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LOS ANGELES — Once a dumping ground for loose and baggy hand-me-down styles that sold well in the men’s lines, but were tweaked for the female body, the women’s urban apparel sector has evolved to feature better fits and more fashion — and no category demands the best fit possible more than jeans.

Thanks to the recent boom in the denim business, generated partly by growth in the premium sector for jeans costing $100 and higher, urban labels, including Rocawear and Apple Bottoms, are continually finessing their fit and increasing their presence in the denim market.

“We definitely saw there was an opportunity in the marketplace,” said Alain LaFontant, vice president of sales for Rocawear’s women’s business, which is produced under license by Signature Apparel Group in New York.

Though a great fit is a requirement of all jeans makers, the urban brands need to take particular consideration to the physical dimensions of their female customer, who wants the styling of a premium denim label but doesn’t necessarily want to pay the price to look good in those cuts.

“The typical urban woman, she tends to be more on the curvy side and pretty much well endowed, whether she’s a size 2 or size 16,” said Dorothy Antoine, design director for Apple Bottoms in New York. In other words, she has a “full bust, small waist, and her butt and hips are wider,” Antoine said.

Throw in a limited budget and the aspiration to wear skinny-leg jeans and other trends that rock the runways, and the result is a range of strategies to nail the perfect fit.

Rocawear hires a number of different models who can fit a size 5 to see how a certain pair of jeans looks on each woman. The company also delves into a supply of top-quality fabrics such as premium ring-spun cotton, cross-hatch fabrics and Japanese denim.

“You’re not going to get the fit you want without great fabric,” LaFontant said.

Antoine said her six-person team at Apple Bottoms focuses on making sure the garments fit first before adding stylistic touches such as the logo. As Apple Bottoms is a euphemistic term for a round booty, it’s natural that the company wants to accentuate the butt.

This story first appeared in the June 15, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“You cut the jean in a certain way so that it enhances the butt, whether you have a big butt or a smaller butt,” Antoine said. “We want our jeans to make a woman look very feminine.”

To help do that, Apple Bottoms this fall will launch a new style dubbed Create A Curve. Retailing for $59, the stretch jean resembles a five-pocket model from the front, with three pockets and a conventional waistband. In the back, the yoke is curved and the waistband is cut into two rounded pieces and sewn to overlap each other. Gone are the apple-shaped back pockets that are a signature of the brand’s other jeans. Designed with a narrower leg, the style will be initially available in three washes — light, medium and dark. Three additional washes will be introduced each month starting in August.

“The reason I wanted to create it is, our line is not just for a girl with a big butt. All women can wear it,” Antoine said. “It’s almost like the Miracle Bra but in a jean.”

Rocawear also strives to ensure that the denim fits and flatters a shapely woman.

“That’s the exclamation point,” LaFontant said. “When you create a great-looking jean, styling is extremely important. Wash is important. I think what caps it off when you do a style in a jean is any consumer wants to make sure their butt looks good.”

As such, Rocawear uses as many as four fit models for a particular style and hires an additional two or three plus-size models to try on the jeans for cross-reference. Late last year, the company heeded complaints by women who said they wear the same size as their girlfriends but have different body shapes and look different in the same pair of jeans. The company began hiring five models who have different body types but who can wear the same size of jeans to try on a particular style.

The goal, LaFontant said, was to “do the best job possible of having one jean at one size that can complement various body types.”

Rocawear pays attention to the shoes, as well. For the skinny-leg jean that it introduced in November, the designers played with the leg opening by seeing how the jeans looked over sneakers, with heels or tucked into boots.

“The way the jeans lay over the shoes is hugely important,” LaFontant said.

The payoff is that denim sales increased 40 percent from a year ago, LaFontant said, declining to disclose specific figures.

The job is never done, however.

“It’s always a work in progress,” LaFontant said. “We can’t always say this denim jean is a perfect fit. We can always make it better.”

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