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Betsey Gets Intimate

NEW YORK — Retailers and consumers better tighten their garter belts and bra straps — Betsey Johnson is about to shake up the quiet world of intimate apparel.<br><br>The perennially hip designer has signed her first licensing agreement...

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NEW YORK — Retailers and consumers better tighten their garter belts and bra straps — Betsey Johnson is about to shake up the quiet world of intimate apparel.

The perennially hip designer has signed her first licensing agreement with Carole Hochman Designs Inc. Johnson said she has “big plans” to bring her sense of fashion whimsy to a conservative lingerie industry that needs more sizzle.

The Betsey Johnson collection of intimates will bow in January here at a new Betsey Johnson showroom ensconced within the Carole Hochman headquarters at 135 Madison Avenue. Initial offerings will include sleepwear and soft daywear pieces. Bras and corsetry will follow in the next several seasons, said Johnson, who has final approval of product.

Distribution is aimed at the 500 or so specialty stores that carry the designer’s sportswear collection, as well as major stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, said Chantal Bacon, co-owner of the Betsey Johnson firm. Exclusive lingerie styles will be sold at 45 Betsey Johnson boutiques nationwide.

Bacon projected first-year wholesale sales for the lingerie of about $5 million.

Discussing her lingerie ideas at her signature pink Seventh Avenue showroom, Johnson was joined by Carole Hochman, chief executive officer and design director of the firm bearing her name; Neal Hochman, corporate secretary, and Seth Morris, president. Johnson displayed a number of inspirational items she has designed and collected over the years that have a look of lingerie. Strewn across a table were brightly colored sequined G-strings and bikinis, sheer peasant blouses, faux grass hula skirts and embroidered lightweight knit chemises.

Johnson said fabrics and treatments will include sheers, sparkles, blends of cotton and Lycra spandex and “unique knits.”

“I’ve been showing Carole all of my oldies but goodies,” she said. “I’ve always included loungewear and lingerie looks in my collections, but what we’ll be doing with Carole Hochman will be much more intricate and specialized.”

As for what inspires her to do lingerie, she said, “I connect with the video girls like Beyoncé, Britney, J.Lo and Madonna, who wear the stripes, the roses, the glitter, the sheers, the sexy looks. They’re the Liz Taylors and Marilyn Monroes of my day. I literally grew up in leotards. I was an aerialist, so I grew up very body-conscious and I get this body thing.”

This story first appeared in the July 28, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

She said she’s been a fervent collector of lingerie since before she and Bacon founded the Johnson company in 1978, adding, “You’ve got to have it around to see it and touch it, from slinky lingerie of the Thirties and Forties to killer point bras of the Fifties.”

Carole Hochman said, “This will be a collaborative effort. We want to keep it identifiable with Betsey. The biggest challenge will be to edit the collection. But we’re not out to take it mass market. We want to keep the look and give a certain wow to consumers.”

She noted that Betsey Johnson intimates will be the first brand the Hochman firm will display at trade shows, beginning next year.

Asked if distribution will go global, Neal Hochman said, “We can ship worldwide out of Hong Kong, where we make the goods. By having a presence at the trade shows, we will attract a worldwide distribution and a new global customer.”

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