By  on March 24, 1994

NEW YORK -- The March market has key retailers in a bright mood about fall, projecting sales gains of 5 to 18 percent.

Although merchants are still wrapping up fall plans, certain trends they spotted during the market have them confident they can lift fall business. Among them:

  • Textured fabrics, providing fashion interest across the board from foundations to daywear to at-homewear.

  • The growing acceptance of dual purpose at-homewear, loungewear that can be worn either for entertaining at home or be worn outside the home. Prospects for bestsellers include dressy, embellished caftans, long tank dresses, and two-piece pant sets that look like sportswear.

  • The continuing popularity of cotton knits in sleepwear, with thermal cotton among the newer constructions.

  • Stretch and comfort in foundations, with an emphasis on new seamless looks.

  • A growing range of colors, including ready-to-wear hues and cosmetics tones, the latter designed to complement skin colors in such shades as blush, taupe and cocoa.
Also buoying the retailer outlook was the in-store action during February and March, with the severe winter giving a boost in sales to warm sleepwear and robes.

Laurene Gandolfo, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Bloomingdale's, noted, "Sleepwear business was really good with the bulk of the business being done in knits, but foundations and panties were really our forte in February."

Gandolfo said Bloomingdale's strategy of building nonpromotional foundations business with bridge and designer labels in bras and panties is "finally paying off with high double-digit increases." Top names, she said, are Natori and Valentino.

As for fall, Gandolfo said Natori sleepwear looked "strong and very focused." She expects the bulk of silk innerwear business to be generated by silk knits by August Silk.

"The whole at-homewear trend has exploded with us," said Benny Lin, fashion director of Macy's East. "The innerwear market has finally realized that ready-to-wear looks are generating the plus business for at-homewear and sleepwear."

While Lin noted that fall plans were still being worked out, he cited several categories in addition to at-homewear as key directions, including updated, contemporary bridal looks and more cotton knits in all categories. Sales gains in those areas have reportedly been in the low double-digits since February.Key at-homewear vendors at Macy's are the licensed Michael Kors At-Home Wear line by Boutique Industries, Carol Hochman Knits, and Josie by The Natori Co., Lin said.

"I think this was one of the strongest markets I've seen, because of all of the color, innovation and newness," said Kim Anderson-Curry, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Saks Fifth Avenue. Anderson-Curry, who projected fall sales gains in the low teens against a year ago, said the big share of Saks' growth in innerwear will come from fashion foundations and cotton sleepwear.

While she also noted that fall plans haven't been completed, she singled out several vendors as looking "terrific": foundations by Parfage at Wacoal America; the licensed line of Oscar de la Renta bras and panties at Maidenform, and two sleepwear lines -- Natori and Valentino Intimo at the Warnaco Group.

"I'm really excited about the sleepwear and loungewear market for fall. Nothing looked like a repeat of last year with all of the new treatments, embroideries and colors," said Margaret Crandall, vice president and divisional merchandise of intimate apparel and juniors at Jacobson Stores, Jackson, Mich.

Crandall said she was "looking forward to good fall business," and projected third-quarter sales gains in the mid-to-high single digits. She further noted that Jacobson's will increase its direct mail program. Reportedly, the number of mailers will be doubled this fall to 600,000 customers in the Michigan and Florida areas.

Paula McManus, foundations buyer at Jacobson's, said she was particularly taken by the new ranges of stretch seamless bras shown at the market.

"I'm generally very pleased with the idea of seamless looks in body tones," continued McManus. "From a ready-to-wear standpoint, it makes a lot of sense, especially with all of the knits and sheer apparel."

"There are some items I can't wait to get on paper," said Rosemarie Marranco, buyer of intimate apparel at Jenns, a four-unit chain based in Amhurst, N.Y.

Marranco said she plans to order a group of control camisoles of nylon and Lycra spandex called Toning Tops by Smoothie from Strouse, Adler.

"I think these control camisoles will be a hit because they can be mixed and matched with different bottoms. A woman who is built like a pear can't wear an all-in-one control item, but she'll be able to wear these control separates."Sleepwear and robe ideas being considered by Marranco include chenille robes by Stan Herman at Crowntuft, brushed-back satins by Natori, jogging suits and at-homewear looks by Periphery, and thermal cotton sleepwear by I. Appel Corp.

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