NEW YORK, United States — As the holiday shopping season draws near, we’re watching the market for premium denim with particular interest. According to a recent article by Eric Wilson in The New York Times: “The $300 pair of designer jeans is now, courtesy of the recession, the $200 pair of designer jeans.” With this recent “market correction,” Los Angeles-based J Brand has become one of the hottest denim labels of the new world order.
While consumers have welcomed recent price reductions, many women are still willing to pay higher prices for premium jeans because they offer a sartorial flexibility that other types of clothing do not.
J Brand not only has a price point that’s in tune with difficult economic times, but they’re also bucking the downward sales trend by offering what women are looking for: versatility and emotional appeal.
“Jeans, to many, are the new ‘pant.’ Denim fits, styles and washes have become sophisticated enough that women will wear their favorite jean with a Balenciaga jacket or a Stella McCartney blouse. At the same time, jeans can be dressed down and casual,” explains Kim Vernon, the president and CEO of Vernon Company, a lifestyle brand consultancy and business development firm based in New York. As a solid foundation for a variety of looks, jeans offer bang for every hard earned buck.
Indeed, it’s hard to dispute that having a pair of fierce fitting jeans is a bankable characteristic. In a recent episode of Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul declared a pair of CJ by Cookie Johnson jeans, priced from $141-$198, as the best because of the way it supports “real women’s booties.” She went on to gush: “For three days straight, I had on the jeans.” Winfrey placed the jeans on her list of favorite things, which is sure to generate astounding demand from the shows eager viewers.
It may be an elusive goal, but great fitting jeans strike an emotional chord with shoppers. “When a woman [or man] finds a great fitting jean that makes them feel sexy, confident, and comfortable, they won’t trade down. They will buy multiple pairs in different washes,” notes Vernon.
J Brand CEO Jeff Rudes agrees. “Jeans make you feel great. It’s one of the most fit-sensitive items in a women’s closet—next to bras and bathing suits,” he says. “When something so fit-sensitive makes you look good, you feel good.”
Recognizing the confidence great jeans can give a woman, J Brand favors silhouette enhancing features that attract and retain shoppers. “Brands like J Brand have proven that fit is tantamount in customer loyalty. Customers know the styles by name and by number,” says Vernon.
Not surprisingly, its frippery-free design approach to jeans is paying off. J Brand posted a 20 percent sales increase in 2009 compared to one year ago. “Our business has increased, we are a growing brand,” says Rudes. “We are picking up some market share from the bigger guys who have dominated the space for a few years.”
Denim has been front and centre at many value-driven brands this fall, but Rudes isn’t worried. When the Gap aggressively advertised its premium denim on the industry’s top models, Rudes saw it as a good sign. “If more people are eating chocolates, Godiva’s business is actually growing. I wouldn’t worry about Hersheys. If more people are having a conversation about a product category, or a trend, everyone benefits,” says Rudes.
Rudes is focusing on engaging his customers with special pieces. This fall, the label partnered with Hussein Chalayan to produce a capsule collection with prices around $250, a collaboration which will continue for Spring 2010. They’re also planning to roll out a collection with Henry Duarte by the end of this year.
The brand is solidifying partnerships with retailers, as well, producing special jeans for some of the best stores in the world: Barneys in New York, Dover Street Market in London, and Tsum in Russia. What’s more, the brand is introducing J Brand Boutique, a special line for premium stores only. “We have a strong sense of devotion to our specialty stores and want to make the consumer feel they are getting something unique with the Boutique line,” says Rudes.
Robert Cordero is a Contributing Editor of The Business of Fashion.