NEW YORK — Fashion, not price, will be the big issue at next week’s blockbuster market.A renewed interest in quality merchandise, as well as innovative fabrics and fresh colors, is beginning to surface after several seasons of haggling over sharper price points and promotional programs. The pressure of price incentives — which produce higher profit margins for retailers but often leave manufacturers wringing their hands — had intensified since the beginning of the year and became a contentious issue between merchants and vendors, industry executives said. However, a majority of makers believe the incessant bartering will begin to taper off for holiday and spring selling and an acceptance of value and fashion is expected to prevail.The main reason for the sea change is that consumers have not been buying commodity-type merchandise, especially sleepwear, robes and at-homewear that have little pizzazz or sex appeal. In other words, consumers want to be wooed and entertained with items that not only make them feel and look good, but are aspirational and offer a hipper fashion edge.Retailers are apparently getting the message, and Madison Avenue showrooms are booked with appointments from buyers as well as senior management, several manufacturers said. Officials at two lingerie trade shows here — Lingerie Americas and Intima America — also note they expect a strong turnout of department and specialty stores as well as merchants representing catalogues and e-commerce businesses.That’s where the celebrity connection comes into play. The impact of JLo Lingerie by Jennifer Lopez at The Warnaco Group has ignited a desire for brand names that are glamorous and famous, thus making the consumer feel sexy and desirable. The newest celebrity addition to the world of lingerie is the licensed Pamela Anderson Intimates line at Vandale Industries, which hits stores in September. Now it’s just a matter of time until the star dust from other glam names like Christina Aguilera, Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson settles on lingerie liaisons.In the meantime, there’s one other niche that is being viewed as having untapped potential — sleepwear and at-homewear for women over 40 who want to maintain a youthful image, but can no longer fit into junior styles. At the same time, this consumer segment refuses to bow to tradition and wear matronly looks.Other key classifications expected are:Bridal and special-occasion sleepwear.Supercomfy at-homewear items in feel-good fabrics. Sex-kitten corsets and bustiers.HotPants, but not the Seventies style; the modern version rides high on the derriere.Regarding the focus on fashion, Victor Lee, president of NAP Inc., said, “I think that over the last few months it’s all been about price at retail, but not necessarily from the consumer’s perspective. Our fashion products have been selling well, and we believe that fashion and new innovative fabrics and colors will sell in bad economic times as well as good economic times.”“This market will be a biggie for us, and we’ll be showing six new all-encompassing collections by Bill Blass, Crabtree & Evelyn, Ann Lewin, Docker’s and Argentovivo and Princesse Tam Tam, both of which will also feature swimwear,” Lee said.Jeanette Cantone, vice president of merchandising for the JLo Lingerie by Jennifer Lopez at Warnaco, put it this way: “Spring 2005 is all about freshness of color and multilayering of textures and prints. Those are among the key elements that continue to satisfy the lifestyle needs of the JLo customer. The collection will encompass foundations, panties and dressy and casual sleepwear and loungewear.”New ideas will include “allover logo geometric prints, logoed lace straps and metal rings and tabs, which will capitalize on the brand’s equity with the JLo enthusiast while appealing to a broader audience who is looking for fashionable lingerie that’s fun to wear,” said Cantone.Carole Hochman, chairman and design director of Carole Hochman Designs Inc., said the licensed Betsey Johnson Intimates will feature a number of new ideas, including “bra-top camis that have the look of corsetry in luscious colors and fabrics.” Fabrics include mesh satin, embroidered nylon tricot, polyester chiffon and cross-dyed laces. Colors include key lime, cotton candy pink, violet, pineapple and ice blue. “We’ll also be showing sexy Betsey bridal in vintage white, looks I think young, sexy ladies want to wear for bridal fare,” said Hochman. She added that daywear will be introduced in the licensed Lauren by Ralph Lauren collection with a selection of as many as 10 fashion colors.Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales at Movie Star Inc., said the licensed collection of Maidenform sleepwear and loungewear will debut next week. “We’ve already previewed Maidenform sleepwear with several major accounts and reaction was strong,’’ he said. “It’s targeted to a woman who is no longer a junior but not ready to be overly mature. We plan to service this customer who is underserviced at department stores, because the merchandise is either very young and junior looking or too traditional.”Tobie Garfinkle, senior vice president of merchandising at Liz Claiborne Intimates, said, “We began shipping average-figure bras in spring ’04 and are about to ship our full-support collection. What’s different and interesting is we have developed the same laces and embroideries for both the average-size and full-support styles. So, regardless of the women’s size, she’s getting the same Liz Claiborne styling.”Garfinkle said styles for spring 2005 will feature “more fashion and innovation” with a proprietary microfiber called Liz SoftTouch, as well as multicolored embroideries and luxurious European cross-dyed laces.

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