NEW YORK -- Innerwear retailers are still basking in the afterglow of Christmas business that registered sales increases ranging up to approximately 10 percent.
At department stores, best-selling items included updated sleepwear, robes and at-home wear in novelty fabrics such as textured cotton knits, brushed-back satins, cotton terry velours and patterned chenilles. Prints also were high on the holiday shopping lists, especially plaids in bold colors and amusing conversational designs.
Major specialty stores said feminine-looking sleepwear, daywear and foundations in the better-to-designer range in luxury fabrics like silk were the highlights.
Warm wear, not typically a strong gift-giving category, was an unexpected hit.
Retailers noted that an increased number of newspaper ads in December featuring key lingerie items such as chemises, bustiers and peignoir sets got good results, mostly from men looking for holiday gifts.
A greater exposure of lingerie in Christmas catalogs also helped generate additional business, said merchants.
"We had incredible lingerie business in December, and some very nice increases over the same time last year," said Joseph Boitano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of apparel at Bergdorf Goodman.
Boitano attributed the gains to a growing interest among consumers in luxury lingerie. At Bergdorf's, this often meant exclusive imports in silks and European laces. He said the turnover in "special-looking, nonpromotional merchandise" has picked up dramatically over the past year.
"We are really developing the better customer in innerwear, especially with European merchandise that's made for us and in quality sleepwear, such as Valentino Intimo Couture," said Boitano.
"We got a tremendous reaction from men to a three-week campaign of column-size ads we did in the New York Times," said Mikki Thomas, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and sportswear at Bergdorf's. "The men would pick up the phone and order holiday gifts. We had 90 percent sell-throughs on all of the items featured."
Lingerie items featured by Bergdorf in these ads included a long black silk crinkle sleep gown with ecru lace trim by Donna Karan Intimates, retailing for $460, and a coordinating tie-front shirt for $390, as well as foundations and daywear by Valentino Intimo Couture. Prices on the Valentino merchandise ranged from $40 for lace-trimmed high-cut silk panties to $410 for a silk charmeuse kimono robe.Saks Fifth Avenue was another specialty store that took the initiative in December with more Christmas ads featuring high-ticket lingerie items. Saks promoted upscale romantic-looking sleepwear under "The Ultimate Wrap" tag line in the New York Times. Items included a short sheer polyester gown by Jonquil for $198 and a matching jacket for $242; a polyester georgette chemise by Flora Nikrooz for $142 and Nikrooz's long sheer gown for $154, with a coordinating robe for $130.
Kim Anderson-Curry, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Saks, singled out two top-selling classifications: cashmere robes and silk sleepwear.
"We had an 87 percent sell-through on a long private label robe, and a 70 percent sell-through on our private label silk sleepwear," she said. The robe, which retailed for $580, was featured in a holiday gift catalog and in a mailer devoted to cashmere.
Also emphasizing top luxury, Nordstrom ran an ad for a long brushed cashmere robe by Donna Karan Intimates, retailing for $1,775, alongside a velvet corselet by Natori, selling for $85.
When it came to volume selling at Nordstrom, Laurie Black, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at the Seattle-based chain, singled out five "super hits" for Christmas: a moon-and-stars-pattern chenille robe by Canyon Group for $92; an ethnic-print blanket robe of bunting by Host For Her for $54; Shadow Boxer's cotton flannel pajamas in whimsical prints for $64; a gold-star-pattern pajama set of cotton knit by Tzze for $34, and a private-label long terry robe for $49.95.
She further noted that a group of panties called Body Suede by Wacoal, retailing from $14 to $22, was "very strong."
"We were above plan, and we had a really good season," said Black.
Joan Bergholt, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of intimate apparel, dresses and sportswear at I. Magnin, San Francisco, said, "The most significant thing was robes and at-home wear in stretch velours. Quilted patterns sold very well, along with warm-wear items."
Bergholt said the top at-home wear and robe brand was David Brown. She added that silk and wool warm wear by Hanro, featured in a holiday catalog, produced "very good" results.Diane Weizer, counselor of sleepwear at Macy's East, said Christmas sleepwear business was slightly ahead of the same period a year ago.
Best-selling looks included jersey and thermal knit loungewear that had a ready-to-wear flavor by Michael Kors At-Home Wear for Boutique Industries, and yarn-dyed thermal knit sleepshirts and pajamas by Komar. The biggest item from Thanksgiving though Christmas was a private-label long wrap terry robe in fashion colors, she said. It retails for $49.
Private-label mid-calf cotton terry robes also were a hit at Sears, Roebuck, said a spokeswoman.
"We sold out before Christmas," she said, noting that the robes, which came in pastels and bright pastels, were marked down to $19.99 from $29.99 in December.
At Jacobson Stores, Jackson Mich., Margaret Crandall, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and juniors, observed, "Intimate apparel sales as a whole fared a lot better than ready-to-wear, sportswear and juniors."
Crandall said top innerwear categories were sleepwear, robes and at-home wear. Key brands included Robes of California, David Brown, Diamond Tea and Anne Lewin, she said.
"I was surprised with our thermal business," she added. "It was very good, and it's not exactly a gift-giving classification."
In contrast to the general trend in sleepwear, Gretchen Vigesaa, divisional merchandise manager for intimate apparel at Dayton Hudson Corp., noted that daywear and foundations were the leading categories for Christmas.
"Business was better than I forecast, and daywear and foundations were our stars," said Vigesaa. She noted that warm-wear items by CuddlDuds, flannel bikinis by Milaca, and novelty cotton flannel bikinis and bras by Eileen West were bestsellers.
Vigesaa further noted that the "sexy-looking classification in general was very good" in foundations. She singled out coordinating bustiers, garters and stockings by Farris as top sellers.
At some specialty lingerie boutiques, retailers said classic-looking robes and sleepwear at designer prices were a main attraction.
Maria Scott, president of Montenapoleone, an upscale lingerie shop on Madison Avenue here, said her key item was a long wrap cashmere robe, carrying the store label, in pink, red or blue, retailing for $1,500. She said a dozen robes were sold in December.At Polly Berg Inc., Edina, Minn., owner Polly Berg, said, "Sales of traditional-looking gowns and peignoir sets were much better than the previous Christmas. We sold quite a few by Christian Dior and Fernando Sanchez."
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