DENIM’S STREET ART

Byline: David Grant Caplan

NEW YORK — Denim may not be the canvas of choice for most graffiti artists, but that isn’t stopping jeans manufacturers this fall from offering pieces covered in the urban art form.
No longer restricted to the exterior of subway cars or inner-city brick walls, graffiti will decorate denim jeans, jackets and skirts from vendors such as Todd Oldham Jeans, Fragile by XOXO, Squeeze and BCBG Max Azria’s To The Max.
Apparel executives said graffiti is associated with freedom of expression, rebellion and individuality — all of which are themes that appeal to the teen shopper.
Max Azria, Los Angeles-based BCBG Max Azria’s designer and president, said “graffiti is a junior language — young people express themselves through graffiti.”
BCBG’s junior line, To The Max, this fall is introducing graffiti prints on denim jeans, a miniskirt and a jacket. The pieces feature phrases such as “A world needs peace,” “To the max” and “Romeo & Julie forever,” as well as drawings of records, musical notes and hearts.
David Greenberg, president of New York-based junior firm Squeeze, said graffiti is “about individualism and everybody wants to look different.”
Greenberg said the company last offered graffiti prints about three years ago, but resurrected it for fall since “it is becoming very hot now in Europe and on the West Coast.”
Squeeze’s graffiti offerings include denim jeans and a miniskirt. The jeans feature aspirational phrases, such as “Follow your heart” and “All of your dreams can come true.” The mini-skirt, however, has a bit more attitude — it features “I’m not in the mood for you,” “Hey man, back off” and “Beware of the girl.”
Los Angeles-based junior sportswear firm Rampage will offer for fall a denim skirt with phrases such as “He loves me” and “He’s mine” scrawled across the skirt’s seat. The jeans features sketches of hearts, people and the American flag.
Marc by Marc Jacobs, for fall, will also enter the graffiti arena, with its “scribbled jeans,” featuring doodles of fictitious cartoon characters.
Marc by Marc Jacobs creative director Pina Ferlisi said the “initial inspiration was based on the idea of doodling on your jeans when you were a kid in school, bored in class.”
Ferlisi said the “scribbled jeans” meshes with the entire fall collection’s “anarchy feeling…it’s a little moodier.”
Colleen Sherin, market director at the Saks Fifth Avenue fashion merchandising office in New York, said graffiti prints have “a bit of a rebellious look and a more individual look.”
Sherin said Saks has placed an order for the Marc by Marc Jacobs jeans.
Allen B., produced by ABS by Allen Schwartz, will offer denim jeans and a jacket featuring an eclectic assortment of colorful drawings, including suns, hearts and the American and British flags. Phrases such as “Milk, bread, sugar, honey” and “He He Ha Ha” cover the items.
“I think it’s very whimsical…it’s a fun look,” said Lloyd Singer, vice president of sales of ABS by Allen Schwartz. “I don’t think there are any hidden deep messages.”
Other vendors said the words and phrases featured on graffiti pieces are selected with the junior customer in mind.
Fragile by XOXO, for example, offers for fall a pair of jeans — modeled after the Stephen Sprouse-designed Louis Vuitton bag — featuring the words “power,” “strong,” “diva” and “love.”
“It’s really about empowering women,” a spokesman said. “These women are young and at a very influential age so we’re trying to help them along in their path of growth.”
Todd Oldham Jeans, produced by Jones Apparel Group, is offering for fall low-rise flare jeans covered in words and phrases such as “liberty,” “famous,” and “spirit of love.”
“Those girls love happy thoughts,” said Chris Nicola, executive vice president of Todd Oldham Jeans. “Generation Y is a happy, positive group of people.”
Dallas-based Rich Hippie, which restores vintage jeans and sells them to retailers, will offer denim jeans and jackets covered in phrases, such as “Love dog,” “Nice and easy,” “Pretty girl” and “Looker.”
Rich Hippie co-owner Eric Kimmel said the words “represent cool chicks+those are the kind of girls I want to hang out with.”
Retailers said they expect graffiti prints to perform well, since fashion items, in general, are currently popular.
Ronnie Kaj, co-owner of Image Men’s and Ladies, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based four-store chain, said “the market is already saturated with dark denim, so this is something to add novelty to the market.”
Kaj, whose stores carry Guess, Diesel and Nautica Jeans Co., said he has placed an order for Todd Oldham Jeans’s graffiti-print jeans.
Lanette Krum, a Sacramento, Calif.-based denim buyer for Nordstrom, said “any way you can make denim very special or unique, is what’s selling right now.”
Krum said she has seen graffiti prints from a few junior lines and will “probably test it for back-to-school.”
Todd Oldham Jeans’s Nicola said the addition of graffiti-print denim “gives the line a deeper appeal, in terms of a fresh look.”
ABS’s Singer said graffiti-print jeans “are just another way to express ourselves in the denim business.”
While vendors and some retailers expect graffiti-print denim to be a hot seller this fall, both camps said finicky fashionistas will only embrace the trend for so long.
“It’s a fun thing that she will wear 10 times and then move on to the next style or the next pattern,” Nicola said. “Last fall it was all about plaid and this year she’s looking for something new and different — I think it’s going to be graffiti.”
Kaj said, “I think there will be some retail success, but just like cowboy chic and camouflage, it’s going to be out after one season.”

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