Editors' pick

The Denim Bar

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Editorial Review

He's baaaack. After a five-year hiatus from being the chief honcho of his own retail operation, Mauro Farinelli has returned to doing what he does best -- selling clothes, schmoozing with customers and postulating on the latest fashion trends. At the end of April, he opened a destination for jeans connoisseurs, the Denim Bar on South Joyce Street in Pentagon Row in Arlington.

Some may remember him from his first eponymously named foray into retail. The Old Town Alexandria-based Farinelli's, which opened in 1997 and closed in 2000, was a small, hip-looking shop with a big agenda and lots of appealing women's fashions from the then-not-so-well-known names of Trina Turk, Cynthia Rowley, Tocca, Kors, Theory and Urchin, as well as some more outre (and expensive) pieces from Vivienne Westwood and Chloe. And a lotta jeans. Farinelli reminds, "I was the first one to carry Earl jeans."

The store catered to a mostly young clientele of women starved for looks and names they couldn't find elsewhere. It certainly didn't hurt that Farinelli knew his merchandise and could quickly tell style and sizes most appropriate for every client. But after a couple of years, he got restless, his eye on the big time -- Georgetown, more specifically, Cady's Alley. The lease elapsed on the King Street shop and he prepared to make the move, but says he got cold feet when he realized he'd be the only tenant in a mostly unfinished space. "I couldn't see my stiletto-clad customers walking through a construction site to get to me."

His next stint was at Saks Fifth Avenue in Tysons Corner as the store's "jeans specialist." According to a frequent customer, Georgette Young, an AOL account executive, the curly-haired 32-year-old Farinelli not only sold jeans, but also style. "He encouraged me to buy a yellow peasant skirt that I thought at the time was a little way out. But the next thing I know I'm wearing the hottest thing around."

Farinelli's now betting heavily on denim. (For the record, he also carries knits by Fred Perry, girly outfits from Rebecca Taylor and Rosasen golf clothes -- "everything from preppy to punky edgy.") Why a jeans store? "Jeans are like the housing market," comments the confident new store owner. Uh-oh, are they in for a bust? Not according to Farinelli, who believes they're still trending up.

"Last year, the market for jeans from Wal-Mart to the most exclusive niche name was $12.3 billion. Go to any event here in D.C., any hip restaurant, and you'll see people wearing high-end jeans. The point is you can dress them up or down, express your personal style."

Farinelli sells what he calls "staples" -- Seven and Citizens of Humanity -- which retail in the $100 range, but since customers can buy these brands in almost any local shop or department store, he's targeting the customer who wants the exclusivity and status that come with a pair, say, made from salvaged denim and double indigo-dyed. These rarefied jeans from such unhousehold names as Blue Blood, Prps or Rock and Republic can cost anywhere from $200 to $300 and up to $635 for a special-edition men's pair from Japanese company Evisu.

Features like real brass buttons, reinforced pockets, signs of wear that won't wear off, the use of vintage looms once owned by Levis, camo lining and hand-painted designs (like the gull on the back pockets of Evisu jeans) are supposed to justify the cost. Farinelli points out that Japanese-made Nudie jeans are not supposed to be washed for six months. "They mold to your body as you wear them." Sound cuckoo? Not to those who want to be recognized for standing apart from the pack. Jean fanatics supposedly turn their cuffs up to let other cognescenti know what ultra-exclusive brand they're wearing.

So, for the rest of us mere mortals, is there a bottom line when buying a pair of jeans? Says Farinelli, "It doesn't matter how much you pay or how fashionable you want to appear, ultimately the question everyone wants to have answered positively is, 'Does my butt look good?'"

-- Janet Bennett (May 2005)