By  on August 17, 2009

If the intensity of traffic at the New York market held the first week of August was any indication, the economy is on the road to recovery, although it looks like a slow climb.

With low inventories at retailers that have kept things tight during the recession, buyers were scouring the market for replenishment goods with strong track records, as well as key items and a smattering of fashion merchandise.

However, even with the bustling activity, the mood remained cautious and a majority of vendors are still on hold for spring orders, mainly from specialty boutique buyers that took a lot of notes and are expected to finalize spring orders by the end of September. Madison Avenue showrooms and the CurveNY lingerie trade fair were crammed with domestic and international retailers, with stores such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s completing orders just before or during market week.

Top-booking ideas included:

• Bras, undies, tank tops and T-shirts for everyday wear.

• Key items, such as shapewear, that have intrinsic value; easy lounge pieces that provide comfort and have a look of casual sportswear, and updated sleep tops and short caftans that can be worn as ready-to-wear.

• Panty table programs of classic and novelty undies that sell for three pairs for $27.

• Anything that has a dual-purpose function, such as camis and corsets, that can be worn underneath a jacket or with jeans.

• Novelty sleepwear and lounge items in bright solid colors such as turquoise, flamingo, yellow, lime, orange, French blue and lavender, as well as soft, romantic prints or whimsical motifs.

• Bridal looks, whether traditional and embellished or streamlined and contemporary, in all classifications, including foundations, undies, garters, sleep gowns, robes and boudoir accessories such as slippers, sachets and embroidered pillows.

The market kicked off with several events, including a cocktail party with informal modeling at a new showroom at 183 Madison Avenue for French bra specialist Chantelle; a La Mode de France catwalk show staged by CurveNY at the M2 Lounge club in Manhattan, and a cocktail soiree for Sliminizer, a new line of reversible shapewear in a variety of skin tones, hosted by the brand’s creator, Kate Liegey, at the Muse Creative Group studio in New York. Shapewear specialist Spanx held a three-day open house for the media at the Bryant Park Hotel, as did Fashion Forms at the Kitano Hotel.

John Schulman, executive vice president of product development at Frederick’s of Hollywood, said senior management and buyers were on the hunt for fashion items.

“The newness and fashion is truly what has turned our business around,” said Schulman. “The customer is responding to fashion, not a price point, and it’s clearly about perceived value. As a result, our regular price business is excellent. We’ve been making a concerted effort to offer smaller collections of newness to consumers that are fresh and provocative to get the customer to buy. She knows that if she wants an item, she has to buy it immediately. This has allowed us to increase our turn dramatically.”

Maureen Stabnau, senior vice president of merchandising at, said her priority was “innovation and creativity in design and fabric, as well as in presentation, such as packaging or marketing.”

“We need products that will stand out to the consumer, especially online, and will give her something new to try,” Stabnau said. “The risk in economic times like this is to avoid taking risks. You need to be aggressive to move forward and to position yourself for when the consumer comes back. We were pleased that many vendors took this approach during this market.”

Regarding assortments, Stabnau noted: “Our desired mix of basics compared to fashion hasn’t really changed. We are still looking for great new fashion to generate excitement, but the key to driving sales is basics that perform. We’ve seen a renewed interest in the cami-bra category, particularly from Natori, Cosabella and Wacoal. Shapewear, of course, continues to be a hot category. Many vendors such as Bali and Spanx have expanded or refreshed their assortments. The other excitement surrounding shapewear was the addition of color.”

Among the specialty boutique owners attending the CurveNY fair was Tara Solon, who was shopping for “exclusive items” for Mignonette, her shop in Providence, R.I. Solon said she has a conservative, upscale customer who does “fantasize about wearing a sexy bra, like a bra by Rosy.”

“Surprisingly, with the economy the way it is, this July was better than last July [in sales], and July is the slowest month of the year for me,” said Solon. “I feel I’m successful because I work six to seven days a week and I give European service to my customers. So, if I have to hand-deliver items to their house, I do it. My top brands are Huit, Elle Macpherson Intimates, Bendon, Bleu Marine, Kenzo, Eres, Rosy and some Mary Green. I carry Halle Bob because I need some trendy prints, and I handpick everything because I know my customers’ sizes, so I buy for them.”

Cyla Weiner, owner of Sylene, a specialty boutique in Chevy Chase, Md., said, “I’m looking for shapewear. Back fat is a big issue with my customers, and I’ve seen a lot of shapewear items that can add perceived value to the product and the purchase.”

Weiner said Devi Defined by Annette was among the brands she was considering buying.

Michelle and Mirelle Marcos, two sisters who will be opening a lingerie shop in September called Room Service in Monterrey, Mexico, said they were looking for bridal lingerie and sleepwear.

“Right now, you can’t find a nice lingerie boutique in our city, so a lot of people drive to Texas to buy upscale lingerie,” said Michelle Marcos. “We are looking for sexy items by designers like Carol Malony, basic merchandise and bridal, which is very important because people in Monterrey are affluent, very traditional and there are always lots of weddings.”

Sizing up the market from a manufacturer’s viewpoint, Seth Morris, president of The Carole Hochman Design Group, said: “Market, overall, was very good for us, and there was actually even a degree of optimism emerging. I think retailers have done a very good job controlling inventory levels. In some cases, we have seen business left on the table or deliveries advanced. This has been a healthier way to manage the business in these unpredictable times. There was very little immediate merchandise available. Like our retail partners, we have managed our inventory tightly. By largely cutting to order and keeping expectations within reason, there was very little to offer on an as-ready basis.”

Sonja Winther, president of Chantelle’s North America operations, said, “For department stores [that] buy well in advance, we concluded orders at this market. All other retailers are reviewing now and will write paper within a month or so.”

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