The $300 pair of designer jeans is now, courtesy of the recession, the $200 pair of designer jeans.
“It was all just a fad,” said Jeff Rudes, a founder of the hot denim label J Brand Jeans and an astute observer of the suspiciously inflated prices of fashion’s most eternally reinvented staple. Like any commodity that becomes overpriced, there eventually comes a market correction. And denim’s day of reckoning was long overdue.
“The floors at most of the major stores were so overassorted that they almost looked like Loehmann’s,” Rudes said. “They were just cramming jeans onto the racks.”
The introduction of $300 jeans — perhaps even more than $1,000 coin purses and $500 plastic sunglasses — marked the moment when customers really began to question the prices they were seeing in department stores. Cotton dungarees for the price of an iPod was a stretch so extreme that retailers had to come up with a whole new term to suggest that the new jeans were different from the $100 jeans they used to sell in the 1990s.
So, early in the decade designer jeans became “premium” jeans — as in, you had to pay a premium to wear them: $340 for Acne jeans, $350 for Ksubi jeans, $359 for True Religion jeans, $395 for Notify jeans, $580 for Dior jeans and so on. Before the recession, premium denim was one of the fastest growing categories of the apparel business, and there seemed to be no limit to what customers would pay for the latest label, fit, finish, wash or whatever Paris Hilton wore.
Now designers are facing pressure from stores and from their competitors to rethink prices, in many cases resulting in less expensive jeans or more styles at the lower end of each designer’s range.
Diesel, the Italian jeans company that pioneered the three-figure category, used to produce only two styles at its lowest price of $150 for men, $160 for women. This season there are 10, said Renzo Rosso, the label’s founder, “because the market demanded more product at this level.”
Of course, people will turn denim around and around and around, lately as skinny jeans or boyfriend jeans and even more recently as jeans so skinny they are called “jeggings.”
Rosso of Diesel also sensed it is time for a change. Recently, he met with his team of designers to give them a challenge, he said, to reinvent denim in a “younger way, a fresher way.”
“It’s been too many years that we’ve just looked at wash, and the time is now to make an evolution,” Rosso said. “Denim is the only fabric you really can transform.”