By  on January 23, 2006

NEW YORK — Lingerie manufacturers and designers anticipated the January market would be among the most challenging in years — and they were right.

Not since 1990, when mergers and acquisitions began sweeping the industry, has there been such angst over producing newness, innovation and best-selling product. The main reason is the Federated-May merger, which will significantly tighten major department store channels. It also is likely to leave branded resources that have benefited from their relationships with both chains in a tenuous position if the retail conglomerate accelerates its private label programs and consolidates its matrix of brands.

"There are a lot of jitters out there," said an executive who sells to Federated and May stores and did not want to be identified. "People are trying to educate themselves on how to deal with all of this consolidation and not turn off any retailers. The problem is there are not too many retailers to pick from these days. Kohl's may have half of the brands on its floor and Federated the other half. And there's a Dillard's out there that's trying to differentiate itself, maybe looking at resources it never has considered before."

Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Movie Star Inc., said, "We did sell and do sell both Federated and May stores. The Federated-May merger affects us from a product point of view because they both buy our [Cinema Etoile] lines. Some buyers are looking and saying ‘I'll buy for Federated doors the way I always have, and buy for May doors differently.'"

Powerhouse brands such as Hanes, Bali, Playtex, Maidenform, Warner's, Vassarette and Vanity Fair seem to be in a good position, as are designer labels like Calvin Klein Underwear, DKNY Underwear, Betsey Johnson Intimates, Vera Wang Intimates, Natori and Josie Natori. Specialty products that fill a niche such as bridal trousseau by Flora Nikrooz and Oscar de la Renta sleepwear, and sexy boudoir items by Cinema Etoile should also thrive.

Also well positioned are contemporary daywear items by names, including Josie and Baby Phat Intimates by Kimora Lee Simmons and new brand launches like contemporary sleepwear and loungewear by Donna Nadeau at The Komar Co. and Fayreform full-figure bras at Elle Macpherson Intimates. Continuing the momentum with new color palettes, styling and innovative fabrics were Wacoal bras, robes and sleepwear at Karen Neuburger and WillowWear and Cypress at Russell-Newman.

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