Monday, March 15, 2004
New York The five-pocket jean is a classic -- no doubt about it -- but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.
This might be the right time for denim devotees to take a look at some newer models since a new generation of jeans has been born, emphasizing both fit and fashion.
James Jeans designer Seun Lim says women want jeans that can take them from day to night, weekday to weekend. "You need pants for 24/7," she says. "They need to look good with heels and the same pair should look good with sneakers."
No one wants jeans to become so dressy that they aren't the first thing you reach for on a Sunday morning, but if the pants are truly figure-flattering then you'll want to wear them on Monday, too, Lim says.
"Jeans are supposed to be comfortable clothes, that's why we love them. But you can't really be 'comfortable' if you're worried about how your butt, legs and inner thigh look," she says.
Lim is the first to say she doesn't like exercise or diets, so she is perfectly happy to use optical illusions, such as a darker rinse on the inner thigh of the jeans or strategically positioned back pockets, for a more flattering appearance. "It's all about highlighting and disguising the good and the bad," she says.
Some other tricks include placing the "knee" of a boot-leg jean slightly above the wearer's actual knee to create a longer and leaner look; using "whiskers," light horizontal lines, in a very compact area around the zipper to make hips look narrower; and a bilevel waist, lower in the front so the front of the jeans sit on the hips and higher in the back to ensure full rear coverage when the wearer sits down.
These touches don't come cheap: James Preserved Denim retails for $130 to $150.
One of the pioneers in this "luxury" jeans category is 7 for all Mankind. Design director Tim Kaeding says that now that stylish jeans have become widely available -- at all price points -- there is even greater attention paid to fit.
"Customers can demand great fit because there are so many choices out there ... but there is nothing harder to fit than jeans because you start out with a fabric that's as stiff as a board," he says.
7, for instance, recently launched "tall" boot-leg jeans for women with long legs.
Furthering complicating things is that denim doesn't shrink uniformly, it might get twisted in the wash process (necessary for finishing jeans), and women generally wear their jeans tighter than other pants.
If a company can offer someone a great fitting jean, that company has a customer for life, Kaeding predicts. "Once you find a jean that you get complimented in, you'll never go back (to another brand) and you'll buy five more pairs."
That's why some variation of a staple product is necessary, he notes, because five pairs of the exact same thing is a little boring. Style elements that can help create a new look without changing the fit include interesting pocket designs, different washes that affect the shade of the denim and stitch details.
It's important, though, not to label these pants "fashion jeans," according to Kaeding, because those jeans went out in the 1980s. "No jean will ever be as popular as the five-pocket jean. We just want to dress them up enough so you can wear them anywhere and not look out of place."