URBAN OUTBACK PUTS HIP-HOP ON HANGER

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First it was Timberland boots, then it was hip-hop, now it's urban outback fashions taking root in U.S. inner cities.

Oversize, brightly colored hip-hop style clothes-first popularized in inner city 'hoods-have become popular among suburban whites, especially teen-agers. So much so that Skechers USA, in boots, and the Gap, with clothes, now have hip-hop lines for toddlers.

OK, so it's time for inner city fashion trendsetters to move on.

"The outdoors look is replacing hip-hop. The kids who were wearing grunge and hip-hop are now wearing flannels, thermals, and quilted jackets and vests," said Bud Peres, president of Buddy's, a young men's and juniors' specialty store in Phillipsburg, N.J.

The urban outback look combines jeans or chinos with plaid or striped flannel shirts or jackets and quilted vests. Topped off with a cap.

"That look has pervaded the inner city. It's a fantasy that they are trying to live out," said Alan Millstein, editor of The Fashion Network Report, New York. Dressing as if one participates in hobbies such as fly-fishing, mountain climbing or skiing projects affluence, Mr. Millstein said.

Carhartt, a 105-year-old Dearborn, Mich.-based company, is dumbfounded by its popularity with rappers and inner city kids. After all, its ads from J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, appear only in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield.

"We don't know anything about fashion. For some reason, inner city kids picked up on it," said Jason Russell, director of marketing.

He said sales of Carhartt's basic blue and brown work clothes rose 25% last year.

Mr. Russell admitted the inner city youth market contributed to the rise, but he couldn't quantify what percentage of the increase came from sales to that group.

Unless urban outback's migration to the suburbs breaks with tradition, sales of Carhartt apparel should exceed 1993's growth as the children of workers in America's heartland rush the Army/Navy stores where the clothes are sold.

The trend toward inner city youth buying clothes that reflect the outdoors feeling has helped boost sales of Eddie Bauer's hooded, down-filled parkas, quilted goose-down vests and exclusively designed brushed flannel shirts.

"We can hardly keep them in stock in our urban stores," said Lisa Bayne, VP-creative director for Eddie Bauer. The 74-year- old retailer with 250 stores, located primarily in malls, is known for apparel in spired by the outdoorsman.

Timberland saw sales soar as its waterproof boots became the cornerstone of the hip-hop and urban out back fashion trend.

"We've never competed solely on fashion," said Ken Freitas, VP-marketing.

Mr. Millstein said: "It can be no other reason Timberland sales were up 18% last year."

Mr. Freitas acknowledged Timberland has found itself at the center of a fashion trend that has boosted sales.

But executives at the Hampton, N.H.-based marketer of footwear and leather apparel said the recent sales increases weren't the result of any shift in marketing strategy from the longstanding product and brand integrity campaign.

In 1993, Timberland spent $25 million through Mullen, Wenham, Mass., to advertise its caps, waterproof boots and leather jackets.

Key to accentuating the urban outback look is donning an explorer's hat, or country or hunter's cap, which have the ability to help project the desired look or attitude.

"You're going to pick it to make the exclamation point," said Jack Herschlag, executive director of the National Association of Men's Sportswear Buyers.

Whether the hat is selected to keep the head warm or to complement a look, the wearer wants one true to the sport. The desire for bona fide sports fashion also benefits Starter Sportswear Corp., whose licensed team fashions are continuing to enjoy popularity on the hip-hop scene. For urban outback followers, Starter offers the headgear worn by the pros.

"What we offer is authenticity. What people want to wear is a genuine hat or jacket of their favorite sports team," said Stuart Crystal, marketing manager.

Starter is an official licensee of sporting apparel for professional and collegiate sports teams. It also markets caps, sweats and leather jackets, ranging in price from $13 to $400.

This month, Starter will break a $6 million network TV campaign titled "What Do You Need to Be the Best?" from Damon Bische & Partners, New York.

The advertising features sports stars Florence Griffith-Joyner, Larry Bird and Lenny Dykstra answering the aforementioned question.

"Clearly, there's a fashion element to our caps and jackets," Mr. Crystal said. "It's hard to say what percentage is from hip-hop."

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