By  on March 11, 2002

NEW YORK -- A renewed vitality permeated last week's market, underpinning expectations of retailers and vendors that fall will be a banner season.

Retail executives generally said they felt optimistic about fourth-quarter business because intimate apparel sales began picking up in December and have continued with year-to-date sell-throughs often averaging 50 percent or more.

Driving sales at retail are what a number of merchants are calling the three essentials: key brands, items and classifications. Contrary to the overall apparel trend, a substantial amount of business is being generated by fashion products sold at full price, which in turn is propelling reorders of spring goods.

Best-selling categories include daywear, from contemporary stretch Lycra spandex items such as camis and boy-cut briefs of microfiber and lace to ultrafeminine looks with delicate embroideries and lace touches, novelty robes, pajama sets with low-rise pants, and bras and briefs in coordinating fashion colors.

Donna Wolff, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and hosiery at Bloomingdale's, said: "Everything was very positive. The market and the merchandise were fun, colorful and feminine. It was like everybody went back to the drawing board after 9/11, especially the designers. Business is turning around, we are moving forward and we all get to be heroes against the dramatic drop in business."

Wolff noted that daywear is Bloomingdale's strongest category at the moment.

"I loved On Gossamer's daywear for fall," she said. "Calvin Klein foundations and sleepwear looked very good, and the colors and prints at DKNY [intimates] looked very fresh. Oscar de la Renta sleepwear looked terrific, and Natori foundations looked great. The Natori foundations business has turned around, and we are very pleased."

Regarding spring business at the Bloomingdale's stores, Wolff said sales of Eileen West sleepwear are up 45 percent, Calvin Klein [intimates] is ahead 24 percent, Wacoal is up 61 percent and Chantelle foundations is up 74 percent.

Wolff noted that panty-table programs have been "extremely strong" and added that "expensive panties have been selling very well." She cited Calvin Klein, DKNY, Cosabella, St. Eve, On Gossamer and Biatta as top-selling brands.

Barbara Lipton, vice president and dmm of intimates, hosiery and jewelry at Saks Fifth Avenue, said: "The market was great in both foundations and sleepwear. My entire team came back energized. I think the key trends were anything with lace, embroidered tulles and a hosiery influence with fishnet patterns, especially in bras.

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