For the most part, premium denim designers have learned to meet us halfway, luring consumers in with luxe detailing and features that only can be found in their lines. Think of it as giving those chain brands an upgrade to First Class, sexy indigo washes and 24K gold buttons in lieu of the complimentary open bar and hot towels.
The luxury market is more flooded than ever with choices, and the denim industry is no different. You have to pick classic or trendy, skinny or wide leg, dark or light wash... and would you like embroidered back pockets with that? When it comes right down to it, much like when buying a new car: it's all about the features and details.
Kate Moss and Heidi Klum clothed in nothing but bare skin and jeans have led the denim ad market to continuously be laced with sex. However, when a consumer wants to slip into something that's as comfortable as sweatpants but still feel as sexy as Kate, where does she turn?
Michelle Siwy, a graduate of FIT, is the designer and founder of Siwy Denim -- a high-end celeb favorite that has a few tricks up its sleeve. After listening to complaints that high-end denim brands were fashionable but not flattering, Siwy decided that she would design a pair of jeans that contoured specifically to the female figure.
With strategically placed back pockets for a "perkier" butt, curve-following seams, and a shortened heel hem (so you don't drag your beloved denim on the ground), Siwy says it's these "little sewing tricks" that make her line more expensive.
To make a contoured waistband, you have to completely change the setup of the [sewing] machine," she explains.
Like a master of flattery, Siwy has even played with the dyeing techniques of her jeans, giving them multi-tone washes that -- unbelievable as it sounds -- give a "slimming effect" by being darker in some areas.
Although his line is already a celeb-favorite, Ali Fatourechi, creative director of Genetic Denim, wanted to know what his consumer felt was lacking when designing his denim. In 2005, Fatourechi set off on a college campus tour he called, "Universal Denim." He met with over 20,000 consumers, asking questions about what they wanted for, "style, fabric, fit, wash, and cut" -- and kept their needs in mind when creating pieces for Genetic.
I think the biggest downfall for a denim designer is when he or she thinks that they are reinventing the wheel," said Fatourechi.
However, his extensive research came with a price tag, and for just under $200USD, you can purchase a piece of this luxury line that boasts the "softest denim in the market," including the so-comfortable-you-could-workout-in-them jeans, "Genetic Denim Legging."
Similarly, Serfontaine and J Brand both released some of their most popular cuts re-invented with XFIT Lycra fabric. Invented to offer 360-degree stretch in materials, XFIT not only feels soft to the touch and bends to your body with zero resistance, the fabric will also retain its shape after multiple wears.
What's entirely impractical, but sure to make even a newly engaged Cartier-encrusted friend green with envy? The famous Van Cleef & Arpels paired up with classic and simple high-end denim designer, Earnest Sewn, to create a collection of limited special edition jeans. The price tag? Starting around $9,700, with an estimated 10 pairs per design.
24K gold hand-dipped threading, rivets, and buttons from India are just the tip of the iceberg for Sling & Stones denim. CEO Salil Jain said when they started the brand in 2005, the goal was to "create the most premium pair of jeans imaginable," while "throwing the whole price point out the window."
What was the end result? A denim with features that will satisfy both your humanitarian and jetsetter self. The Sara (boot), Rachel (skinny), and Rebecca (straight) are made from organic ELS cotton fabric that the Sling & Stones team found in a 6-man mill in Japan after a half-year search and have carefully constructed pocket linings sewn with Fair Trade Peruvian fabric that was priced at 10x as much as other brands. But for the sake of luxury and a peaceful conscious, Jain thinks it's worth it.
"[Our fabric's] price per meter is more than what it costs to make 2-3 pairs of other jeans, and it takes about 3 meters to make one pair of our jeans," says Jain. He also admits that some other popular high-end denim brands (who shall remain nameless) proved that quality doesn't always match their price tags. "Is all premium denim worth it? No, it's not."
With all its bells and whistles, a pair of Sling & Stones jeans retails for about $290 USD. Ouch.
You can still love the social and eco-friendly mantra that Jain and his brand exemplify through their two other denim lines, Good Society and Academi denim. Good Society offers 100% organic denim and simple, clean cuts, priced just under $100. They launched in Winter 2007 and can be found at luxe retailers found on their website at goodsociety.org
Academi Denim offers ultra-durable Japanese selvedge denim (a denim luxury that Jain says tends to be "artificially inflated" by designers) at a lower price point. Unfortunately, it's only available for men at the moment (you can preview the line at ContextClothing.com) but Jain tells us they will launch a line for women in the fall, priced between $59-79 USD.
In similar fashion, the wildly successful Cheap Monday jeans, found at celebrity-frequented retailers like Barneys NY and Ron Herman, start around $65 USD. The trendy washes and detailing paired with classic super skinny high-waisted unisex cuts that define this denim line got them nominated for Elle Magazine's "Best Jeans Design." The simplicity of Cheap Monday might be best described by the Barney's product description: "Stretchy." And for $65, I'm totally feeling stretchy.
Looking for even more bargains? Be careful of what you wish for! Just like Canal Street is littered with faux Chloe Paddingtons and David Yurman knock-offs that will turn your wrist (and stomach) green, replica versions of well-known denim labels -- such as Ksubi and 7 for All Mankind -- have popped up on eBay. So where can the fashionista on a budget find dominant label premium denim on the cheap?
It's quite simple: Try scouring the retail blog-o-sphere for sales at online boutiques (try TheBudgetFashionista.com or ShopDiary.com) or pick up a coupon code on the Points & Prizes deals blog or at ReesyCakes.com.
For the more web-skeptical fashionista, you can also try the Gilt Groupe, an invitation-only retail website that offers limited time online sales on coveted high-end designers for 50-75% off the retail price. This includes high-end denim lines.
"Denim is definitely one of those amazing sectors that people are extremely passionate about," said Marketing and Communications director, Rachel Wolkowitz. She also confided in us that there will be plenty of denim sales in the near future, including hand-made and highly-sought Habitual denim.
Nevertheless, in it's abundance and innovation, it's unavoidable to admit that premium denim has become a wardrobe stable. And between thigh-slimming washes and eco-friendly fabrics, designers have made it easier than ever to rationalize the price. The boom in the high-end denim market has also allowed for retailers to offer discounts to consumers that are stuck in price-tag shock syndrome. Whether it's for a night out or a night in, an upgrade from your old every day blue jeans is a little luxury definitely worth splurging for.
P.S: No access code to Gilt Groupe yet? No worries! Rachel Wolkowitz and the Gilt Groupe family have given us a limited number of memberships to share with the first 50 readers to sign up! Start here. Also, once you sign up for a membership, you can invite your friends to join as well, earning a $25 Gilt Groupe credit for each referee's first purchase.
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