NEW YORK -- Bigger bustlines for bigger bucks. That's the rallying cry at this week's innerwear market.
In what may be the best news for bras since Jane Russell, the hype over cleavage-enhancers has retailers and vendors -- not to mention consumers -- thinking very big indeed.
Lawrence R. Pugh, head of VF Corp., parent company of Vanity Fair Mills, calls it a "phenomenon...wonderful for the industry."
Marcia Haimbach, vice president of intimates at Federated Merchandising, the merchandising arm of Federated Department Stores, agrees: "We are obviously very excited about this entire phenomenon."
Robert Pawlak, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Carson Pirie Scott & Co., says, "The hype is amazing."
Merchants say they have already wrapped up a lot of their major fall programs in foundations after seeing the introductions in March. But the mounting hoopla over the cleavage boom -- which started back in March when Gossard, a U.K. manufacturer introduced its Super-Uplift bra in the U.S. -- has them scrambling for various versions of padded push-up bras at the May market, a market that usually focuses on sleepwear and daywear.
This week's heat began on the consumer level as Sara Lee Foundations went all out to generate publicity at Macy's Herald Square Monday for its preview launch here of Wonderbra, replete with bodyguards and an armored car, which delivered the merchandise. The other New York launch stores are Abraham & Straus and Lord & Taylor.
Sara Lee also hosted a Wonderbra party for the trade Wednesday evening at The Metronome, a restaurant and club here.
Vanity Fair got on the bandwagon Tuesday evening with a party for retailers and the introduction of the It Must Be Magic bra, its newest padded push-up bra. The significance of the event was underscored by the appearance of Pugh, VF's chairman and chief executive officer.
Of the cleavage enhancers, Pugh told WWD: "We feel the trend will only become bigger. I doubt it will be short-lived."
"All of the hype over push-up bras is worth more than 100 Lingerie Weeks," said Jack Salisbury, general manager of the Vanity Fair brand. "It's just great, for us and for competitors."Salisbury noted that Vanity Fair has sold out inventories of the It Must Be Magic bra through August.
"The introduction of Body Sleeks and It Must Be Magic groups will increase our production of units over 10 percent this year," he said. Salisbury added that Body Sleeks, a group of seamless bras and panties introduced in March, are expected to generate wholesale sales of $10 million the first year. Distribution is aimed at 2,000 doors of specialty and department stores.
Seamless foundations were expected to be the stars of this week's market, and the interest was indeed there, although the cleavage boom grabbed much of the spotlight.
From a retailer's viewpoint, Federated Merchandising's Marcia Haimbach, while expressing her excitement over the business prospects, noted: "We'll be evaluating the new [padded push-up] styles this month."
She said that Federated already has Wonderbra by Sara Lee Foundations and the La Lift bra by Lily of France by Bestform. Sexy-looking push-up bras by Rumours, a new brand by Lovable, and Vanity Fair's It Must be Magic style will be in Federated stores in late June, she said.
Pawlak of Carson's said of all the hype: "CNN obviously has a vacuum in its news area right now. They need some excitement, and the bra market is filling that need."
Pawlak, who was at the Vanity Fair Mills' event, said he ordered the new Vanity Fair push-up bra "sight unseen."
"We've ordered 5,000 units for 58 stores," said Pawlak.
Margaret Crandall, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and other areas at Jacobson Stores, Jackson, Mich., noted, "On one hand, I feel that all of the hype over padded push-up bras is silly, but it's working. Push-up bras have been around for a while, but it's reaching a younger generation that's getting excited about something they didn't know existed.
"Even men are discussing bras," said Crandall. "When you overhear men talking about push-up bras over coffee, you know you're in the Nineties."
Crandall said the top selling push-up bra brands over the past two months have been the Super-Uplift by Gossard, Hidden Assets by Natori at Bestform, Jezebel and Olga. She added that salespersons have been instructed to also sell "cookies," pads to insert into bras for an instant boost."The main thing we are trying to get into our stores is a Wonderbra item," said Connie Carroll, intimate apparel buyer for Belk Department Stores, Greensboro, N.C. "Our customers have even heard about it in North Carolina, and they keep coming in and asking for it because it's the only name they've heard."
Carroll said that in order to fill the demand for cleavage-enhancing bras, Belk's began to display all of its assortments of padded push-up bras in March in areas with signage within lingerie departments.
"Our padded bra business had increased considerably over the past two months," she said.
Susan Kerner, intimate apparel and hosiery buyer for Leg Room, a six-unit specialty chain here, said one of its top-selling items continues to be Wonderbra, and the push-up bra was the number-one selling gift item the week before Mother's Day. The Wonderbra being sold by Leg Room is imported from Canada, where it is made by a Sara Lee Corp. subsidiary, Canadelle.
The Wonderbra gained major prominence in the U.K., where it was made under license for 25 years by Gossard. The license reverted back to Sara Lee at the end of last year, and the Wonderbra is now being directly marketed in the U.S. by Sara Lee Foundations. Meanwhile, Gossard introduced its Wonderbra replacement, Super-Uplift, into the U.S. in March.
"There's a lot of excitement over the prospect of more cleavage, and we are getting 10 to 20 women every day who are asking for a Wonderbra," said Diane Tursman, a salesperson at Franchesca, a lingerie shop that opened here two weeks ago.
She said the shop currently sells padded push-up bras by Valmont and Gossard, and that deliveries of Wonderbra are expected in September.
On the daywear and sleepwear front, retailers said they wanted special items for Christmas windows and catalogs. Reorders for last-minute items that have had good sell-throughs are being placed this week on updated cotton and panty sets and pretty, feminine-looking nightgowns and robes, especially novelty cotton knits with surface texture.
Sue Wilson, daywear and panties buyer at Dayton Hudson Corp., noted that she was on the lookout for "newness and anything exciting."Wilson said she plans to reorder Naturals by Jockey for Her, a cotton knit daywear and panties group, and a stretch nylon lace daywear and panties group by Vanity Fair called Lace Enchantments, which was launched for Mother's Day selling. Both groups, she said, had "very good" sell-throughs.
In sleepwear, Wilson singled out Day by Day CuddlDuds as a top brand. Key items, such as updated sleep gowns, will be reordered this month, she said.
Michelle Vallean, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Anthony Co., Oklahoma City, noted she and intimate apparel buyer Pat Jones were here to find "more fashion looks."
"In the past, we didn't feature that much fashion," said Vallean, who oversees 190 department store units. "We started doing more fashion this spring, and plan to build our fashion business in the fall."
Among the growing classifications, Vallean said, are cotton bra and panty sets; cotton knit and woven sleepwear by a key vendor, Lorraine, and updated sleepwear items aimed at the junior market, such as cotton sleep shirts, and two-piece looks, like stretch lace tops and chiffon bottoms.
Randi Wasserman, buyer of knitwear and intimate apparel at Lew Magram, a mail order house, said she was shopping for "great bodysuits" at the Intimate Apparel Salon, a trade show which closes today at the Doral Tuscany Hotel.
"We're looking for bodysuits that can be worn as sportswear, and there are a lot more sexier-looking bodysuits in the lingerie market," said Wasserman, who noted she's been attending the salon show for a couple of years.
Wasserman said she will reorders items at the salon show from G. Wheels, On Gossamer and Cossabella.
"We'll be focusing on last-minute and wear-now items, and some holiday looks," she said.
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