Byline: Scott Malone

NEW YORK — With its fortunes rising and demand strong in the moderate junior jeans business, Paris Blues is getting serious about licensing.
Last week, the company signed an accessories licensing agreement with Lineapelle, a handbag maker located in Los Angeles. According to Paris Blues owner Jose Quant, negotiations are under way for outerwear, sunglasses and watch licenses.
The company hopes to have everything in place to launch spring 2001 product at the August edition of WWDMAGIC in Las Vegas.
“We’re hoping to make a big splash and come with a big booth,” said national sales manager Lisa Engelman.
At the February edition of the show, the company unveiled its shoes, produced by licensee J&L Footwear Inc. The shoes are set to hit retail for the back-to-school season.
Engelman, who’s spent two decades in the jeans business, the last four of them at Paris Blues, said she’s amazed to see a low-priced brand in such demand.
“I’ve waited 20 years to see the moderate jeans business get the respect that it deserves,” she said. “Maybe it’s time for us.”
The company also hopes to land a cosmetics licensee before the year is out, Quant added.
Paris Blues is not the first moderate jeans brand to jump into the licensing game. Competitors like Mudd and LEI have licensed out products, including shoes, hats and accessories in the last year or so. Engelman said making the jump to licensing can be tough emotionally for a small company.
The worry, she explained, is, “What are they going to do to your label? You can put it in black and white, but you’re allowing someone to handle the most precious thing you have, and that’s kind of scary.”
In a separate interview, Quant, who is the founder of the company, took a more sanguine view of that problem.
“We have a gut feeling when we go with a company whether they’re going to do a good job or not,” Quant said.
But negotiating the deals and keeping track of the product has also proven more time-consuming than Engelman had expected. Last summer, the company hired New York licensing agent and sports marketing firm IMG Licensing to seek out deals, and has since added a full-time, in-house director of licensing, Brooke Summerson, to work as a liaison with the agency.
Paris Blues’ junior jeans, knitwear and girls’ jeans business brought in revenues of $90 million to $100 million in 1999, and the company is projecting growth of 20 to 30 percent in 2000. Much of that growth should coming from knits, launched in October, and the girls’ product, which is starting to take off after a dormant period.
If it makes its target, the company will have succeeded in maintaining the growth rate it has set over the past several years, although that expansion has posed a number of challenges, company officials said.
Partly, those challenges are a result of the company doing more business with major department stores, which today account for 35 to 40 percent of sales, according to Engelman.
“Once you become a big player, the rules change. You have to figure out how you’re going to do the same thing at less of a price,” she said. “The bigger your business, the harder it is to do business. You have to rethink your margin structure.”
The company has also had to rethink production. Late last year, the firm started moving some production, which it had traditionally done in Mexico and Los Angeles, to contractors in China.
“It’s working out pretty well,” said Quant. “They can do things we cannot do here domestically.”
Paris Blues is also trying to move into a new headquarters and larger warehouse, since its 200 employees — up from 150 in 1998 — and inventory are becoming cramped in its current 50,000-square-foot Los Angeles location. Engelman said she hopes to move by August, after the b-t-s delivery cycle.
The company’s growth is somewhat surprising for a brand that took off about four years ago, along with the explosion in demand for the flare. The flare’s staying power has proven somewhat of a puzzle to Paris Blues, which keeps expecting junior shoppers to lose interest in the look.
Engelman noted that last year, expecting the flare’s popularity to wane, the company introduced narrower legs, but they didn’t sell.
Her only conclusion is that junior shoppers now regard the flare as a staple of their wardrobe, rather than a trend that will come to an end.
“Maybe it’s basic now,” she said. “Right now, there’s no end in sight. We try all the time to sell straight legs, or a cuff, but they just don’t sell.”