RETURN OF THE ’80S JEANS MACHINE

Byline: David Grant Caplan

NEW YORK — From batwing sleeves and low-hanging chain belts to large loop earrings and Madonna-print T-shirts, many of the recent designer collections have embraced the excessive and extravagant Eighties with great vigour.
But the Eighties fashion revival has not been restricted to the runways at Bryant Park or the Carousel du Louvre. A resurgence in denim brands from the late Seventies and early Eighties is occurring, fueled in part by aggressive launches by some of that era’s biggest labels — Gloria Vanderbilt, Jordache and Sergio Valente.
While the Seventies and Eighties are hot decades in fashion right now, many retailers are not attributing the popularity of these brands solely to that trend.
“Eighties chic was a slight factor, but I think that the customer is looking for that sexy stretch thing,” said Kirsten Adams, a buyer for junior denim, swimwear and outerwear at Jackson, Mich.-based Jacobson’s, a 24-unit department store chain slated to receive the new Jordache Originals line in the spring.
“I really don’t think the average mall customer is getting that it’s from the Eighties,” said Barbara Lubel, a buyer for Garden City, N.Y.-based Epic Design Stores, a 30-store chain targeting the urban teenager and twentysomething consumer slated to receive shipments of Jordache Originals later this year. “They’re just loving the fit. Our customers are truly into the sexiness, the stretch and the comfort of the brand.”
Brandi Weller, a buyer at the 20-unit Anaheim, Calif.-based junior chain Eye Candy, also expecting shipments of Jordache Originals, has the same theory.
“I just think it’s just a matter of denim being hot and the whole comeback of the Eighties,” she said. “Definitely, stretch is what is retailing right now, especially in darker washes.”
Liz Sweney, president of the women’s division at Plano, Tex.-based J.C. Penney Co., added: “I’m not sure if it’s because our consumer understands the whole Eighties-retro thing or not, but I do think the moderate consumer understands a great product at a great price made by a great brand.”
Kathryn Bufano, vice president of merchandise at Macy’s East, which sells Gloria Vanderbilt, said, “It has a retro name, it has a retro logo, but I don’t view it as a retro fashion trend.”
Steven Miska, president of Seattle Pacific Industries’ Sergio Valente division, said Eighties nostalgia may have had to do with the brand’s success three years ago, when “people were buying Sergio Valente in retro stores in SoHo,” but today the reasons for buying the brand are different.
“Originally, I think the Eighties had everything to with the relaunch,” he said. “But now in 2000, it’s selling to people who haven’t a clue that Sergio Valente existed in 1980. People are buying Sergio Valente because of our advertising campaign, increased consumer awareness and the fit and styling of the product.”
Michael Riego, senior vice president of advertising at Jordache, believes popular culture has facilitated the return and consumer acceptance of the Eighties brands.
“Because of the Seventies and Eighties resurgence we are seeing in the media, with movies and TV shows like “Charlie’s Angles,” and “That 70s Show,” I think people are kind of expecting for Jordache to reappear,” said Michael Riego, senior vice president of advertising at Jordache.
But, Riego believes that pop culture’s current fascination with the late Seventies and Eighties is just a fad. He said Jordache is looking at establishing the brand beyond a retro icon.
“After we’ve rebranded ourselves and reminded the public of us as a brand, we will create apparel that’s more with the times,” said Riego. “The trend of the Seventies and Eighties will go away soon enough, so we will take this opportunity and leverage the embrace of that time period.”
Although Jordache has been exclusively available at Wal-Mart since 1996 in contemporary styles and fits, later this month the apparel company will launch three new collections for women called “Jordache Originals,” which will not be available at Wal-Mart.
The target consumer is between 15 and 25 years old. The new trio of Jordache Collections, to range in price from $48 to $54 in retail outlets, feature the trademark horse-head logo, back pocket decorative double stitching and snug fit.
Riego is not worried that the presence of Jordache at Wal-Mart will confuse consumers in search of the Originals.
“The Jordache product that is carried at Wal-Mart is very juniors-centric — it’s cargos, flares, it’s everything that teen girls are wearing,” he said. “Jordache Originals is much more mature, because it borrows from that woman of the Seventies, so it has a tighter fit.”
Many junior apparel chains and department stores have signed up for Jordache Originals, excited to capitalize on the current retro trend and the desire by many customers for stretch denim.
“I’ve seen their line and it looks great — we’ve booked them for holiday,” said Epic Design’s Lubel.
At Eye Candy, Jordache Originals will begin arriving in stores in the beginning of December and will “just be a small little fixture to see if our customer reacts to the comeback of the name,” said buyer Weller.
While Wal-Mart has been stocking its shelves with Jordache for a few years now, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer may eventually carry another denim blast from the past — Sasson. Wal-Mart last year purchased the Sasson brand of women’s apparel and accessories. But according to a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, “right now, there are no plans in the pipeline to carry Sasson.”
While Jordache is gearing up for this month’s relaunch, Gloria Vanderbilt is busily working on the spring launch of Glo. Gloria Vanderbilt’s misses’ line has been in stores for a few years, but the apparel manufacturer believes the Glo line will bring back the glamour and sex appeal the brand garnered in the late Seventies and Eighties.
Jack Gross, president of Gloria Vanderbilt Apparel Corp., said his company has been successful since 1997, when “we focused on making the brand a power brand.” He added that “we focused on quality, fabric, color and gaining real estate in stores.”
Retail chains and department stores across the country are going gaga over Gloria.
“We’ve always done a little bit of business with Gloria Vanderbilt, but now we’re going to do a lot of business,” said Penney’s Sweney. “They have a terrific product with a very unique fit and I think that the brand has some cachet to it.”
Sweney said Gloria Vanderbilt is currently in nearly 200 of its 1,046 stores and there are plans to expand the brand into more doors.
Over at Macy’s East, Gloria Vanderbilt — available in all 88 stores — is popular both with consumers and company executives.
“Our Gloria Vanderbilt business has been very, very good,” said Bufano. “We’ve been on a big growth pattern for a good two, three years.”
Like Gloria Vanderbilt, Sergio Valente resurfaced a few years ago and is now one of the hottest denim brands on the market for women aged 18-30. Sergio Valente went out of production in 1982 and relaunched 15 years later. The relaunch focused on the original jeans, including the famous bull insignia. While the 1997 relaunch focused on Sergio Valente’s retro appeal, a subsequent launch in 1999, focused on slightly updating the brand.
New York’s Henri Bendel started carrying only one style of Sergio Valente last year, but now has picked up several more.
“Bendel’s is a little sexy and I think those jeans definitely are sexy since they are skintight, so we felt it went with the store,” said assistant buyer Terri Gustasson.
At Chicago-based The Lark Stores, president Leonard Rothschild said demand for Sergio Valente has been “tremendous” ever since the 10-store chain began carrying the brand about a year ago.
“We bought it because we felt the brand still had strong brand equity in the marketplace and we thought it had a little bit of nostalgia feel to it,” Rothschild said.
Sergio Valente’s Miska said he is not worried about sharing the marketplace with the soon-to-launch Jordache Originals.
“It’s very similar [to Sergio Valente] from what I’ve heard, but I think they’re going to do more volume than we are really looking to do right now,” he said. “We want to keep the label upscale right now and I think that’s going to be the big difference.”

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