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PARIS — European jeans are going to extremes.

Denim trends are getting bipolar this fall, with loose-fitting boyfriend looks with masculine touches sharing the limelight with ultraslim fits.

“The trend is very clear — either baggy or slim — but certainly nothing in between,” said Maurice Ohayon, founder of Paris-based denim label Notify.

Ohayon’s Androgyne line already represents 30 percent of the brand’s wholesale volume for fall. The line, inspired by men’s suits, marks the arrival of cashmere sweaters, blazers, blouses and tailored wool jackets to the brand. From the collection, Ohayon believes glossy black, slim-fit jeans will be the hit for the chilly months.

“In the U.S., one shape is popular, and it will be reproduced for years,” he said. “We don’t work that way here. Every six months, we think of different forms.”

Masculine influences are popular among many European designers, who are bending gender rules when it comes to designing denim for future seasons.

“Dressy masculine looks for women, combined with a hint of femininity, will be the next strong look,” said Jonny Johansson, creative director of Acne Jeans, a high-end denim and sportswear firm based in Stockholm.

Acne’s most cutting-edge model, a low-rise style with a wide waist and tapered legs, dubbed the Hug, is the brand’s new hit and already represents 25 percent of women’s apparel sales for the label. Orders for the model have increased 100 percent over the last three months, according to the company.

“It looks like you borrowed your boyfriend’s pants, but it’s more sexy,” said Johansson, who added that black jeans and satin surfaces on plain denim would be popular next winter, as will clean looks with no visible stitching.

Acne is not the only Scandinavian brand that has tapped into the cross-dressing appeal.

“We are trying to think more unisex,” said Maria Erixon, the denim diva behind Gothenburg, Sweden-based labels Nudie Jeans and Denimbirds for women.

Denimbirds’ offer for the winter includes baggy and loose fits for women. Erixon said the brand’s masculine looks are gaining ground, even in southern Europe, where the slim fit is still a firm favorite.

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Baggy jeans evoke fantasy, they hint at sex appeal, unlike the skinny fit where the message is very clear,” said Erixon.

Madrid’s Pepe Jeans is also experimenting with boyfriend styles. The Crash boasts a loose waist, longer rise and skinny legs.

For blatant sex appeal, however, the painted-on denim look is hard to beat, according to some designers. High-end denim label Le Temps des Cerises, based in Marseille, France, puts the focus on voluptuous curves.

“We make sure the waist is perfectly fitted and that bottoms have a lifted effect,” said Lylian Richardiere, the brand’s creative director, adding vintage detailing and soft indigo colors will be popular looks for next summer.

Notify also keeps close to the curve with its new Body Sculpt system, which accentuates a woman’s shape in the waist and the bottom.

As for the great waist debate, most denim designers agreed that the tide is rising, if only slightly.

In Italy, Augusto Romano, managing director of high-end denim label Meltin’ Pot, said its Mesh slim-fit jean, which sells for around $160, is a bestseller for the brand, representing 15 to 20 percent of sales. Romano noted the label’s new classic gabardine pants collection paired with new denim treatment techniques and washes should be strong next summer.

As the competition mounts here, due to the growing number of new denim labels entering the market each year, European denim firms are hedging their bets and branching out from basic bottoms.

“We are trying to widen our product range,” said Meltin’ Pot’s Romano, who said the market is close to reaching the saturation point. “Denim has been showing the fastest growth, but we want to back up our collection with other products.”

For this summer, Meltin’ Pot will introduce more women’s fashion items, including tops and skirts. Notify is also reaching out to a wider audience.

Meanwhile, some retailers warn that the proliferation of new premium denim labels may be fatiguing customers.

“There are so many labels today that the customer is confused by prices and getting lost in a plethora of logos,” said Cedric Charbit, general merchandise manager for women’s fashion at Printemps, the French department store chain.

Charbit added that women are buying more skirts and boots than in previous years.

Some retailers believe shoppers, dizzy from the sea of new denim names, will turn to tried-and-trusted designer brands entering the scene, including Prada and Louis Vuitton.

Prada’s first denim collection is expected to hit stores this June. The line boasts more than 10 five-pocket jeans styles in four different fits for around $250.

“Prada’s new denim collection will allow customers to wear jeans from a brand they recognize,” said Charbit.

“There is a sophisticated edge to European [denim], which may be the reason why many customers are going toward Louis Vuitton and Prada for jeans lately,” said Yasmin Sewell, denim buyer at Browns in London, noting that Acne jeans are also strong.

For their part, retailers are focusing on editing their offerings to cut down on the confusion.

“We’ve reduced the number of lines to keep the collection simple,” said Sarah Lerfel, buyer at Paris’ Colette.

Lerfel said she believes simple washes and pure denim, from labels such as Acne, France’s Atelier de La Durance and Jean Shop New York will keep shoppers content for the winter.

“Our clients want uncomplicated, less-distressed jeans,” said Browns’ Sewell.

Keeping it simple seems to be a mantra for all involved.

“Authenticity is reclaiming its values in denim, with less embellishments such as zippers, pockets and details, and more focus on shapes, quality of the denim and washes,” said Sylvia Meinsma, head of junior wear for Promostyl, a Paris-based trend agency.

“Denim is a type of material like nothing else,” Ohayon said. “It’s best to keep it simple.”

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