Denim, a simple, sturdy and relatively inexpensive material, has been associated with manual labor for much of its 200-plus-year history in the United States. But the indigo-dyed cotton fabric has undergone a transformation in the last few decades, appearing in garments as diverse as sleek, tailored pants acceptable at a red carpet event and fleece "jeans" that teeter between weekend wear and sleepwear. What follows is a survey of some of the newest, freshest and, in some cases, most perplexing developments in the deep end of the jean pool.
Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren is making a play for the skinny-jeans-loving twentysomething with his newest brand extension, Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren. Unlike his pricey premium work-wear line RRL, and the more conservative Lauren bridge line, Denim & Supply is aimed at the edgier contemporary customer who might otherwise be wearing Hudson, Paige, Current/Elliott or even vintage.
Denim & Supply uses the same reference points Ralph Lauren returns to again and again in his runway collections — Americana, the wharf, the wild frontier and the lodge. In fact, one wonders if this new line could have been a product of the designer recognizing the growing enthusiasm among young people for vintage Ralph Lauren pieces from the 1980s and '90s.
When it comes to the denim, the look is trend-driven, with wide-legged and flared cuts, as well as skinnier fits. One of the best styles for fall is the Restoration slim fit jean, which has rip-and-repaired patches on the legs.
The collection is rounded out with sportswear that has a lived-in feel, including jean jackets with Navajo pattern details, plaid flannel shirts, fleece shorts and sweat shirts in arrowhead prints, rag sweaters and nautical-looking jackets with toggle closures.
Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren, $39.95 to $600, is available exclusively at Macy's stores and online at http://www.denimandsupply.com.
— Booth Moore
The name isn't the only thing that distinguishes Mother from other brands in the premium denim market (many of them with names that connote vintage, heritage or a mission to save the world through jeans).
The 1-year-old line was started by Tim Kaeding, former creative director of 7 for All Mankind, and Lela Tillem, former sales director for Citizens of Humanity, who wanted to give their collection a name and an aesthetic that didn't sound like — or look like — any other brand.
And the industry veterans have had some success, creating a fresh product that is prompting retailers to take note — despite the dark cloud that's seemed to linger in the wake of the premium-denim bubble bursting several years ago.
Kaeding felt that fit was a given — women who wear higher-end jeans know they'll find a great-fitting pair of pants at a certain price point.
But denim that is softer than usual, more pliable than everyday fabric, was a different story. So he began working with denim mills and learning about new yarns and technologies that would eventually be used to manufacture a clean, saturated fabric with the goal of creating something different from the vintage-rinsed, worn-in and faded styles so ubiquitous in today's denim offerings.
The result is a tight collection of jeans and a few denim skirts that have a long, lean '70s silhouette and come in a palette of rich colors and washes. The brand was on top of the wide-leg trend last spring, delivering two styles that made a statement, especially because they followed the craze for second-skin jeggings.
"The concept is more of a designer approach to denim," says Kaeding, who designs, washes and produces the line inLos Angeles and aims to keep the aesthetic elegant, sleek and, of course, comfortable.
Mother jeans and skirts, $155 to $242, are carried at local stores such as Ron Herman, Curve and Elyse Walker.
— Melissa Magsaysay
Levi's, the 158-year-old denim brand and ubiquitous wardrobe staple, is not usually associated with premium prices. But, at the very least, the company does not want to miss out on the premium look.
Enter denim industry veteran Laurie Etheridge, who has been charged with the task of growing the women's brand, which includes the Curve ID line and an expanding line of tops and jackets.
Etheridge arrived at the company's San Francisco headquarters earlier this year as Levi's senior vice president of women's merchandising and design, a newly created position.
Etheridge's past experience seems to have prepared her for the role. She started at Levi's in 1995, serving as director of merchandising for Levi's juniors and girls' lines, then left to take on global merchandising and design positions at Roxy and Quiksilver and most recently at Perry Ellis and Speedo.
Her return to the company says something about the brand's desire to expand the women's lines in a manner that maintains a foothold in the mass market while moving into premium denim and pushing the boundaries of the successful Curve ID line, which focuses on shape rather than traditional sizes.
Levi's jeans, jackets and tops, $25 to $198, are carried at Levi's stores and Macy's.
— Melissa Magsaysay
They aren't exactly pajamas and they're definitely not jeans (at least not denim, as that fabric is traditionally defined), but PajamaJeans in all their 95% cotton / 5% spandex glory (a proprietary fabric blend trademarked under the name DormiSoft) have nonetheless become a pop-culture phenomenon of Snuggie-like proportions since they launched in the last quarter of 2009, thanks to a (perhaps unintentionally) hilarious television advertising campaign that positions the $39.95 lounge pants for ladies as "Pajamas you live in. Jeans you sleep in."
Though they may look like dark wash designer jeans from afar, in reality the soft, forgiving bottoms with the drawstring waistband and the trompe l'oeil fly are more akin to a blue-hued jean jeggings / sweat-pants hybrid with denim-like detailing that includes actual back-pocket embroidery, contrast stitching and real rivets. But turn the cuff and the illusion is shattered — the interior is as fuzzy as a fleece, with a feel like a well-worn sweat shirt.
Only 400,000 pairs were sold through February 2011 (all online or by phone), according to a representative for Hampton Direct, the Vermont company that distributes PajamaJeans (and the same folks who distribute other "as seen on TV" products such as the Wonder Hanger and Total Pillow). But an expansion into bricks-and-mortar retail that began with Walmart in May now includes some 79,000 stores nationwide and is projected to hit the 2-million mark by year's end.
And don't expect the faux five-pockets to fade away any time soon. Plans include expanding from the single boot-cut style, with a skinny black version of PajamaJeans planned to roll out in early 2012. Additional styles are being tested online — including a PajamaJeans knee-length dress — the perfect outfit for the post-prom slumber party, no?
— Adam Tschorn
There's been some shaking and shifting going on at the House of Gap lately, with wunderkind Patrick Robinson leaving the building in May (creative director Rosella Giuliani is now at the helm) — and even the building has left the building: The design offices for the Gap's 2-year-old premium lifestyle collection moved from New York to downtown Los Angeles last year, in an attempt to give the slightly higher-end offerings some sorely needed street cred, complete with food trucks and an advertising blitz that touts the West Pico Boulevard former cigar factory and the clutch of creatives who call it home.
The new strategy? To lead the trends instead of follow them. Whether the San Francisco-based retailer can do fashion-forward — or at least fashion-forward enough at the right price point — to lay claim to some much-needed cool still remains to be seen, but in the short term, it's a boon to anyone who wants to flirt with on-trend while staying on budget.
For women, that means plenty of animal-print skinny jeans (snakeskin and leopard), stretch leggings, leather jeans, corduroy jeggings, high-rise, flare-legged pintuck trousers, military-inspired jackets and chunky knits. (For a taste of what's going on at the Gap for guys, see accompanying article on this page.)
Gap 1969 premium denim, $59.50 to $89.95, is available at Gap.com and Gap stores nationwide.
— Adam Tschorn