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Level 99 Designer on Punching Up Classics for Fall ’15

For Level 99 creative director Amie Gaines, the concept is simple: “We want to make women feel effortlessly beautiful and sexy.” But as Gaines noted, achieving that nonchalant coolness entails high levels of skill, innovation and a sharp eye for emerging trends.

Since 2004, Level 99 has been on a mission to create the perfect fitting women’s jean, blending new textiles and washing techniques, like Twin Dragon’s Forever Black, with subtle detailing and modern silhouettes. The brand has become known for using fabrications that are flexible, comfortable and fluid, and as a result, has built a strong five-pocket jean business with pairs retailing for $120-$200.

That mix of technical and creative is a perfect match for Gaines, who confessed she was “thrown into it denim” after working for several apparel companies. “I’ve always been interested in the denim side of things because it is at the core of what people wear everyday. It comes natural to me,” she explained. “I’m interested in versatile, wearable fashion and classic looks and I think that just automatically geared me toward denim.”

Gaine’s focus on “core staples” is reflected throughout the line. Best-sellers include the Lily skinny straight, Liza skinny, Tanya high rise skinny and Sienna tomboy cuts——a myriad of classic styles the designer said serves a market hungry for versatility.

For instance, Gaines said women currently like wearing jeans that can be rolled up or down because ankle booties are popular in the footwear marketplace. “You’re seeing more women expose their ankles,” she explained, noting that it could all change depending on what accessories and footwear designers have up their sleeve for next season.

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After all, today’s ankle skimming jeans could be tomorrow’s “hardcore washings,” which Gaines said are falling short in the market. “People are going back to the classics——classic fits and classic denim looks with simple washings,” she explained.

With the likes of Chanel, Gucci and Ferragamo dabbling in denim, Gaines said, “Clean denim is coming out of Europe, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do anything technical to it.” For Fall ’15, Level 99 is kicking up its use of casual knits and technical denim, including stretch denim that Gaines said can keep you warm as much as a wool pant.

The brand is also focused on embellishments, which Gaines sees coming back in a big way in fall. “Abstract prints, contrasting washing techniques and coatings on different area of the jean,” she described. Laser treatments, from plaid to prints inspired by French designer Isabel Marant’s take on Navajo designs are on deck for the season, as well as subtle two tone prints that Gaines said are more like coatings.

In terms of trend, the fall collection touches on a number of hot stories (expect to see more high waist cuts and Levi’s-inspired boyfriend styles), but Gaines noted that somethings cannot be swayed by trend.

“Fit, pocket placement, rise, leg openings…these are huge factors. Making sure your butt look good and everything is being held in the right place. These are the things that determine whether or not a woman is going to buy a pair of jeans,” she explained. “And it’s our job to update it with trend-right styling, while remaining true to the person who it ultimately going to wear it.”