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Sales of pricey blue jeans are booming

These are the days of denim.  Now firmly a part of everyday life — manufacturers are riding a boom in demand for premium denim designs — no matter the price. By CNBC's Margaret Brennan
/ Source: CNBC

These are the days of denim.

Now firmly a part of everyday life, manufacturers are riding the wave in blue jean sales. First introduced to wide skepticism a few years ago, consumers are snapping up the latest in premium denim designs — no matter the price.

"Consumers are willing to spend big dollars — $250, $300, even more on premium denim jeans," said Marshall Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group.

So common that sales of jeans are surging — passing the $12 billion mark last year. The premium jean category — defined as costing over $80 a pair, but going as high $800 — is leading the way. So what exactly are you paying for?

“We're paying for the styling, the design, the quality of the cut, the quality of the fabrication and of course we're paying for the status of having something that's high priced and relatively unique,” said Wendy Liebmann, president of industry consultant WSL Strategic Retail.

It's a status that's reinforced by a celebrity obsessed culture. While celebrities make the jeans easy on the eyes, getting that unique look is anything but.

“A lot of the industry — the retailers, manufacturers and consumers — underestimate what it takes to make a high-end jean today,” said Liebmann.

“It starts at yarn," said Mark Ix of Uco Fabrics, a provider of high-quality denim. "So yarn is trucked in from our spinning facility in Texas. And we go from tubes of yarn, to ropes, to dyed yarn from a rope-dyed indigo range, to finished fabric — and then we send it out to our customers."

Those customers, like Pride Jeans in Los Angeles, is where the machinery stops and the attention to detail begins. There, the fabric is cut, sewn and even "distressed." In this case, blocks of sandpaper are used to make the jeans look aged. The attention to detail is such that nearly all of the work is handmade — from tags and labels to the trendy "whispers."

While it may seem ironic to pay big bucks for something that’s already torn, for retailers there is nothing ironic in the sales that high-end jeans are generating. The category is so hot that premium denim sales are outpacing all other jeans sales. And for retailers like Bloomingdales, jeans are just the beginning.

“When you buy a new pair of jeans, the odds are you're gonna need another pair of shoes — a top to go with it,” said Cohen. “So it really creates and spawns a whole other element of purchase power because you're going to accessorize even your jeans.”

It's a long way from the days when Calvin Klein broke the $50 price barrier and Brooke Shields caused a stir with the famous tag line that “nothing gets between me and my Calvins.” Today, with sales of high-end jeans showing no signs of slowing, it appears as if nothing will come between consumers and their premium denim.