NEW YORK -- Despite cutbacks in general funding, the fifth annual Lingerie Week -- while not getting unanimous raves -- proved to be a winner for some department and specialty stores.
Gains over Lingerie Week of a year ago, in some cases, were more than 10 percent, according to a spot check of key stores.
The nationwide promotion -- sponsored by the Intimate Apparel Council, a manufacturer organization, and DuPont -- featured a variety of in-store events, from bra-fitting clinics to designer appearances and fashion shows.
Concern over the effectiveness of the week surfaced earlier, with DuPont cutting its funding, reportedly by more than one-third, and reduced support from some vendors as well.
The IAC's insistence on full-price promotions also caused three key chains -- Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney and Kmart -- to pull out of the event. This, according to IAC figures, cut participation to approximately 1,000 doors against 3,500 a year ago.
Some stores citing gains noted that promotions tying in with fashion magazines generated particularly strong interest and helped push the week ahead. Elsewhere, though, there were complaints that traffic was not up to last year's levels. One reason cited was the timing, which was a week earlier than a year ago, when Lingerie Week was April 18-24.
Among the more enthusiastic retailers was Laurene Gandolfo, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Bloomingdale's.
"Lingerie Week was better than last year's promotion by far," she said, citing department-wide sales increases in the low teens at Bloomingdale's 15 units.
Gandolfo credited four factors for the promotion's success: more special events with magazines; increased bra-fitting clinics; breast cancer awareness seminars with 14 vendors, and a 24-page lingerie mailer called "Intimacies." This was Bloomingdale's first lingerie mailer timed to coordinate with Lingerie Week, she said.
"We expanded on ideas that did well last year," continued Gandolfo. She said the "mystique" of fashion magazines pulled in standing-room crowds of nearly 200 women at each of the eight events staged at the flagship.
"It's expensive, and we pay for the newspaper ads," said Gandolfo, "but if you work with a magazine, you can work around the budget problems. Magazines are very eager to do in-store events if they tie in with a vendor who advertises, like Hanro."Hanro was spotlighted in a seminar on packing for travel, presented by Mirabella magazine. Other events included two hours of informal modeling of La Perla innerwear, sponsored by Harper's Bazaar, and Seventeen did an "Underwear as Outerwear" presentation with Guess innerwear.
Gandolfo further noted that Bloomingdale's launched its first post-mastectomy program at the flagship. Customer reaction was "incredible," she said, adding that the prosthesis program done exclusively with Airway will be rolled out to other units.
Also reporting gains was Kim Anderson-Curry, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Saks Fifth Avenue, where three tie-ins with magazines were featured.
"The magazines have a very strong mailing list, and it definitely helps the promotion," she said.
A retrospective exhibit of Hanro daywear sponsored by Vanity Fair magazine helped generate a 50 percent sales gain in Hanro business over Lingerie Week figures last year, she said.
The magazine also tied in with a bra-fitting clinic by Wacoal, while Victoria magazine presented a tea and informal modeling of Eileen West sleepwear.
Anderson-Curry added that an intimate apparel mailer was sent out to stimulate Lingerie Week business, and that a cotton bra and panty set by Oscar de la Renta for Maidenform featured on the cover was a strong seller.
Pauline Marx, buyer of daywear and foundations for Nordstrom's East Bay region in northern California, said: "Overall, we capitalized on getting more vendors involved with gifts-with-purchase, which the customers love, and more stores did formal runway shows."
This year, formal lingerie fashion shows took place at five units in five regions, and each of the 74 Nordstrom units featured gifts-with-purchase. Additionally, McCall's magazine sponsored several presentations, and 15,000 postcards promoting Lingerie Week were mailed to Nordstrom customers.
"With all of the hoopla over the Wonderbra, our padded and contour bra business, especially the Intrigue [bra with] silicon enhancer by Amoena, was terrific," said Marx. "We doubled our camisoles sales for the week over last year, and basic daywear business was incredible."
In contrast, however, Benny Lin, fashion director of Macy's East, said: "It was a lackluster year compared to last year's Lingerie Week promotion, which had been great for us.,"Diana Weizer, merchandise counselor for sleepwear, further explained: "We did have heavier traffic last year. The difference this year was that Lingerie Week was moved back one week in order to promote more full-price business before Mother's Day."
However, she noted, the change did "provide bigger increases in our designer sleepwear and at-home wear business." Among the events at Macy's flagship was a fashion show of Michael Kors At-Home Wear by Boutique Industries.
A lack of vendor support was a problem for Proffitts, a 25-unit department store chain based in Alcoa, Tenn., said Kim Milligan, buyer of foundations, pants and daywear.
"I was very disappointed that we didn't have bra fitters provided by vendors this year," said Milligan. She said major vendors had supplied bra fitters to Proffitts during Lingerie Week over the past several years, but noted that there was a "smaller number of fitters available for stores in regional areas."
"No matter how far ahead you plan this promotion, more attention is always paid to stores in major areas like Atlanta," complained Milligan.
She added, however, that co-op newspaper ads with Bali, Playtex and Maidenform produced "OK results."
Gifts-with-purchase at Proffitts included a free jewelry bag with any purchase of Satin Seductions foundations by Maidenform, and a free cold water wash for lingerie offered by the retailer with any foundations purchase. A raffle also took place at each unit for a camisole of the customer's choice by Escapades, she said.