REVVING UP ROBE BUSINESS

Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK--From expanded ranges of textured treatments to more dual-purpose looks, robe and at-homewear vendors have been working hard to offer retailers increased fashion options at the upcoming March market.
Looking to punch up a robe business that has been primarily flat over the past several years, some makers will also use the March market, which in the past has been focused mainly on fall lines, to show holiday as well, hoping to get a larger piece of the Christmas catalog business. This business, vendors say, has to a large extent gone to imports.
At-homewear, a generally healthy but small part of overall innerwear business at stores, is expected to continue having good sell-throughs for fall and holiday with sportswear-influenced items, such as jumpsuits, pajamas and loungers that look like big shirts.
Other ideas expected to attract attention at the market, which runs March 13-17, include:
Nightgowns and coordinating robes--a classification that grew in importance in late 1994, especially in the better and bridge areas.
Cotton knits, continuing to ride a wave of popularity and now being mixed with wovens.
New treatments for chenille.
Colorful novelties.
Reflecting the widening use of knits with wovens, Carole Hochman, president and director of design at Carole Hochman Designs Inc., said the year-old robe line under the Carole Hochman Knits label will feature "a lot more interesting fabrics" for fall--and not all of them knits.
Fabrics will include double-face sweatshirting, brushed woven cottons, novelty knits, flannels and cotton terry. Colors will be black, hunter green, ivory, pearl, and mid-tone blue, green, plum and red.
The robe line generated first season wholesale sales of $1 million, said Hochman. She based the line's success on "young, easy-looking items."
"Our story is lifestyle--not just another bathrobe," she said.
The line will feature three delivery periods from August to October, with more emphasis than in the past on items for October shipment for holiday selling.
"I'll be showing my holiday line with my fall line in March for the first time," said Stan Herman, designer of robes and at-homewear under the Stan Herman label at the Crowntuft Manufacturing segment of Kellwood's Lingerie/Activewear division. "We are doing this to capture the attention of all of the big guns.
"It also gives us a chance to compete with offshore resources," he said.
Herman, who specializes in chenille, said his newest idea for fall is a "technique that gives a pattern-on-pattern effect" on robes and at-homewear.
Anne Lewin, designer and divisional manager of Anne Lewin robes and at-homewear at NAP, noted, "We've taken a very contemporary point of view, with items that are very sportswear looking, but with a softer edge."
Lewin singled out several key ideas: mixes of thermal and French terry; texture instead of prints, and interesting touches such as zigzag trims and satin piping.
The easy, Empire dress in textured cotton knit will continue to be hot, she said.
At the Cypress Apparel division of Russell-Newman Inc., Heather Thomson, merchandise manager, said two introductions will be made for fall: a group of multicolor printed robes of cotton velour by figurative artist Annee Goodchild, and a group of Navaho-inspired printed blanket robes of brushed cotton. The blanket robes were introduced in the men's division in August.
Cypress also will be showing two new printed robe designs by Brazilian figurative artist Gustavo Rosa--a "big face" of a man wearing glasses, and an American flag motif.
Flora Nikrooz, designer and an owner of Flora Nikrooz Inc., said, "I'll be showing a lot of robes with matching nightgowns that will be merchandised in sleepwear areas as a collection. There's been a lot of requests from retailers for coordinated sets.
"A consumer these days will buy a basic terry robe, but I've discovered that when she buys a better-priced robe, she wants a matching gown to go with it."
Nikrooz said her fall lineup will consist of lots of "antique-looking" embroideries on net and shine-and-matte treatments. Key fabrics will be a lightweight, prewashed rayon velvet and a pebble-finish satin-back crepe of acetate and rayon.

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