The New Jean Pool Fashion: Designer denim is hot again, the product of a more casual America. The new breed leans toward classic deep-dyed and undamaged.


Brooke Shields has fleshed out since nothing got between her and her snug Calvin jeans. Calvin Klein is in splitsville from wife Kelly. Ralph Lauren is settling in as the gray eminence of American fashion. Gloria Vanderbilt is in financial pickles. Diane von Furstenberg is flogging her stuff to TV home-shoppers. Life goes on; fashion goes in cycles.

In the '70s, Klein, Lauren, Vanderbilt and von Furstenberg were among the first designers to achieve global name recognition, and we learned to spell those names from the derrieres of straight-legged, five-pocket jeans.

Now, after more than a decade of denim lull, designer jeans are back in a big way.

It's not only a result of fashion's new love affair with all things '70s but a practical realization by designers that consumers are rejecting high fashion in favor of the new casual philosophy.

Some of the original players are back in the game, some never left, some are newcomers. The string includes Europeans such as Versace, Armani, Moschino, Joop, Gaultier, Lacroix and Dolce & Gabanna.

Young American designers like Anna Sui and Todd Oldham are also trying jeans on.

It's the big-label players, however, who this month are giving jeans a big launch. There is the new Polo Jeans Company line from Ralph Lauren. There are Tommy Jeans from Hilfiger, along with the first "tommy" women's casual collection with denim coordinates. Nautica by David Chu is also debuting a women's casual line with significant denim ingredients. Calvin Klein continues in the jeans tradition with the CK look.

To keep the jeans message from becoming redundant, designers are differentiating themselves in the tone and spirit of their ad campaigns.

The Polo line is presented as cool, thoroughbred and aloof -- classic wear for the scrubbed set. The Tommy line ads look young and frisky and feature the offspring of famous, yet culturally diverse, parents like Donald Trump and Sidney Poitier. Nautica looks sportif, while Calvin Klein continues to promote stunned-but-stylish images.

What separates today's designer jeans idea from its '70s origins is scope. Designers now are not just selling a pair of jeans; they're selling a total, pre-programmed, casual wardrobe based on a classic. The new jean lines integrate shirts, sweaters, leather jackets, flannel shirts, outerwear and accessories.

Then, too, there are the collections from the jeans powerhouses and retail brands. Levi, Lee, Wrangler, Mossimo, Girbaud, Diesel, Bugle Boy, Jordache, all are going strong.

Is there room in the market for more jeans labels?

Jill Lynch, spokeswoman for Levi Strauss, the granddaddy who invented jeans, can be gracious.

"Jeans have never gone away. They are the one true American fashion classic. Sure, there is room for everybody out there," she says. "One important reason is that the variety of wearing occasions has changed so dramatically with the casualization of America over the last 10 years."

She, too, cites the fact of a jeans wardrobe.

"People now may have tight black for evening, standard blue comfortables for hanging out, nice dark blue for casual Fridays and white for summer."

Norman Karr, publisher of Jeanswear Communications, a newsletter for the denim industry, says jeans have moved beyond Americana to become an international classic.

"I count jeans in airports, and I'd guess three out of four people are in jeans. That is true of Vienna, Prague and Tokyo, as well as New York, where foreign tourists are wearing them.

"They're the universal garment of choice because they're accepted everywhere."

He says the industry estimates that between 400 million and 500 million pairs of jeans are sold annually worldwide. That's a lot of pockets, a lot of zippers and huge dye lots being rearranged for the sake of changing fashion.

Here's the direction jeans are taking this fall:

* Tortured and bleached finishes are passe. The texture and color of jeans at the moment is deep-dyed rich indigo. Second choice is black, with brown and autumnal greens making some statements.

* The classic five-pocket style still rules, although slightly flared boot-cuts are more fashiony. Jackets are modeled after the western shirt-jacket originals.

* Jeans don't have to be denim. They can be rubberized cotton, nylon, leather, velvet, corduroy, snake printed or sequined. The leanest fits are woven with a percentage of Lycra.

* Hip kids never hem jeans, they now just roll them up wide. The youngest and hippest roll only one leg. Go figure.

DTC Pub Date: 8/22/96

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