The November market turned out to be an early holiday treat for many lingerie companies.
Vendors generally said they had been anxious about the spring-summer market, especially after lackluster apparel sales at retail during the third quarter. But merchants came out in full force, including senior management, despite the cautious retail environment. They were searching for anything that had an element of newness and a look of luxury that would convey value and fashion to consumers.
That specialty, luxury classification was particularly appealing to major department stores that are trying to fill the niche between opening-price-point merchandise and high-ticket items with quality goods that have a special touch. They include European laces, Swarovski crystal embellishments and rich-looking fabrics such as silks, linens, chiffons, georgettes, soft-hand micro terry, upscale pima and cotton lawn. Organic blends played a bigger role, primarily combos of bamboo and organic cotton, and micro bamboo.
"The mood was cautious for sure, but still hopeful that the last seven weeks will bear fruit," said Seth Morris, president of The Carole Hochman Design Group. "Clearly, the overall business and economic conditions has everyone worried that a perfect storm is brewing here prior to Christmas. All expected stores and buying groups were here and well represented. All major stores we sell attended the market."
Gwen Widell, executive vice president of merchandising at Wacoal America, said, "It was a very busy market and I think there's definitely a strong demand for better product. It continues to be a focus at [major] stores. Every Macy's division had a general merchandise manager and a divisional merchandise manager, which was really great for us and our Wacoal brand. Expensive fabrics, trims, laces and embroideries made the Wacoal collection very desirable to them.
"But the big news for us was our new upscale brand Wacoal Luxe, which was developed exclusively for better stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks and Nordstrom. The reaction was excellent."
Robert Zarabi, chief executive officer of Chatsworth, Calif.-based Felina Lingerie, said reaction was strong to a second line of fashion daywear by Jezebel.
"We just added daywear to Jezebel last season and it was very well received," said Zarabi. "Macy's came to us and said, 'We want to build on the success of the Jezebel brand.' The brand is not promoted and that's why they came to us. Macy's and Dillard's are the main buyers of Jezebel. Because of its success, we are expanding into more fashion product and other classifications."Zarabi noted that a collection of sleepwear bearing both the Jezebel and Felina names will be introduced for spring 2009.
"We hired a team of five people for the sleepwear division with the plan that we are really going after that business, each with its own signature look," he said. "Felina will have a European feel at affordable prices with Leavers lace and Venise trims, while Jezebel will be more seductive, more Americana in look."
John Bowman, president of Dana-Co, maker of the licensed foundations by Josie, Natori and Josie Natori, said the market was busier than he had anticipated.
"We had a very strong market from a traffic standpoint, and even [smaller] specialty stores came in, which is very unusual for this market," Bowman said.
He singled out two "big winners": the upscale, embellished Josie Natori Collection of bras and coordinating undies, and "fashion components" from the Josie line of bras and matching briefs, which Bowman described as being "more high-end for fall." Both bra collections can be merchandised as a lifestyle statement with dual-purpose lounge and sleep pieces, he said.
"We had a lively market with lots of visitors enthused over fun, new offerings," said Gale Epstein, president and creative director of Hanky Panky. "They always look forward to seeing our new seasonal colors and signature lace, and were very receptive to this Eighties-inspired color palette of cobalt blue, canary yellow and especially shocking pink. They also loved our print offering of leopard combined with a rose pattern printed on signature lace and mesh."
Epstein added that top-booking silhouettes included novelty boyshorts and string bikinis, as well as bridal daywear, sleepwear, thongs and panties with novelty touches like crystals and bows.
Regarding sleepwear, designer Flora Nikrooz, whose collection is owned and manufactured by The Age Group, said, "We had a great market with lots of traffic. We...were told by retailers we were beating our sales in all areas, whether it was at traditional stores or better stores that carry the upscale Flora Nikrooz Collection."
Nikrooz said one surprise was that "charmeuse and chiffon are back and being well received by consumers. Therefore, the buyers felt more comfortable about business for spring. The most important pieces were teddies. All in all, the market was a huge success."
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