By  on November 15, 2004

NEW YORK — The second half of this month’s official lingerie market could be compared with a motion-picture sequel that promises a lot of sizzle at the box office but quickly fizzles out.

November traditionally is a small market that focuses primarily on finalizing spring buys, planning programs for Mother’s Day and strategizing marketing and advertising campaigns. In some cases, it’s also a time to preview concepts and ideas for fall 2005 as well as Valentine’s Day gift ideas.

But Election Day jitters teamed with a difficult economy and retail season changed the dynamics of the two-week market, which typically draws consistent traffic during good times and bad. There was initially much talk and fanfare among manufacturers about a larger second-week turnout, especially from scores of specialty boutiques and out-of-town retailers. However, the reality was it ended up a smaller market than usual, even though vendors generally insisted they were pleased with bookings.

Also coming into play was a complaint from several resources, who privately blamed a rocky election year and angst over the Iraq war for impacting the buying habits of consumers and the decision-making of some retailers when it came to trends, product and styles.

Sizing up the overall mood of the market, Kim Scheffler, intimate apparel business manager at Invista Inc., observed there was a general uncertainty on the part of some retailers who showed up, while others hadn’t lost their focus.

“There were some retailers like Soma at Chico’s and Gap Body who had a clear image of who their customers are. Then there were others who seemed to be trying to be all things to all people. To that extent, they weren’t sure what they were looking for,” said Scheffler.

From a retailer’s perspective, Mary Krug, vice president and general merchandise manager of intimate apparel and hosiery at Neiman Marcus, said: “We came after Election Day because we wanted to be here [in Dallas] to vote. I assumed it would have been very busy the second week because the first week wasn’t. But it actually was very quiet and we got lots of attention, which we liked.”

Regarding the effect of the political climate on buying patterns, Krug said, “I think there’s been a lot of uncertainty before, during and after the election, and the dead heat between the two candidates. It might have affected business a little. But you can’t be everything to everybody. You have to zero in on your customer.”Elaine Lee, president and chief operating officer of Richard Leeds International, noted, “We went to the retailers who didn’t come in. There’s no question retailers are being more cautious and they want to buy closer to delivery. The buying habits have been very cautious on every tier of distribution from mass merchants to department stores.

“Inventory levels are very high right now, and all retailers are trying to figure out where their niche is. We put out trends for them and watch what’s selling on their selling floors. Everything vintage and feminine-looking is selling. Retailers hear it, but they also want to see it selling on the floor before making decisions,” said Lee.

“Another consistent takeaway from this market is people are definitely interested in products that convey a young attitude, but not necessarily junior,” she added. “Fresh, new and femme is what retailers are looking for, like our Barbie license that appeals to young consumers and those who played with Barbie dolls when they were young. And French Jenny sleepwear and daywear, which has a fresh, contemporary look.”

Representing a designer’s viewpoint, Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and designer of sleepwear and loungewear that bears his name at Carole Hochman Inc., said: “I’ve never seen a polarized nation like this before. It has to affect people’s buying patterns and stores’ plan patterns. But at the same time, my business on QVC has been terrific. I believe people are staying at home more and not going to stores as much.”

“Retailers are having an extremely difficult time right now not only because of the politics of the country but with intense competition in finding a miracle item,” said Flora Nikrooz, designer of sleepwear and daywear by Flora Nikrooz and Intimates by Flora at Age Group. “Some retailers are definitely very directed, but others are very fuzzy about what they want. We’re trying harder to pinpoint trends for them.”

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