By  on June 16, 1994

NEW YORK -- Despite the avalanche of publicity this spring over padded push-ups, another category -- seamless and seamless-looking bras -- has also been gaining momentum.

While vendors were scrambling to climb aboard the push-up bandwagon for the May market, they were also promoting additional entries in the established seamless area.

Seamless business has been fairly level over the past few years. However, manufacturers saw the opportunity to develop the category as a complement to the growing use of lighter-weight and sheer woven fabrics as well as knits in apparel, promoting both the comfort for everyday wear and the smooth look offered by seamless construction.

Retail response, they say, indicates their efforts will pay off, both short and long term. The upward trend for seamless is already being felt at retail, they say, with gains of up to 10 percent. Furthermore, some vendors note, the push-up publicity has been a help, simply by generating more traffic in bra departments.

Retailers agree about the growing importance of seamless bras.

Paula McManus, foundations buyer for Jacobson Stores, Jackson, Mich., put it this way: "Certainly, the padded push-up hype this year has overshadowed anything else at this point, but seamless bras have more long-term validity and a broader appeal. There are some women who want to wear padded push-ups day and night, but when the dust settles, it will be viewed as a specialty bra."

"Contemporary seamless bras are definitely happening on one end of the spectrum, and pretty push-up bras are happening on the other end," said Kim Anderson-Curry, divisional vice president divisional of intimate apparel at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Robin Suvoy, administrator of foundations and sleepwear at Macy's East, said: "We are not going to let padded push-up bras outdo our seamless bra business, and we are looking to maximize both."

Leslie Freytag, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Neiman Marcus Dallas, noted, "Even though everybody is busy talking about push-up bras, seamless is a significant part of our business. Seamless is a focus we're taking for fall in matte finishes, shiny and glossy looks."

Freytag said top-selling molded seamless styles at Neiman's are by Natori, Wacoal, and the licensed Donna Karan Intimates bras by Wacoal and Oscar de la Renta bras at Maidenform.Seamless bras are made in two variations -- molded cups and shirred cups. Seamless-looking bras have a seam along the apex of the cup, but are made in high-shine fabrics that give the look of what some in the business call a "second skin."

Joanna Felder, director of marketing for Victoria's Secret stores, said a seamless-looking group of Antron nylon and Lycra spandex called Second Skin Satin has been "blowing out" of the stores.

"We've had it for two years, and it's been our number-one selling item," said Felder, noting that the chain in May began an ad campaign on daytime network TV featuring Second Skin Satin bras and panties. The bra, along with matching panties, has also been promoted in newspaper ads with price incentives.

The chain had been offering a "buy one, get one free" promotion that ran through June 5. It now is offering the bra style at $18, half the regular $36 retail, as part of a summer sale promotion, while the panties, regularly $4, are being promoted in a "buy two, get two free" offer.

Suvoy of Macy's said seamless products are a "definite growth opportunity" and have been a steadily growing business. "We have bought aggressively [for fall] in both seamless and push-ups from various vendors and plan visual packages at all of our stores," said Suvoy. "Once a customer sees seamless in the stores and wears it, she falls in love with it."

McManus at Jacobson's noted that the store traditionally has had "consistently healthy" business with seamless bras. The pace began to pick up this spring, she said, and she expects it to continue into the fall.

"We've expanded funding for seamless bras," said McManus, noting that key brands are Body by Parfage by Wacoal and Natori by Bestform Foundations. Olga's new semisheer numbers at Warnaco in cosmetic body tones will be Jacobson's newest seamless vendor for fall.

Jack Salisbury, general manager of the Vanity Fair brand at Vanity Fair Mills, said the firm's new seamless opaque line of control bras and panties called Body Sleeks will generate sales of $10 million this year. The line was introduced in March."A lot of women like seamless support," said Salisbury. "We feel there's tremendous growth potential, and we will be distributing Body Sleeks to 2,000 doors this fall. Retailers would not have committed to seamless if they felt it didn't have the potential."

Salisbury further noted that $1 million of Vanity Fair's annual ad budget has been allotted to Body Sleeks.Bras in the Body Sleeks group wholesale from $9 to $10.80.

Maurice Reznik, president of the Warner's division of The Warnaco Group, said a group of molded semisheer bras and coordinating panties and bodyliners called Not So Innocent Nudes is expected to generate sales of $10 million this year.

"For us, seamless is our culture," said Reznik, "and 10 of our best-selling styles are seamless."

Reznik said a promotional budget had not been completed, but noted that there will be a "huge national launch in August, and we are considering selling Not So Innocent Nudes on TV."

Gwen Widell, Warnaco's senior vice president of merchandising and design for intimate apparel worldwide, said, "Padded push-up has not overshadowed the seamless business, because the seamless bras are the bras you reach for in the morning, put in your suitcase -- they're your second skin."

The bras -- a soft cup and an underwire -- come in five skin tones: shell pink, beige, toffee, cocoa and black coffee. The underwire wholesales for $8.16, and the soft cup is $6.24.

Widell said there will be line extensions in November of seamless bras in Warner's, Olga and the licensed Valentino Intimo lines.

"Women are looking at seamless bras to wear under certain types of apparel," said Mary Kay Edwards, vice president of merchandising and design for Sara Lee Foundations. "Women are now recognizing the importance of growing their bra wardrobes."

Edwards said the seamless classification has had "good growth" this spring and fall bookings have been "excellent." She credits the sales increases to two established molded seamless bras by Bali -- Lace 'N Smooth, and Satin Smooth. Smooth Compliments, another molded style, was introduced for spring selling.

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