Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS — Ivy Brown, a six-year-old jeanswear company here with a volume of close to $5 million, moved onto the fast track last month when it was bought by Cliff and Claire Abbey, owners of the San Francisco Jean Co.
The Abbeys plan to boost Ivy Brown’s sales and distribution by introducing better fabrics and marketing more aggressively to department stores, a departure from the line’s original emphasis on specialty stores.
Ivy Brown — the name of a symbolic East Coast blueblood preppy who is used as the marketing hook — had been owned by Sero Co. Inc., a division of Brynwood Apparel Group, a men’s shirt and underwear maker in Toccoa, Ga.
Although the Ivy Brown line was “starting to take off,” it was sold because it required a sales and design staff separate from the men’s business, explained Gene Morris, chief executive officer of Brynwood.
“Everything was out of sync with men’s wear,” he said. Terms of the sale weren’t disclosed.
Ivy Brown was founded in 1988 by Dennis Marchman, a friend of the Abbeys, who will continue to earn royalties from the name and who will consult on its design. It is sold to 300 accounts, including Neiman Marcus, Harold’s Stores Inc. and Nordstrom. A conservative estimate for sales growth this year, the Abbeys said, is 7 to 10 percent.
“I suspect department stores are going to get stronger, hence our marketing plan,” said Cliff Abbey, who points to the increasing power of consolidated retailers such as Federated Department Stores. “We feel we have a competitive edge in the market because of our ability to turn quickly and create new fits.”
The Abbeys, who live in San Francisco, were interviewed during the January summer market at the International Apparel Mart here, where they were meeting with key accounts. Their company also owns two lines that are manufactured in San Francisco — Sutter’s, which makes basic unisex jeans, and Claudio Agnelli Milano, a better-priced sportswear collection.
One of the first changes the Abbeys made in the Ivy Brown line was to make ring-spun denim the core fabric. Sourced from an Italian mill, the denim is spun using an old method that results in a fuzzier yarn, so the fabric is softer and looks older. It is also more costly, said Abbey, although wholesale prices will go up only about $1 per pair. Spring wholesale prices will be $28 to $33.50, effective this month.
Ivy Brown jeans are offered in three styles and three blue washes. For summer, the palette also includes black, white, chamois, iced pink, green, ecru and sky blue.
The line also offers long dresses, coordinating blouses, vests and shorts in a variety of fabrics. The styles wholesale from $15.50 to $38.
“We want to give them better fabrics, like garment-dyed linen and cotton, Tencel denim and some twill,” added Claire Abbey, who designs Ivy Brown and also styles Agnelli, a jeans line.
One thing that won’t change is the collegiate image.
“We respect that, and we don’t want to change the marketing or the fit,” Cliff Abbey said.
He has a passion for the jeans business and can reel off the history of blue jeans back to the days when denim was sailcloth on Italian ships.