
While Lang has an advantage in his cult status among fashion followers, he is entering one of the most saturated and competitive apparel markets, whose players include high-end European lines like Diesel, other designer denim lines such as Katharine Hamnett, Dolce & Gabbana and Christian Lacroix, and the mega-businesses of Calvin Klein’s CK and Ralph Lauren’s Polo Jeans Co. However, he’s coming in at the top, with basic jeans double the price of such lines as Polo, CK, Tommy Hilfiger and Guess.
All those have very ambitious sales projections, in the realm of $350 million for Polo to $500 million for CK. At the same time, the basic denim business has been slowing down, but the fashion business has been picking up for the last year.
“It’s great, it’s very Helmut,” said Bonnie Pressman, executive vice president and fashion director of Barneys. “It’s all his colors: red, black, white and khaki. It’s very cute.”
The line is more comprehensive than jeans, she explained.
“It’s really like a collection, with jean jackets with big cuffs, tight jeans, low-ride jeans and an incredible assortment of T-shirts with stripes and with cut-elbows,” Pressman said.
The new denim line, which will be delivered in January, will be sold in the CO/OP areas of all Barneys stores across the country.
“We’re really committed to this collection,” Pressman said. “We’re doing more with it than any other store. We will have it exclusively in Beverly Hills; Houston; Seattle; Troy, Mich., and Manhasset, N.Y. In New York City, we’re sharing it with Saks Fifth Avenue.”
Pressman said Lang’s signature line is one of Barneys’ “strongest-selling collections, and has been since we started carrying it about three years ago.”
“We do great with his jackets and pants, and his knitwear flew out of the stores this season.
“Because we’re rolling it out to each of our branch stores, we are really committed to it and expect sales to be fairly high. It could be one of our top lines in the CO/OP. It could run pretty close to the Miu Miu business we have. Miu Miu is our number-one imported brand.
“This is really going to give a shot in the arm to jeanswear and get it going again,” Pressman said. “Especially with Helmut’s ideas and creativity, he can have a lot of fun with this line and develop a strong following. Helmut is definitely about fashion. You can have a basic Helmut pant and it’s a basic, but there’s still a lot of fashion in it.”
“I really think it has the integrity of his own line,” said Nicole Fischelis, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. “It’s full of fabulous items and his signature pieces at a price. It’s very streamlined and sophisticated.”
For the first season, Saks will carry the jeans line in its flagship store here and in Beverly Hills, then gradually roll it out to other stores.
Bloomingdale’s will start to carry the line in its second season, said senior vice president and fashion director Kal Ruttenstein.
In addition to Lang’s signature looks, the line has innovative details such as a label sewn inside each garment with the date of production and a space for the owner to write his or her name.
“It’s a way to personalize your own pair of basics,” Lang said.