PLAYING ON DENIM’S DIVERSITY
Byline: Melissa Drier
COLOGNE, Germany — Denim, in all its dirty, distressed and destroyed variations, was the clear focus at the most recent staging of the Inter-Jeans trade fair, which closed here Sunday.
The used look was paramount in the fashions exhibitors showed for the fall-winter 2001-2002 season, with frayed edges, washed-out colors and tints and whiskered washes making their way into many lines.
While tinted brown, yellow, green and orange versions of dark denim continued to make their way into many collections, the more fashion-forward resources said they believe that overall the dark trend is literally fading out.
Corduroy also was a significant trend at the show. Fine-wale cord was predominant, though mid- and wide-wale corduroy was also to be seen at many stands. The watchword here is also used, and next season’s corduroy jeans and jackets have a distinct secondhand look.
Whatever the fabric or finish, fall’s favored mainstream silhouette looks to be the low-rise, slightly-flared, five-pocket jean. Some fashion-forward vendors said they were again beginning to push the straight-legged look, and most resources agreed that bell-bottoms now appeal only to very young shoppers.
Cargos and even khakis have moved into the far background, and some companies like Lee have dropped chinos altogether. Denim jackets, on the other hand, remain a must-have item, and jeansmakers said their T-shirt and tops business is also going strong.
While the big players may not be projecting major gains for 2001, they said the German market has nonetheless turned the corner and the mood was upbeat at the three-day jeans show.
“Last season, we sensed a bit of a pickup, and it’s proven to be true,” said Aidan O’Meara, president of marketing for VF Europe. “We don’t see huge market growth at the moderate level, but the denim trend has definitely become more mainstream. We’re hoping for good single-digit increases, and I think the core business will grow.”
That core, he added, is “denim plus corduroy for fall, and almost all in five-pocket derivatives.”
Wrangler is riding high on the western trend, which O’Meara said “has helped denim a lot, especially for Wrangler. It’s played right into the core brand.”
At Lee, he continued, “The game is all about finishing at the moment, especially distressed finishes, and it looks like it’ll continue for spring . There’s a lot of movement in jackets, and we’re struggling to keep up with demand on the jacket side.”
That brand rolled out its 101 program, featuring its historic first two jeans styles and first denim jacket in a used-looking Japanese denim and a dry-feeling denim with woven yellow selvage. This is Lee’s new premium price range, set to retail at about $70.
“This is one exceptionally good show,” said Milan Danek, chief executive officer of HIS Germany, in which VF holds a majority stake. “The last Inter-Jeans gave a signal, but now the innovations are not only being accepted, people are prepared to lay down paper.”
As evidence of the current strength of the market, Danek told the story of the recent success of HIS’s Gold Rush denim, which is mostly colored gold with some blue.
The company recently featured the look in a trade magazine ad, more out of chance than plan, because it was the only photo available that Danek liked.
“We got calls the next day,” he said. “We’ve never had calls from retailers asking for something from an image ad, though I don’t expect to sell more than a couple of thousand.”
Danek is anticipating that one consequence of the strong demand for jeans in Europe will likely be a denim shortage.
The mills that his company purchases denim from have cut back on capacity just as they were being asked to develop new varieties of denim. That has lead to a shortage of the newer denims that are most in demand with jeansmakers, Danek explained.
The situation is very different in the U.S., where overcapacity caused by the opening of new Mexican production and the constant pressure of Asian suppliers have kept intense margin pressures on mills and left jeansmakers freer to pick and choose among their suppliers.
Still, Danek acknowledged that a shortage of newer denims isn’t an unmanageable problem.
“I’d rather beg for goods than beg for orders,” he said.
At the German Mustang Group, chief executive officer Heiner Sefranek said he was very pleased by the high level of demand for denim.
The Group’s mainstream Mustang brand showed denim in a variety of colors, from basic blue to black, purple, pink, bright blue and kelly green, as well as animal prints, fishnet and sanded denim, used finishes and dirty destroyed washed denim. Mustang is also keen on dirty-look corduroy, and Sefranek said they’ve sold much more tops than ever before.
“The mix and match system is important,” he said.
The leading silhouette is a low-rise boot leg, and on the fashion side, a very straight tubular leg.
“The good thing is that the whole baggy fit and techno fabrics are gone and the whole market is going in our direction — jeans,” Sefranek said. “There are only a handful of companies with real jeans know-how and we’re one of those.”
Nevertheless, Sefranek acknowledged that the market is still toughest in the middle price range, which is Mustang’s chosen ground.
“We’re not there for gimmicky styling. We’re almost like a car company, developing functional innovations that make sense, something that the normal consumer wants,” he continued. “I don’t think the middle market is out, but most [vendors] couldn’t develop a signature. I think there’ll be a shakeout in the mid-range, though the mainstream will become the biggest area again, as it was before.”
Meanwhile, the more fashion-oriented jeans collections, including Mustang’s W< line, are continuing to let loose with wilder styling and fabric approaches. They’re growing at a faster rate than the mainstream labels, he said, though their volumes are generally much smaller.
Guess is getting restarted in the German market. Its European licensee, Gruppo Fingen — formerly called the Fratini Group — is now selling to Germany directly rather than through a distributor.
“The business in Germany is comparatively low compared to the potential, but the reactions have been excellent,” said Thomas Ullrich, director of German sales. Ullrich plans to triple Guess’s business in Germany this year, adding 120 new doors.
He acknowledged that breaking into a new market — or reinvigorating an old one — is challenging, but said that Guess’s global presence is making it easier.
“There’s a clear trend toward an overflow of information for the consumer, and the consumer is getting irritated. There are too many Web sites, too many TV channels, too many information sources,” he said. “It’s a tough time for any mid-level names. They get lost. The few names that are global, consistent and still have a young, fashionable touch are OK, and the whole situation is helping us a lot.”
Miss Sixty, on the other hand, has already established itself in 1,500 doors in Germany, where it expects to reach $50 million in annual sales.
“We have always doubled our business, but we can’t do so continuously,” acknowledged Christiana Martin, marketing manager for Sixty Germany. “But we’ll be well over $50 million for 2001,” due in part to two new Miss Sixty/Energy shops slated to open this year in Nuremberg and Augsburg. The first Miss Sixty shop in Germany opened in Berlin last year.
Martin said denim is “really important this season, and as wild as possible, with different washes, tears and rips, laser treatments, dirty looks and painted effects.”
There were quite a few new exhibitors at Inter-Jeans this season, including the Italian jeans line Miss Maggie.
“The first day was definitely OK, and people seem to be looking for something new,” Ermes Blasi, sales manager said. The looks at Miss Maggie included denim-and-tweed combinations and all sorts of patchwork designs; fringing in decorative patterns; scratched and used looks, ombre sand-blasted shading; destroyed looks, and dirty denim, including dirty stretch denim and dirty corduroy.
Nevertheless, while Blasi said he believes dirty is hot now, he’s betting on bleached looks for “next spring-summer, because I think dirty will be finished.”
The Koln Messe, organizers of Inter-Jeans and Men’s Fashion Week, which runs parallel to the jeans fair, does not break out attendance or exhibitor figures for Inter-Jeans. The two fairs together drew about 50,000 visitors, and featured 1,404 exhibitors. The spring-summer edition of Inter-Jeans and Men’s Fashion Week have been moved up to July 13-15, 2001 and will no longer overlap with the CPD women’s trade fair in Dusseldorf.