LOS ANGELES — As new competitors crowd the premium denim market, Blue Cult is sharpening its strategy by limiting distribution and introducing sportswear in a high-end offshoot brand, Elite by Blue Cult.
The line was unveiled at WWDMAGIC in August as an extension of Blue Cult, featuring a basic lineup consisting of two rises and two leg openings. For the Fashion Coterie show in New York and Project Las Vegas, both in February, Elite plans to show 32 styles, including tweed trousers and riding jackets accented with leather buttons. The line will also be on hand for the Designers & Agents show in Los Angeles in March.
“We see it as a complete collection,” said Caroline Athias, co-founder of Blue Cult, which is owned by Bernon, Calif.-based Ancami. “The product is completely different from the existing Blue Cult.”
Elite will offer skirts, gauchos, culottes and blazers in addition to five-pocket jeans. The European and Japanese denim will be complemented by corduroy, stretch sateen and tweed. Athias said Elite might introduce knits in the second year.
Ancami already produces knit tops through Blue Cult Knits and three other denim brands, in addition to Blue Cult and Elite. But Elite represents the company’s attempt to produce sportswear with different fabrics, understated styling and better tailoring under one label. It is also a strategy to distinguish itself in the saturated denim category.
Jackie Brander, owner of Fred Segal Fun, who began carrying Elite last year, approves of the move.
“I think it’s a wise decision that Elite has included different fabrics and designs in their fall collection,” Brander said in an e-mail.
Brander said she plans to incorporate Elite’s tweeds in her shop in Santa Monica, Calif., where she carries all Ancami’s brands.
“They are also doing a skinny cord pant and some tailored blazers that are going to be important for us,” Brander said.
While Athias acts as creative director on Elite, the designer behind the line is Susan Woo, a 17-year apparel industry veteran who began her career as an assistant at Levi Strauss & Co. She then worked at Mark Ecko Collection before consulting with contemporary denim lines such as Chip & Pepper. A fan of Levi’s and Wrangler jeans from the Forties and Fifties, she hoped to spare women from having vintage pants heavily altered to fit their bodies.
“I took the authenticity of those jeans and put a modern twist to it,” Woo said.
Athias said that since Elite’s distribution will be limited to fewer than 150 specialty shops and better department stores in the U.S. and other select international shops, first-year wholesale sales are expected to reach $5 million, representing less than 1 percent of Ancami’s total business. Wholesale prices are $95 for gauchos and culottes, $100 and higher for five-pocket jeans and $175 for blazers.
Elite shipped to Colette in Paris this month and also is sold at Fred Segal Fun, Madison, Intuition and Scout.
Joey Grana, co-owner of Scout in Los Angeles, said he added Elite to his denim stock of Hysteric Glamour, Grey Ant and Habitual for the past holiday season because the new brand had a flattering fit for all body types. Grana said he plans to order Elite again for summer and fall after selling plenty of pairs of the cigarette pant that retails for $228 each.
“Susan has a really good aesthetic and her designs are pretty relevant in terms of an L.A. customer,” Grana said.