Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK--Upscale, higher-priced merchandise was the big hit for Valentine's Day, say innerwear retailers.
In a spot survey of stores nationwide, retailers said shoppers seemed to spend more this year than they did a year ago--when business was characterized generally as fair --and that dollar figures this year were up some 20 percent.
Silk was a top-selling fabric in sleepwear and daywear items, especially in sleepgowns, and in camisoles with matching bikinis and boxers. Heart prints generally were a sellout in every product category--from underwear to robes and pajamas.
The updated little chemise was a big item at mass outlets as well as department and specialty stores.
Red traditionally is the top color, but retailers noted that baby pink was a big winner this year.
Robin Suvoy, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for intimate apparel at Macy's East, said, "We exceeded plans and Valentine's Day business was extremely successful. Sales at Herald Square were up 20 percent over a year ago. Better-priced merchandise that was very feminine and pretty-looking sold well in all categories."
Suvoy further noted that response was good to the "men's night" at Macy's Herald Square flagship here last Tuesday--the night before Valentine's Day. The event--which drew about 100 people--featured a lingerie fashion show as well as performances by cast members of the Broadway hit, "Smokey Joe's Cafe."
"I had an extremely strong Valentine's Day business," said Stacy Staiger, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Neiman Marcus, Dallas. "We sold a lot of upper-end, beautiful pieces, mainly a lot of short gowns, especially chemises. Black sold better than it does most of the time."
Donna Coughlin, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Sears, Roebuck Co., noted sales "were way up over last Valentine's Day," but did not say anything more specific.
"Satin sleepwear was phenomenal," said Coughlin, who added that other top items included "sexy-looking teddys and screened nightshirts with hearts and angels."
"Bras and panties with shine were excellent," Coughlin said.
Marianne Porada, daywear buyer at J.C. Penney & Co., said, "Daywear items were priced a little higher this year, but we found no price resistance." The average retail is $22, she said.
Porada singled out several "star performers": a satin teddy with a heart-shaped motif on the bodice that came with a satin hanger, and an allover lace camisole layered with chiffon that was sold with matching lace bikini panties. The teddy and the ensemble each sold for $24.
Another big idea at Penney's was a red gift box holding a mix of solid and floral-printed string bikini panties in shiny polyester satin, for $12, Porada said.
"Consumers were not price-conscious the way they were last year," said Cindy Stokes, sleepwear buyer at Carson Pirie Scott, Milwaukee. "If it was pretty and romantic-looking or sexy--they bought it."
Stokes noted, though, that while sexy looks sold well, the best-selling items "were not blatantly sexy--just nice and romantic."
A majority of best-selling items were discounted 25 percent, and included a heart-pattern allover stretch lace chemise by Cinema Etoile that sold for $24; a private label plaid cotton sleepshirt with a multiheart print, for $21, and a cotton knit sleepshirt in a stuffed animal toy of a love bug or a pig by Doz Clothes, for $21. The sleepshirts featured allover love bug or "passionate" pig prints.
Terry Lethco, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Proffitt's, Alcoa, Tenn., said "anything in satin" did well, but also cited Calvin Klein basic underwear, pricier sleepwear in silks and satins and Eileen West sleepwear.
Rachel Wells, corporate intimate apparel buyer for Matthews-Belk, a 13-unit department store chain based in Gastonia, N.C., said one sellout was a cotton knit sleep shirt and boxer set by San Francisco with red hearts on a white ground. The boxers were $9.99 and the shirt was $19.99.
Two other top items came with a satin hanger--a satin chemise by Dentelle, and an allover lace chemise by California Dynasty, which also sold well in XL sizes, said Wells. Each item was $19.99.
At Frederick's of Hollywood, Los Angeles, Shirley Sumida, general merchandise manager of the specialty retail division, said: "We went heavy into heart prints this year, and we had incredible sell-throughs with all merchandise that featured hearts."
One item sold out the weekend before Valentines Day. It was men's boxers--that men and women were buying for themselves and as gifts--in either of three prints: lips, hearts and "horny little red devils." Cotton knit boxers were $12, and silk boxers went for $16 and $18.
A spokeswoman for Victoria's Secret, Columbus, Ohio, singled out several Valentine's Day hits at the company's stores: solid and novelty-printed silk men's boxers, a shiny polyester satin baby doll, and a shiny polyester charmeuse full slip with two lace medallion insets at the bodice. Each item sold for $28.
Phyllis Epstein, intimate apparel buyer at Bradlees, Braintree, Mass., said fashion panties of lace and satin by International Intimates, and novelty cotton prints by Forbidden Moments by Intimate Resources were key gift items.
"Slinky fabrics of pleated poly satin in thongs and bustiers also did well," Epstein said. The panties sold for $2.99, the bustier was $9.99.
Generally, Epstein said, Bradlees did well with "a true baby ice pink."
From a specialty boutique perspective, Judy Perry, owner of Intimate Apparel Inc., Lubbock, Tex., observed, "The male shopper tended to be more romantic in thinking this year when shopping for a Valentine's Day gift, and he was willing to spend more."
Perry singled out lace and chiffon chemises by Flora Nikrooz as the number-one items. The chemises sold for $100 to $120.

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