Jeans using Invista's Lycra T400 fiber.

NEW YORK — Stretch fiber could help take denim even higher in the realm of fashion.<BR><BR>Jim Siewart, a consultant at the Jassin-O'Rourke Group, said the use of stretch fibers is making denim lighter and more durable, and therefore more...

NEW YORK — Stretch fiber could help take denim even higher in the realm of fashion.

Jim Siewart, a consultant at the Jassin-O’Rourke Group, said the use of stretch fibers is making denim lighter and more durable, and therefore more attractive to designers. Siewart said he is already seeing designers, particularly in Italy, branch out to use the fabric in more tailored looks.

“With this new approach, designers are not destroying the denim because it’s smoother and light enough to be tailored,” Siewart said.

It’s a transition that Siewart likens to what Juicy Couture did for sweatpants.

“A decent, two-button jacket in denim could be your new blazer,” he said. “If you’re looking to do something for a younger or casual market, that customer might not want a navy blazer, but they might be interested in a denim jacket.”

Stretch has steadily been working its way up the fashion food chain, beginning with sportswear, and is poised for rapid growth in the bulging premium jeans market.

“Stretch is now something consumers expect in all clothing they buy,” said Holly Watson, marketing communications manager with Invista, the world’s largest manufacturer of spandex under the Lycra brand name.

Watson believes that, especially in jeans, stretch can make all the difference for women who are constantly on a quest for the perfect fit.

Invista introduced its newest stretch fiber, Lycra T-400, which is known generically as elasterell, with Express jeans last season. Now the company is focused on bringing T-400 to premium denim. Rock & Republic was the first premium denim line to use T-400 in its fall 2005 runway show held during Los Angeles Fashion Week in March.

“We have aggressively driven it in the premium lines with Rock & Republic,” said Watson, who added that nearly 50 percent of the denim market has incorporated stretch fibers of some sort.

Perhaps more important than providing jeans with better fits, stretch fabrics like T-400 are giving denim the wherewithal to withstand some of the toughest washing, weathering and texturing techniques premium denim makers can throw at them.

“We offer the ability to really beat up the jeans and the product remains durable,” said Joanne Licht, Invista’s wovens business manager.

This story first appeared in the June 7, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Siewart agreed that designers are responding to the greater resiliency that stretch gives to denim.

“The stretch fiber will keep the base denim from becoming too weak if it’s overtreated,” said Siewart. “The stretch keeps the fabric’s integrity.”

Monthly sales results for May proved that consumers’ appetites for denim show no signs of abating, making innovation all the more crucial.

“Teens voted with their wallets for denim this past month and it is the number-one, must-have apparel item,” Brian J. Tunick, a retail analyst with JP Morgan Securities, wrote in a report on May sales results.

Tunick noted that this was particularly impressive considering that May is the second-shortest month of the year for apparel sales.

“Just when it seems like the great denim debate of 2005 was getting fun, Abercrombie & Fitch has to go out and tell us that denim sales rose over 160 percent in the month,” Tunick wrote.

Siewart believes that what he’s been seeing might indicate that denim’s future won’t necessarily be relegated to jeans.

“Using stretch is a way of taking a casual fabric and making it more tailored, so it becomes more of a sportswear piece,” he said.

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