Despite posting higher-than-expected fourth quarter earnings, the horseshoe-shaped stitching on the back pockets of True Religion Apparel Inc.'s high-end jeans may not bring the denim company as much luck this year.

The Vernon apparel maker reported $12.7 million in net income for the quarter, a 43 percent increase over the same period a year ago.

"It's all about the fashion and fit," said Jeff Mintz, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities in Los Angeles.

Mintz believes the company's competitors Joe's Jeans, 7 for All Mankind and Citizens of Humanity aren't distinctive enough. "The True Religion customer loves that you can immediately tell what the brand is."

While True Religion's opening of 27 stores last year helped boost sales, the company expects its 2009 wholesale business to fall 17 percent to 19 percent because other stores that sell its jeans have been suffering under the recession. Clothing boutiques have been hurt as department stores offer deep discounts on many of the same goods, making it almost impossible to compete.

True Religion plans to open 25 more of its stores this year; it already opened three in January. This way the company isn't dependent on sales at stores that could go belly up.

"No one wants to do business with someone who can't pay," Mintz said. "So True Religion is taking a conservative view and choosing not to ship to them."

Forever Bigger

Despite weakened consumer spending, Forever 21 Inc. has aggressive plans, even expanding into department store-size spaces.

The fast-fashion company, with headquarters near downtown Los Angeles, plans to open 11 stores by the end of March in former Mervyn's spaces. Its first conversion opened last week in Victorville. Openings at former Mervyn's spaces in Lakewood, Montebello and Palmdale are planned, as are others in Arizona, Utah and Texas.

At a December court auction, Forever 21 and Kohl's acquired Mervyn's leases from mall developer Macerich Co. in a joint bid. Forever 21 got 15; Kohl's 31. The combined cost for the leases was $6.3 million. The auction was the result of Mervyn's October failure.

Forever 21 also plans to move into a former Mervyn's in the Macerich-owned Los Cerritos Center later this year. That store is 80,000 square feet. Forever 21's current largest store, at 40,000 square feet, is in Pasadena.

The new concept will resemble a department store, with sections for its other brands, Heritage 1981 and Twelve by Twelve. There will also be more offerings in shoes and lingerie, as well as larger clothing sizes.

The privately held company, which has about 430 stores, reported $1.7 billion in revenue in 2008 and projects $2 billion for this year, according to a company spokeswoman.

Forever 21 executives could not be reached for comment.

Fashion Week

Yes, Los Angeles is having a fashion week in spring.

But it won't be Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which used to be staged in spring and fall. Producer IMG split with Dean and Davis Factor's Smashbox Studios last year. The Factors plan to schedule a show in the fall, as do organizers of a competing event, Reveal. So other runway shows are going ahead with their spring events.

Box Eight, an artist collective, has scheduled runway shows March 13 to 16 at the Los Angeles Theater downtown. So far, 14 designers and companies have signed on to debut fall 2009 collections, including locals Sjobeck, Freddie Rojas, Yotam Solomon and Martin Martin.

Unlike fashion weeks in New York, Box Eight's show will be open to the public. Tickets are available online.

"We want everyone there," said Peter Gurnz, Box Eight's chief executive. "The business model for fashion week in L.A. does not work being an exclusive event for press and buyers. The production money has to come from somewhere, and sponsorships are very tight."

Another show, Downtown LA Fashion Week, helmed by former Merv Griffin Productions event producer Leanna Lewis, is slated to run March 18 and 19 at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Tokyo.

A spokeswoman for the production said that a lineup of designers will be announced this week.

News & Notes

Patina Restaurant Group, which owns L.A. eateries Patina, Caf & #233; Pinot and Nick & Stef's Steakhouse, will unveil a new logo and Web site in March and April, respectively. Head chef Joachim Splichal, who acquired the group in 2006 with Chief Executive Nick Valenti, said the rebranding has been in the works for a year, and the new online site will help make its wedding business more visible. Gornik & Drucker, a 73-year-old Beverly Hills barbershop, has opened a second location in the Montage Beverly Hills hotel. A group of Panorama City property owners has approved the creation of a business improvement district for 2010, with yearly assessments of $2 million over four years.

Staff reporter Maya Meinert can be reached at mmeinert@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 228.

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