By  on September 19, 2005

NEW YORK — Despite a somewhat stagnant economy, there appears to be no sticker shock for luxury lingerie, according to retailers nationwide.

Excluding retailers in the hurricane-hit Gulf Coast, a majority of merchants at department stores and specialty boutiques in the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast and on the West Coast generally said business was up 5 percent or more against a year ago. They attribute the appetite for upscale undergarments to the acceptance of lingerie as a fashion accessory and to the exposure it has received on runways, on TV and in movies.

The crush of celebrity news that covers everything from Jennifer Aniston's penchant for girly-looking camis to Angelina Jolie's Goth-inspired black leather bustiers also has been a big factor in taking lingerie to another level as a fashion category, said retailers.

Bras in particular are cited as a strong area for early fall, whether it's an updated version of seamless microfiber styles that smooth and lift, or seductive embroidered and lace numbers that are being worn more as everyday fare.

Retailers said strong sell-throughs of fashion and basic bras are bolstering impulse buys by consumers tempted to spend more for daywear items in coordinating prints, colors and fabrics, such as chemises, camisoles and a variety of panty styles. The crossover into sleepwear that bears a designer name or young contemporary labels also is boosting business for a younger generation of consumers who want something fun and pretty to sleep in, said merchants.

The factors driving multiple sales are newness, innovation and fashion.

Describing the hottest-selling items at Henri Bendel, Scott Tepper, fashion director and divisional merchandise manager, said: "We are receiving a strong early read on jewel-tone silks, especially from Leigh Bantivoglio. Customers are still responding to novelty in European lingerie brands. The glamorous pleating of Yes Master from London and the strong embellishment from ID Sarrieri from Romania have been particularly strong."

Top-selling items at Bendel's from Leigh Bantivoglio include a black lace wrap top retailing for $208 and two stretch lace camis in teal and charcoal at $198. Bestsellers by ID Sarrieri include a crystal-embellished and crystal-strap bra, both retailing for $198, and a matching thong for $98. Yes Master's top items are a crystal-detailed chiffon panty in ivory or rose for $78, a satin and chiffon halter bra in rose for $118 and a bra with rose and ivory embellishments for $128.John Schulman, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Frederick's of Hollywood, said corsets are "without a doubt our number-one category" for early fall.

"We've seen enormous success with our Night & Day Corset Collection, because we're giving the consumer a range of fashion corsets she can wear out," Schulman said. "She's got options that are very much on trend and a number of styles to suit a variety of wardrobes."

He added that two corset styles featured in the Frederick's fall-winter catalogue have sold out since it was mailed Sept. 1: A red satin style with black lace overlay retailing for $60, and a beaded and lace-trimmed gold satin number with removable garters at $74. A pink embroidered and beaded style with removable straps and a matching G-string selling for $88 is "almost sold out," he said.

A spokeswoman for Victoria's Secret said, "I would say one of our best-selling items is the IPEX Bra. The demi cup retails for $45, and the full-coverage style is $47. The full-coverage style was launched in March, and the demi was introduced in August. Colors include white, black, nude, light and medium pink, sky blue and orange. The demi is also available in medium green."

Elizabeth Hospodar, dmm of intimate apparel at Bloomingdale's, noted, "Business is good — very exciting right now."

Hospodar singled out two bra brands as having "fantastic" sell-throughs: The iBra by Wacoal and the Calvin Klein Perfectly Fit collection of eight bra styles, including designs that range from a plunge to a push-up style, a racerback, a strapless, a wide strap, an underwire and a wire-free style, plus a smooth T-shirt number. The iBra retails for $50, and the Perfectly Fit by Calvin Klein line averages at $34.

"The best thing we have going right now is the iBra by Wacoal," said Bob Pawlak, vice president and dmm of intimate apparel at Carson Pirie Scott. "It's sold at regular price, $50; is one of the highest-quality products we have, and is generating great sell-throughs."

Polly Berg, owner of her eponymous boutique in Wayzata, Minn., said, "Chantelle's micro seamless Senso bra is selling very well for us. Sand is the number-one-selling color."The Chantelle bra sells at a suggested $62.

Berg noted that other "hits" include lace- and tulle-trimmed lightweight cotton chemises and pajama sets by Cosabella, which retail for $87 and $182, respectively.

Pam Fitzpatrick, owner of the Candlelight Shop in Ridgefield, Conn., said, "My business is stronger than a year ago. I'm selling a lot of bras, more than last year. Women are buying a couple of basics and one pretty bra to make them feel good."

Best-selling bra brands include Simone Perele at $85, Huit at $66, Marie Jo at $87 and Chantelle for $56 and $90, she said.

Lastenia Dardeno, U.S. division manager of Myla, a British lingerie and sex-toy chain with a Madison Avenue shop, said, "Anything that has a sheer luster or a luxurious quality is selling."

Top-selling items under the Myla brand include a metallic silk tulle baby doll with gold dots, selling for $300.

She added that one group in particular with coordinating pieces is "extremely popular" in aubergine lace and silk. Bras go for $210 and $245, a cami is $225, a thong is $135 and the most popular item, French knickers, goes for $164.

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