Advertisement
 
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsDesign

A Perfect Fit

MADE IN CALIFORNIA

As other jeans makers struggle, AG looks to be back on track. Company executives say their designs are resonating with shoppers.

October 23, 2011|Ronald D. White
  • "I think it was about getting our products right," said Samuel Ku, AG's 32-year-old vice president and creative director. "We didn't have the right people designing it. We are back to creating a product that the public is thirsty for."
"I think it was about getting our products right," said Samuel… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

These are tough times for premium denim manufacturers as retailers shrink the number of brands they carry because consumers aren't spending.

But for designer denim maker AG Adriano Goldschmied, the crisis came seven years ago when the Italian designer decamped. Even though the parting was civil, key customers began dropping the company's products as a series of design chiefs came and went.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, October 25, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Designer jeans: An article in the Oct. 23 Business section about jeans maker AG Adriano Goldschmied referred to Khanh T.L. Tran, Los Angeles-based sportswear denim and textile editor for Women's Wear Daily, as male. Tran is female.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 30, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Designer jeans: An article in the Oct. 23 Business section about jeans maker AG Adriano Goldschmied referred to Khanh T.L. Tran, Los Angeles-based sportswear denim and textile editor for Women's Wear Daily, as male. Tran is female.

Now, as some other jeans makers struggle, AG appears to be back on track.

Through July, sales of the company's jeans are up more than 30% from the same period last year and sales for the year are expected to reach $80 million to $90 million, AG executives say. At a time of high unemployment, the parking lot outside its 900-worker factory in South Gate doesn't even have room for visitor vehicles; employee cars have spilled out onto the sidewalk outside the gates.

"I think it was about getting our products right," said Samuel Ku, AG's 32-year-old vice president and creative director. "We didn't have the right people designing it. We are back to creating a product that the public is thirsty for."

AG Adriano Goldschmied was founded in 2000, just in time for the latest iteration of the premium-denim craze. It was a collaboration between Goldschmied, the design guru behind such famous European brands as Diesel and Replay, and Koos Manufacturing, headed by Ku's father, Yul.

Koos Manufacturing was a respected producer of quality jeans for Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Banana Republic, J. Crew, Lucky Brand and others.

Goldschmied was ready for a U.S. brand, telling a forum of USC business students: "Nothing more than jeans represent the spirit of America."

For Yul Ku, it was time to step out of the shadows.

"My father realized that all we had been doing before was helping other companies grow their business," Samuel Ku said.

From the start, there were challenges. AG ventured into the marketplace in September 2001, when terrorists attacked New York and Washington.

"People had stopped spending money, but we were able to survive," Ku said.

In 2004, Yul Ku and Goldschmied parted ways. Goldschmied and the brand were bought out in an expensive transaction, and the designer moved on to other clothing ventures. What followed tested the company severely.

From 2004 to 2008, "we were in a little bit of a tough period. We had a handful of design directors we hired to replace Adriano, but we just were not able to find the right fit with them," Samuel Ku said. "We had used to have a great Nordstrom business with women customers, but they stopped buying us. Anthropologie stopped buying us."

The answer turned out to be Samuel, who became creative director at the end of 2008 despite his lack of formal training in clothing design. Ku had graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in economics. But Ku had absorbed much from Goldschmied and his father.

Khanh T.L. Tran, Los Angeles-based sportswear denim and textile editor for Women's Wear Daily, remembers an illuminating moment during a factory visit.

"His dad was a constant teacher, very calmly explaining how they could change things like the stitching on a pocket lining to make it better. Sam got a very good foundation," Tran said.

The brand's rebound began in earnest in 2009 as the younger Ku rolled out the company's "boyfriend" style of jeans, so named because they were supposed to mimic the idea of a woman wearing her male companion's jeans.

"We were not the first to create the look or the concept. But we did it differently. We wanted a better silhouette, a sexier fit in the hip, but still maintain that overall loose look and feel. It became a home run for us," Ku said. "Two of our boyfriend brands very quickly became our No. 1 and No. 2 sellers."

Dru Hammer of Los Angeles said she owns about 15 pairs of AG jeans. At 5 feet 8 with a 35-inch inseam, Hammer could never find a pair of jeans long enough until she saw a friend in Montecito wearing a pair of AGs.

"They fit really well, not high and dorky like many mom jeans but not so low that too much is showing," said Hammer, 49. "They let you feel kind of hip but without looking like you're trying to dress like your daughter."

Unlike some other premium denim brands, AG is a start-to-finish factory.

"We design them here. We do all of the cutting and the sewing here, all of the washing is done right here," Ku said. "We think it gives us a competitive advantage to have everything done in one factory.

"When you are using four different factories, for example, there is a loss of control. When something goes wrong, there's finger-pointing. Having it all under one roof keeps it more fluid and more efficient."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|