Mother denim jeans

Mother's designer worked with mills to create a softer denim for premium jeans. (Mother / August 14, 2011)

Denim, a simple, sturdy and relatively inexpensive material, has been associated with manual labor for much of its 200-plus-year history in the United States. But the indigo-dyed cotton fabric has undergone a transformation in the last few decades, appearing in garments as diverse as sleek, tailored pants acceptable at a red carpet event and fleece "jeans" that teeter between weekend wear and sleepwear. What follows is a survey of some of the newest, freshest and, in some cases, most perplexing developments in the deep end of the jean pool.

Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren is making a play for the skinny-jeans-loving twentysomething with his newest brand extension, Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren. Unlike his pricey premium work-wear line RRL, and the more conservative Lauren bridge line, Denim & Supply is aimed at the edgier contemporary customer who might otherwise be wearing Hudson, Paige, Current/Elliott or even vintage.

Denim & Supply uses the same reference points Ralph Lauren returns to again and again in his runway collections — Americana, the wharf, the wild frontier and the lodge. In fact, one wonders if this new line could have been a product of the designer recognizing the growing enthusiasm among young people for vintage Ralph Lauren pieces from the 1980s and '90s.

When it comes to the denim, the look is trend-driven, with wide-legged and flared cuts, as well as skinnier fits. One of the best styles for fall is the Restoration slim fit jean, which has rip-and-repaired patches on the legs.

The collection is rounded out with sportswear that has a lived-in feel, including jean jackets with Navajo pattern details, plaid flannel shirts, fleece shorts and sweat shirts in arrowhead prints, rag sweaters and nautical-looking jackets with toggle closures.

Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren, $39.95 to $600, is available exclusively at Macy's stores and online at http://www.denimandsupply.com.

— Booth Moore

Mother

The name isn't the only thing that distinguishes Mother from other brands in the premium denim market (many of them with names that connote vintage, heritage or a mission to save the world through jeans).

The 1-year-old line was started by Tim Kaeding, former creative director of 7 for All Mankind, and Lela Tillem, former sales director for Citizens of Humanity, who wanted to give their collection a name and an aesthetic that didn't sound like — or look like — any other brand.

And the industry veterans have had some success, creating a fresh product that is prompting retailers to take note — despite the dark cloud that's seemed to linger in the wake of the premium-denim bubble bursting several years ago.

Kaeding felt that fit was a given — women who wear higher-end jeans know they'll find a great-fitting pair of pants at a certain price point.

But denim that is softer than usual, more pliable than everyday fabric, was a different story. So he began working with denim mills and learning about new yarns and technologies that would eventually be used to manufacture a clean, saturated fabric with the goal of creating something different from the vintage-rinsed, worn-in and faded styles so ubiquitous in today's denim offerings.

The result is a tight collection of jeans and a few denim skirts that have a long, lean '70s silhouette and come in a palette of rich colors and washes. The brand was on top of the wide-leg trend last spring, delivering two styles that made a statement, especially because they followed the craze for second-skin jeggings.

"The concept is more of a designer approach to denim," says Kaeding, who designs, washes and produces the line inLos Angeles and aims to keep the aesthetic elegant, sleek and, of course, comfortable.

Mother jeans and skirts, $155 to $242, are carried at local stores such as Ron Herman, Curve and Elyse Walker.

— Melissa Magsaysay

Levi's