Jump to content
Clubplanet Nightlife Community
Sign in to follow this  

NYTimes article: Who Pays $600 for Jeans?

Recommended Posts

April 21, 2005

Who Pays $600 for Jeans?


COLLETTE LEONARD would probably be the first to tell you that the premium denim thing is a little out of hand. She is aware of how loopy it is to lose one's senses in the quest for a neatly packaged posterior. She knows there is something fundamentally silly in indulging an obsession with foraging obsessively for the best, newest, most underground pair of five-pocket cotton trousers, of hoping to unearth the holy grail, jeans made by a label never yet photographed on Jennifer Aniston.

"It's just a pair of jeans, I realize that," said Ms. Leonard, who works for a liquor distributor in Manhattan. "But I wear two pairs every day, and I'd much rather go out and find something unique that you're not going to see on every girl in New York."

That is why Ms. Leonard was elated to uncover some import jeans sewn by a London label so obscure it is barely available on these shores.

The trousers, by All Saints, had slim straight legs and a stylized leather cross appliquéd just below the hip. Tea-stained lace trim adorned the hems and pockets. Without question there are people who would consider the price, a hefty $375, a deterrent. Ms. Leonard is not one of them.

"I don't balk at $500 for a pair of shoes," explained Ms. Leonard, who was shopping last month at Atrium, a boutique on Lower Broadway that is to premium denim what Barney Greengrass is to lox. "Why should I balk at that price for jeans that are special. "

Since the advent a half decade ago of the jeans category termed "premium" or "luxury" denim, referring to trousers that cost $75 or more, the price of what were once quaintly known as dungarees has spiked so precipitously it is now in cloud-cuckooland. More curious still, blue jeans have suddenly shed their proud proletarian roots and turned into what retailers call a status buy.

"For four years running, luxury denim has been the fastest growing category at the bottom part of the apparel business," said Marshal Cohen, the chief industry analyst at the NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y., which tracks clothing sales. Although no figures exist dividing the $14.2 billion denim market according to price, it is Mr. Cohen's qualifier - "bottom part" - that gives one pause.

There may have been a time when it was possible to consider oneself stylish in a pair of $100 jeans from, say, 7 For All Mankind, the label widely credited with helping ready the mass market for a new age in blue jeans. In cash register terms, at least, that time is gone. A stroll through the jeans bars that are now a ubiquitous element of the retail landscape has lately become a masochistic exercise in sticker shock.

Far from being rarities, jeans with price tags of $200 are now everywhere, the retail equivalent of dandelions after spring rain. And it no exaggeration to say that a pair these days can easily cost as much as an iPod (Tsubi, $319), a Motorola Razr (Levi's vintage, $325), or a desktop computer with the printer thrown in. (Nudie vegetable dye jeans, $428.)

As jeans have become an increasingly acceptable component of business and evening wear, a wardrobe staple suitable for any occasion (including board meetings, if one happens to be Steve Jobs), out of place nowhere except, possibly, funerals, the appetite for premium jeans has grown beyond a cowboy's wildest imaginings.

"Ten years ago nobody had ever heard of the category," said Robert Burke, the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, the longtime supplier to the carriage trade. "Now that premium is a fashion staple, everyone is wondering one thing," Mr. Burke added. "How high is high?"

Some other obvious questions follow. What exactly are premium jeans? And why are they different from the millions of ordinary pairs sold all the time? How much of the premium denim phenomenon is hype and how much real value is there in obscure attributes like ring-spun denim, triple-needle stitching, bleach "whiskers," or special treatments that abrade, distress and generally torture a pair of trousers until it has achieved just the right luxuriantly ratty patina of something that has been dragged behind a truck? It is exactly features like these that customers use to justify denim at $200 and up.

"Everybody is into a particular brand, and everybody knows exactly what they're looking for," said Jamie Mazur, a founder of Underground Denim, a blue jeans road show that visits 50 campuses in 35 states each year selling Blue Cult, AG, Rock & Republic, Antik and other arcane denims to students who, Mr. Mazur said, "know all the brands" long before the Underground Denim trailer pulls into town.

"We just came from Duke University," Mr. Mazur said, "and everyone there was dying for True Religion."

True Religion of course is not an evangelical sect but a hot new niche jeans label. And niche, as John Seely Brown, a marketing expert who is a visiting scholar at the Annenberg Center at the University of Southern California, recently prophesied, is the future of consumer marketing.

Both the surfeit and the numbing sameness of goods on the market have conspired to produce a nascent cult of connoisseurship, experts like Mr. Brown say. In this new marketing sphere, even ordinary objects can be told apart by consumers whose extreme discernment becomes a subtle way of signaling status. Like Luis Buñuel's Tristana, Mr. Brown's new niche consumer can see three peas on a plate and know instantly which is the best.

"Every consumer decision now carries with it class and status implications in a way it didn't used to," said Barry Schwartz, the author of "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less" (Ecco Books, 2005). "As you add dimensions to goods, you add ways in which people can distinguish themselves." Thus is created a perpetual chase after status and cool.

"You can never relax," Mr. Schwartz said.

So it makes a perverse sense that a no-nonsense form of cotton work trousers should unexpectedly be transformed into an insider emblem of high style. Designed in 1873 by the Levi Strauss company as "hard-wearing work wear" for California miners, and available universally and cheaply for the next century, jeans in their latest "premium" incarnation are like the punch line to some elaborate Veblenesque joke.

What, after all, could be a more glaring example of conspicuous consumption than the stratospherically priced Japanese cult jeans from Evisu, favorites of hip-hop performers like Snoop Dogg and the Game?

Founded in 1991 by a Japanese tailor weary of paying outlandish prices for the vintage American jeans he admired, Evisu jeans make so strenuous a fetish of simplicity that they are like the apparel form of heirloom tomatoes, good the way things used to be, but at 10 times the price.

To start with, Evisu weaves its cloth on shuttle looms that, unlike the projectile type in widespread industrial use, leave clean edges on the fabric. They are then dyed using what the label's Web site terms "rare and ancient" equipment, meaning machines that are roughly 40 years old.

Each Evisu garment is given 16 and sometimes as many as 30 "dips" to achieve the proper rich shade of deep indigo blue. And, because the old looms are narrow, each pair of Evisus requires at least three yards of fabric. The end result, with a stylized gull stitched onto the rear pocket, costs in the vicinity of $635. Not for nothing, it would seem, is Evisu named after the Japanese god of loot.

"We sell through everything we get," Joseph Laurenti, the manager of Atrium in New York, said, adding that other brands like Nudie, True Religion, Antik, Slab by Rick Owens and All Saints spend only the briefest time on the shelves before migrating onto some of Manhattan's more fashionable backsides.

"We're known for novelty and people willingly pay extra for that," Mr. Laurenti said.

Thomas George, who owns E Street Denim in Highland Park, Ill., has watched the various styles enjoy their brief moments of must-have status and then inevitably fade out. "Everybody adds a story, a trick, a gimmick, a hook, a twisted seam, a nontwisted seam, a selvage detail, chasing the next thing out there that is that much better, they think," he said. "But the reality is that there's nothing left to design in a jean."

The truth of that observation has proved no deterrent to industry Goliaths like OP or Calvin Klein Jeans, a division of the Warnaco Group, both of which have announced plans to introduce luxury denim to their labels.

"It's a relatively small factor in the scheme of things," Tom Murry, the chief operating officer of Calvin Klein, said, referring to the multibillion dollar jeans market dominated by behemoths like Wal-Mart and Sears.

"If we're fortunate, it will maybe be a $50 million business for us," Mr. Murry said. "That number may not move our needle corporately, but the consumer is there, it's a growing part of the business for every retailer I talk to, and so it's going to be an important component of Calvin Klein."

And wasn't it, after all, Calvin Klein who wrote the recipe for premium jeans in the first place, using some not-so-secret ingredients? It turns out that the "nothing" that famously came between Brooke Shields and her Calvins was the very thing the marketplace was looking for then. It still is.

"Right now you could have a pair of jeans that cost $1,000, and people would buy them," Lawrence Scott, the owner of Pittsburgh Jeans Company, said last week. What, Mr. Scott was asked, is the indispensable element in the making of a perfect pair of luxury jeans?

"Same as always," he said. "It's going to come down to how your behind looks when you pour yourself into them. No matter how good the wash or the detail or the label, if it doesn't look good on a behind, it won't sell."


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
u say that, but to some1 600 is worth it. If wuz an art collector and bought a stupid painting for 1000000, ud say, how stupid. It all depends on who the person is

like i said.......I would not spend that on jeans.....other people obviously would.....i rather spend it on something else

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

cause today diesels are chump change compared to some of the other brands. it is getting ridiculous though, can't find a nice pair for under 200 these days, i remember paying like 120 for diesels years ago and thinking that was a lot.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
me 2, like id spend 600 on a hobby of mine, building model bridges, now some people might think thast is stupid, but i dont

I am at work and that post made laugh really hard out loud, now everyone is looking at me.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this