45rpm Spins Statewide
For some time, Japanese consumers have been big fans of American denim brands. Now, in an effort to see if the reverse is also true, the hip Japanese company 45rpm has opened a store on Mercer Street in New York’s trendy SoHo district.
The store, called R by 45rpm, is set to profit from a current vogue for Japanese style, contended Janu Cassidy, operations and promotions manager.
“I think if they opened up maybe five years earlier it wouldn’t have been so well received,” she said.
The store, which opened last fall, primarily carries denim items, such as jeans, shirts and skirts. It also sells Camper shoes and knit tops.
Jeans range from $150 to $570. The priciest pair is dyed using natural Japanese indigo and is distressed by hand, not by a machine. Workers “sign” each pair of distressed jeans with a stamp.
General manager John Shimazaki said his trained eye can spot jeans that have been distressed by a particular worker.
“Every pair of jeans that I think are distressed very nicely, I check the pocket and I see the same stamp,” he said.
For jeans junkies who prefer to have their denim distressed by years of wear and tear — not by a finishing plant employee over the course of a couple of hours — R by 45rpm offers a glimpse of how a nondistressed garment will age by displaying on one of the store’s walls pairs of jeans worn by the company’s Japanese employees for two years.
“Those jeans are worn by employees and they are told, ‘Here, wear these for two years and give them back to us,”‘ Cassidy said. “When customers look at these jeans it gives them an idea what these jeans are going to look like.”
The jeans, which are naturally frayed and worn-in, are not for sale — a sore point with many customers, Cassidy said.
“We sometimes get in trouble for having those jeans because they are not for sale and everybody wants them,” she laughed.
While the store’s eclectic merchandise is an eye-catcher, so is its decor.
The store features four floor-to-ceiling columns made from Japanese chestnut trees, dressing rooms made of stone blocks with leather doors and a floor made from bubinga, a hardwood imported from Africa.
Before 45rpm set up shop Stateside, the company had to alter the fit of its products and create a line of clothing tailored to the American physique.
“The product is exactly the same as in Japan, but the sizing isn’t,” Cassidy said. “The length of the sleeves needed to be extended and we went up an additional size in the jeans.”
In Japan, 45rpm’s jeans are available in sizes 1, 2 and 3, while the New York store stocks a size 4. Cassidy said a 45rpm size 4 is equivalent to about a standard U.S. size 6 or 8.
The opening of R by 45rpm marked the beginning of the company’s plans to expand overseas. The company will open its second store outside of Japan next month in Taipei, Taiwan. In Japan it has 55 stores, 20 of which are franchises.
Cassidy said the 24-year-old company chose to open its inaugural overseas shop in New York, because the city is one of the fashion capitals of the world.
“They felt if they could come to New York, they could really make a name for themselves and be able to share their line of fashion,” she said. “To be accepted by the American market would be one of their biggest wins.”
Fumihiko Machida, vice president of 45rpm’s U.S. subsidiary, 45rpm Studio USA Inc., said the company is considering opening within two years additional R by 45rpm shops in San Francisco and elsewhere in lower Manhattan.
Cassidy said the company wants to establish itself in New York as a cutting-edge brand before it expands.
“They are interested in doing another location,” she said, “but they are are going to see what reputation we gain and what kind of audience we are able to make devotees of the store.”
H&M’S Got Cyber Style
Swedish retailer Hennes & Mauritz expects its cheap-chic denim items to fly out of its stores this spring. So in preparation for the anticipated denim downpour, the chain last month launched a denim style guide on its Web site.
Jens Gutestam, the head of H&M’s Stockholm-based Internet division, said the company launched the guide because its buying office predicts denim will be “a big, strong trend this spring in all countries.”
H&M operates 682 stores in the U.S. and in 13 European countries.
“Denim is always there, but we see that it is stronger this year than ever and that’s why we thought we have to put some emphasis on it,” he said.
The guide includes photos of the company’s spring denim offerings, including pieces from its Hennes and L.O.G.G. lines. The denim items are styled together with knits and other nondenim pieces to illustrate the wardrobe possibilities of denim, Gutestam said.
“We thought it was a good idea to show our customers that we have denim in all departments and to give them tips on how they can wear denim in different ways,” he said.
The guide also features a section called “Destination Denim,” which includes general information about denim, such as its history and the differences between washes.
“We thought it was a nice thing to give our customer detailed information about denim because there are not many garments that have a history like denim,” Gutestam said.
Gutestam said the denim guide will remain posted for about two months, before a style guide based on another theme — such as color or patterns — is posted.
Jeanswear Communications has named Lorna Nagler, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of apparel at Kmart Corp., its newsmaker of the year.
Nagler, who was promoted in January from vice president and gmm of men’s wear and children’s, will be honored at the organization’s annual luncheon, scheduled for March 14 at Smith & Wollensky’s restaurant in New York.
Norman Karr, executive director of Jeanswear Communications, said that “the idea behind the newsmaker of the year is to cite someone who has done a lot to keep denim and jeans in the headlines and in a positive position.”
Karr, whose organization is a promotional coalition of denim producers, yarn makers and dye suppliers, said Nagler “has been very supportive of the denim business+she really sees denim as an integral part of her whole operation.”
Last year’s newsmaker of the year was Lucky Brand chief executive officer Gene Montesano.
As raw and dark denims start to lose some of their cachet in urban markets, jeanswear designers are again turning their attentions to the wonders that can be worked with washing, abrading and coating jeans.
The folks over at Acordis Cellulosic Fibers Inc., which makes the Tencel brand of lyocell, think this is their chance to make a bigger splash in the denim world.
“Today, finishing means being very aggressive to the fabric. So you need stronger fabric,” pointed out Enrique Silla, consultant with Valencia, Spain-based Jeanologia SL, which the fiber maker hired to develop varieties of denim incorporating lyocell.
Tencel officials said that their fiber is twice as strong as cotton, which means that denim including lyocell along with cotton can stand up to more washing, sandpapering and abrading before it begins to fall apart. Also, they contend, since lyocell-containing fabrics have a softer hand, they retain a softer feel even after being treated with the coatings many jeans makers are using to give fabrics a shine. That is the reason that Levi Strauss & Co. used lyocell in the weft of its Engineered Jeans.
Still, even as they look to get a piece of the denim business, officials at the fiber maker said they aren’t trying to completely dethrone cotton, the primary fiber in almost all denim.
“It’s not Tencel as a substitution of cotton,” Silla said. “It’s Tencel and cotton together to get a stronger and more modern product.”