Byline: Scott Malone

NEW YORK — While the strong early shorts business has come as a surprise to many in the jeans business, retailers said the denim category as a whole appears to be keeping its strong momentum this spring.
Len Rothschild, president of Lark Stores of Chicago, said: “We had a very strong first quarter. February was pretty good. We’re looking to have a pretty good season. The negative energy is out of the air and people are looking for new ideas in fashion. The more fashionable it is, the better it will sell. That makes it fun. The fourth quarter was not fun.”
In terms of specific denim trends, he said, “Certain fancy denims from Girbaud women’s lines are doing well. A lot of it has to do with washes and design details.”
He added that velour “ath-leisure” suits are “blowing out of the store.”
Scott Manson, Gottschalk’s vice president and general merchandise manager, said fabric variations, including stretch properties, new washes and cross-hatched looks, are driving sales. He added that colored denim is doing “fair” with misses’ shoppers.
“The new fabrics, like slubs and crosshatch, are giving denim a new look,” said J.C. Penney Co. buyer Jan Hodges. “Whiskers, potassium washes and tints are also important details.”
Retailers said all the attention on fabric is leading them to focus on a limited numbers of cuts. Low-rise remains the core silhouette, and a few years into the low-rise trend, rises are fitting into a narrow band of sizes. At Lark, with a Northern urban customer, key rises are between six and seven inches. At Beall’s, the moderate Florida chain, primary rises are between seven and eight inches.
Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president of fashion direction, said fashion-forward shoppers may soon be ready for higher rises again. He said that eight- and nine-inch rises are currently his bestsellers. For fall, he plans to bring back some jeans with waist-high rises.
Asked whether he thought shoppers were getting bored with the low-rise looks, Ruttenstein responded, “By September, they will be.”

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