Hacked, embellished, high-waisted and premium: 6 fashion experts on the denim that will dominate 2017

Brands like Gap, LVMH, Levi Strauss, Citizens of Humanity and VF are spearheading a denim renaissance. Here's what’s new — and what’s next.

Apparel is a consistently popular holiday gift, and global consultancy Deloitte expects that it will account for 50% of all presents exchanged this season. The firm's 2016 Holiday Survey results also indicates that respondents expect to spend $96 each on non-gift clothing for themselves or their families. Since one of 2016’s favorite fashion stories has been the resurgence of premium denim, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a fair chunk of that spend will go towards jeanswear.

The worldwide denim market was worth $58 billion in 2014 according to research analysts at Technavio, and North Americans are denim’s most voracious consumers. That’s not particularly surprising, given that riveted jeans were born in California. What's new is that premium denim is coming back: Technavio said it accounts for 26% of the market, with companies such as Gap, LVMH, Levi Strauss, Citizens of Humanity, VF, Differential Brands, and Naked and Famous Denim all spearheading upstart boutique lines to grab a piece of the market share. That market is growing, too. Technavio further predicted premium denim will see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 8% between 2016 and 2020.

In the U.S. alone, NPD Group Consumer Tracking Service estimated that upwards of 518 million pairs of jeans were sold in 2015, with sales at $13.1 billion. And new companies are showing up all the time with hopes of edging into the space. Reality star Khloé Kardashian launched her body-positive denim line Good American in October 2016, with prices ranging from $149 to $215, putting it solidly in the premium category. Cult fashion brand Vetements, which launched in 2014, has also moved the denim trend needle, albeit at a much higher price tag.

One thing all the jeanswear companies have in common right now is that everyone wants to hit the right trend at the right time. To that end, we asked six fashion experts and industry analysts to tell us what hot's in jeans right now, and what’s going to be hot in the months to come.

1. Waisted time

Edina Sultanik, fashion analyst and co-founder of BPMW: Denim is on the upswing, with an emphasis on silhouette and body shaping. High-waisted jeans are being shown by designers such as Balenciaga and The Row, as well as contemporary labels like Courtshop, L’Agence, and J Brand. High waists are hot because of their waist-slimming effect, and slim-legged jeans are worn cropped, to show off sexy boots. Abrasions, patches and pins are trendy ways to customize. Also hot for denim this season? Longline denim jackets like this one from R-13 or this one from Zara.

2. Keeping ahead of the Kardashians

Lois Sakany, editor at Snobette.com: While Khloé Kardashian’s Good American line is showing a lot of form-fitting jeans, there are lots of signs we’re finally seeing the skinny jean era come to an end with of-the-moment designers like Off White and Vetements showing denim that is often over-sized or artfully constructed. Off White’s versions are especially compelling because they’re a collaboration with Levi’s. There’s a unisex quality to the new look in denim, so it will be interesting to see whether it has the legs to crossover as a trend to a wider, more conservative customer base.

3. Hacked and patched

Heather Picquot, director of culture at Fashion Snoops: After several seasons in the background, denim has once again become a major look on the runways and streets. Hacked denim inspired by Off White and Vetements runways is a huge look: pockets are removed and placed in different spots to update the style; new seams are being added to create unique design elements; uneven cropped ankle hems; or an overall deconstructed approach. Brands such as Gucci are creating DIY denim jackets with patches and conversational embroidery, and we have noticed that denim jackets are adorned with novelty pins and patches instead of the heavy hardware of seasons past.

4. Throwbacks are back

Angela Velasquez, senior retail analyst and editorial director at Rivet and Vamp: We’re seeing two throwback trends in women’s denim — the straight leg 501 jean with a traditional salt-and-pepper look, and customization through patches, embroidery, hand-stitching and doodles. While the younger consumer is looking for the vintage 100 percent cotton 501, Levi’s has also introduced an upgraded version with stretch to appeal to skinny and stretch addicts. Denim is also having some fun with embellishments, from emoji-inspired icons and quirky sayings to lush floral and aviary-inspired embroidery. The great thing about both of these trends is that they can live on their own or be combined for a real denim statement. And ironically, they are nowhere to be found in [Khloé Kardashian’s] new Good American collection.

5. Floral in bloom

Katie Smith, senior retail analyst at Edited: Consumers have their skinny jean, their mom jean and the ripped jean. In looking for the next garment to add to their wardrobes, they’ll seek out embellished denim styles. That means embroidery, patches and patchwork. Some of the bestsellers are floral embroidered jeans from Topshop, Zara, Boohoo and ASOS, which average in at $49.

6. Size matters

Adheer Bahulkar, partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney: Is denim too big to fail? Annual sales have been declining at a rate of about 5 percent in recent years, but we still buy more than half a billion denim units every year. It seems the search for new trends will continue this season, and I’m sure we’ll see more distressed and vintage and high-end or embellished fabrics, with boyfriend and flared silhouettes.

However, the trend to look out for in this category is the embracing of size-inclusive and real body shapes. Brands are slowly but surely waking up to the demand. Expect to see denim for plus sizes and smartly designed curvy silhouettes with inclusive size ranges, increasingly presented on the same fixture. Expect to see more brands such as Khloé Kardashian’s Good American line capitalizing on this trend. There are an estimated 100 million plus-size women — this is one segment that is actually growing at double-digit rates. Time for denim to grab its fair share!

This story is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2016 holiday shopping season. You can browse our holiday page for more stories. 

Filed Under: Consumer Trends Holidays
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