Tough economic times not only hamper denim sales, the climate also hurts creativity.
Fashion designers showing their Spring 2011 collections at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week clearly want to push consumers toward a wider pant leg and higher waistline, but shoppers may not be willing to part with the skinny jean, and the even tighter "jegging" just yet.
“Silhouette trends tend to ‘boomerang’ from one extreme to another," said Kelly Connelly, a buyer of Impulse Denim at Macy’s .
"When skinnies came on the scene the 'must-have' denim styles were trousers, flares, and wide legs," she said. "The consumer starts to get bored of a look and an emerging silhouette gives them a reason to buy."
It took mainstream consumers about a year to adopt the "skinny" jean, but the shifting trend coincided with the recession. During tough times, the whims of fashion are a little less fickle as consumers shop less often. Since, tops are more inexpensive than pants, consumers were buying fewer pants and the skinner silhouette remained popular, and even helped denim sales in 2009 as consumers began to shop more often.
This fall there has been a move away from the skinny jean to a "hybrid jean"—especially in the adolescent market—in the form of jeggings, a lycra denim jean, usually without pockets or a zipper fly, similar to a legging. Although this is a new type of pant, it has a skinny silhouette.
Skinny is even popular for menswear.
“Looks have definitely gone slimmer, a half inch one season then another half inch the next season, and another half inch, so we’re definitely getting trimmed up and you’ll see just in a casual bottom that’s not denim the leg is a little slimmer," said John Crocco, Perry Ellis's creative director. "You sort of have to do it slowly, you can’t just take out two inches out of the leg. You have to ease them into it.”
There are also skinny cargos—a non-denim skinny pant with cargo pockets—and skinny jeans designed by Gap for babies.
Elle Magazine’s Creative Director Joe Zee said the skinny pant has turned into the newest denim staple. (Usually, traditional denim is defined as the bootcut or straight leg fit.) The reason may be because skinny jeans are easy to wear in any season as they work with sandals or boots.
Still, there are signs the trend is waning. According to many fashion designers, '70s inspired wide leg and high waist pants are the next trend. At Fashion Week, designers such as Tory Burch, Derek Lam and Reem Acra, among others, showed flared pant legs.
Premium denim company G-Star Raw, known for its “three dimensional denim” and architectural styles, also showed a loose fit and a more sculptural silhouette.
“We’ve engineered the fabric, stretching the fabric and bending the fabric so that it already has a three dimensional shape when it’s hanging on it’s own,” said Rebekka Bach, women's denim designer for G-Star.
Perhaps this is where denim is headed—an entirely new silhouette that doesn't reflect past decade inspiration or current trends and is truly fashion forward.
“Change is coming, but the question remains: how long does it take for a change in silhouette to reach mass appeal?" said Needham & Co. Retail Analyst Christine Chen. "In this environment, it can be harder for a consumer to convert to a different and new silhouette. With a different bottom silhouette, consumers need to get appropriate corresponding tops.”
What makes matters worse for designers is that styles such as jeggings are so affordable.
But the high-waisted, flared look is infinitely more flattering than the skinnies. Paired with the chunky platform heels that are also popular for spring, they can also give you legs for miles.
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