Raleigh Denim draws a crowd in New York

CorrespondentFebruary 14, 2012 

— Raleigh Denim can mark off another New York fashion first: New York Fashion Week.

The Raleigh-based jeans maker showed its fall collection last week during a presentation to the fashion press, including editors, writers and photographers from Elle, Women's Wear Daily, InStyle, GQ, Glamour and The New York Times. It was the first time the company has put on a show of that scale, and is likely the only Raleigh fashion company to ever show a collection at that level at New York Fashion Week.

During the one-hour presentation, which was nearly full at least 10 minutes before the official start time, 14 models stood on low platforms offering a close-up look at 38 pieces from the collection.

Victor Lytvinenko, an N.C. State University graduate who founded the company with his wife, Sarah, out of their apartment off Oberlin Road five years ago, says a big reason for the show was to explain what Raleigh Denim is to the fashion press, as well as store buyers.

"We wanted this year to own our story more," Victor said. "We have a different story than the other brands that we're competing with, and we haven't been telling it as widely as we should be."

Their story is indeed compelling. With little experience at a sewing machine, Victor started making jeans in their living room. Since then, they've created a niche handcrafting their jeans from high-quality denim made at Cone Mills' White Oak plant in North Carolina. Jeans are made in small batches, with each worker creating about five pairs of jeans a day, said John Webb, Raleigh Denim's sales manager. In all, Raleigh Denim makes about 125 pairs a week, using local workers, vintage machines and locally sourced materials. All design, sewing and packaging is done under one roof in downtown Raleigh.

The jeans are then sold to high-end stores around the world. The biggest, and likely best known, customer is Barneys, which started carrying Raleigh Denim in 2009, helping give the then-fledgling clothing company serious credibility in the fashion world.

The show wasn't overdone or pretentious but straightforward with the focus solidly on the jeans, button-downs and jackets for men and women.

Allison Beale, owner of George Public Relations, a New York-based public relations firm that started in Raleigh and worked with Raleigh Denim early on, said the collection was true to Raleigh Denim's aesthetic.

"It was obvious that the brand is an extension of themselves," she said. "There was nothing forced or uncertain about the looks presented."

Looks with clean lines

The pieces were edgy and modern with clean, simple lines and little fuss but still with a spin on American staples: button-downs and jeans. The collection included a range of Raleigh Denim's jeans, including a raw denim, thin fit jean; a black selvage jean; and a thin, vintage wash jean.

Two looks strayed: an updated version of the classic shirt dress in light indigo and an ivory polka dot button-down paired with a playful pleated black miniskirt made from a wax-coated twill.

To help tell their story at the show, a black-and-white video was shown throughout the presentation behind the models, showing the workroom where workers were cutting and sewing the collection.

Victor said they were pleased when more than 100 people showed up at the event, held in a renovated warehouse space off Washington Street in the city's meat packing district.

New York will be seeing more of Raleigh Denim, and not just at future Fashion Week presentations. Victor said they're considering opening a store in New York, but at this point, nothing is firm.

"I think it will really help in our ability to design a more complete collection and tell our story better," he said. "I'm excited about the idea of it."

Another Raleigh-based company got some exposure at the event, as well. All show attendees were given a handcrafted chocolate bar from Escazu, the downtown Raleigh-based artisan chocolate maker.

"This was one of the most emotional, hardest-working weeks of my life," Victor said. "We did so many new things. Everything just fell into place."

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