For the last 18 months, the folks at Levi Strauss & Co. have studied women around the world, conducting thousands of interviews and looking at 60,000 body scans of women in 13 countries.
The company says the result — besides confirmation that for women, jeans shopping ranks right up there with buying bras and bathing suits as cause for angst — is a new global denim program that, by taking their curves into account, will provide nearly any woman with a five-pocket pair of jeans that feels custom-fit to her shape.
Called Curve ID, the line consists of three fits: a slight curve (for the woman who finds that regular jeans "fit in the hips and thighs but are too tight in the waist"), a demi curve (if jeans "usually fit in the waist but don't flatter the figure") and a bold curve (if jeans "fit in the hips and thighs, but gap in the back"). Although the official global launch date isn't until Sept. 2, Levi's Curve ID jeans are currently available at Levi's stores in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Canoga Park and Torrance, as well as online.
"The fits that we're launching with account for 80% of the women's body shapes in the world," Levi's President Robert Hanson said. "And when we launch the fourth one — our most extreme curve — at the end of this year or early next year, then we'll have 96% of women covered."
The official global launch date is Sept. 2, but Levi's Curve ID jeans are already available at Levi's stores in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Canoga Park and Torrance, as well as online for buyers who want to get a head start on trying them out.
You Nguyen, senior vice president of women's merchandising and design for the Levi's brand, explained that the fits are based on the differences between a woman's hip and seat measurements — formulated from the body scans and information Levi's gathered over the last year and a half.
He declined to be any more specific than that, noting only that Levi store employees have been specially trained on what measurements to take when helping customers and that a digital fitting room will be available to assist online shoppers.
"That's like our [recipe for] secret sauce that we don't share," Nguyen said. "The exact ratio is proprietary information." But Nguyen did offer up a few famous figures as examples of each fit.
"Now these are just my opinions since I don't actually have any of their measurements, but off the top of my head, I'd say the bold curve would be someone like Beyoncé or Jennifer Lopez, a demi curve would be someone like Charlize Theron, and the slight curve would be Lucy Liu," he said.
Hanson emphasized that Curve ID is not a plus-size program. "This is about shape, not size." He pointed to a photo of three women wearing the new jeans. "All three of those women are wearing a size 27[-inch waist], but each one is a different shape."
The waist sizes of the Curve ID program range from 22 to 34 and will be available in three styles (boot cut, straight and skinny), with a handful of different finishes. All of the denim has a little bit of stretch to it, because "stretch is an important part of the fit technology for these jeans," Nguyen said. Prices range from $60 to $148.
While Hanson called the Curve ID program "revolutionary" and spoke about solving the "democracy of denim," the bottom line has more to do with dollars than democracy; the company's business skews heavily male (73% of company sales — which include the Levi's-owned Dockers brand — come from the men's side), and the last big push in the Levi's women's denim program was in the late '80s and early '90s.
Hanson is upfront about efforts to capture some of the women's premium denim business from the curve-hugging crowd at the top end of the market.
"This is a major offensive for us," Hanson said. "We want to come out of this recession with momentum and energy, and we think this will allow us to win.... In these trying economic times, we're offering a premium aesthetic and a premium fit for an incredibly great value.
"It's close to a custom fit, but instead of $250, it's a price she's willing to pay. Clearly we want to compete for that market share."
In other words, jeans that are a better fit for her — and her pocket.