Hard Tail is relaunching a denim line.

The Hard Tail brand is returning to the denim arena. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company had launched a jeans line under a licensing deal with Blue Tattoo Jeans Inc. in 1999, but that agreement expired about two years ago, according to Hard Tail...

The Hard Tail brand is returning to the denim arena. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company had launched a jeans line under a licensing deal with Blue Tattoo Jeans Inc. in 1999, but that agreement expired about two years ago, according to Hard Tail co-owner Dick Cantrell.

This time around, the company, known for its garment-dyed casual separates, plans to manage the line in-house, rather than through a licensee. Cantrell said he thinks he can do a better job with the product when it comes to fit, styling and washes, which is why he waited to relaunch the Italian denim-based product.

“We had to get the right people and nail down the look,” Cantrell said.

A five-person design team is behind the line of stretch jeans offered in five-pocket, cigarette leg, trouser and lace-up styles. Denim jackets and skirts will follow in future seasons. Signature to the line is its plunging rises, dipping down from classic low to super-low and a highly revealing style with a rise of about four inches.

“We figured everyone has super-low,” Cantrell said. “We wanted to create one that would beg the question, ‘Holy Cow, how are those things staying on?’”

With nine washes available, the line blends vintage and rocker roots with light, medium and dark washes tinted with dirty or baked resin treatments. Styles feature plenty of grinding and fraying, including extreme frays with cut hems.

Labeling goes back to the company’s roots, when Cantrell, a former Air Force jet pilot in the Vietnam War, originally launched Hard Tail with tattoo-laced T-shirts and tank tops. For the denim product, he’s using a natural canvas label printed with tattoos and roses, with red embroidery for the waistband.

Cantrell is still cautious. The line, which wholesales for $60, is to bow at the Intermezzo trade show in New York Sunday, but Cantrell plans to beta test the product in six locations in early February before shipping the balance Feb. 28 through March 31 to both specialty stores and better department stores. Test sites are at National Jeans, Havana Jeans and Smith Brothers in the New York metro area; E Street Denim in suburban Chicago; It’s the Ritz in Birmingham, Mich., and Tupelo Honey in North Miami Beach, Fla.

This story first appeared in the January 8, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

He hopes to build momentum with a March magazine campaign in Glamour, Vogue, In Style, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen and Lucky. Cantrell said he expects first-year sales to hit $10 million.

Denim vendors say the consumer appetite for denim shows no sign of being sated.

“There’s always room for more players,” said Eli Blit, co-owner of Havana Jeans. “Hard Tail has a great fit so we wanted to be on board with their denim.”