By  on March 4, 2002

NEW YORK -- This week's fall market is expected to be among the strongest March editions in several years.

The reason: innerwear business began to rebound in late 2001, and now many major retailers and specialty operations, a number of whom have additional funding for key sleepwear and foundations, are looking to replenish inventories with immediate merchandise, as well as ordering fall and previewing holiday goods.

Plus, vendors said innerwear business at stores for Valentine's Day was robust, especially with gift-giving items such as peignoirs, hostess loungers, soft and cuddly robes and sheer baby dolls.

While apparel sales generally continue to be lackluster, classifications such as novelty pajamas, at-homewear that has a sportswear flavor and sexy lingerie, like corsets with fake lace-up effects, push-up bras in delicate European laces and a variety of boy-leg briefs and thongs are best-selling items.

Other top ideas expected to click for fall include:

Feel-good fabrics like fluffy fleeces, French terry and a range of suede-like microfibers.

A strong print statement in daywear and sleepwear, with motifs ranging from Victorian florals to updated animal prints and patchwork looks.

Treatments that have a whimsical twist like sparkle fake fur and allover flocking.

A rainbow of fashion colors.

David Clark, president of the intimate apparel division of the The Warnaco Group, said the Olga and Warner's bra brands received "very good reaction" when the lines were previewed last week to several major buying groups.

"Retailers said the brands were well-focused in both price and styling," said Clark. "We are not doing collections, we are doing individual items, such as a particular fabric for a full-figure style, or a padded and underwire style."

Clark said two shapewear groups by Bodyslimmers received positive reaction: a waist-controlling group called "What a Waist," which features a high-waisted brief, bike pants and all-in-one bodysuit, and a "butt-boosting" brief called "What a Lift."

Regarding the mood of retailers, Clark, whose firm is operating in Chapter 11, said: "Stores are definitely coming back with additional funding, especially for the Olga line. And that's very positive."Tobie Garfinkle, vice president of merchandising for the Lily of France and licensed Natori foundations at the Bestform unit of VF Corp., said two ideas by Lily of France were well received: a "Moulin Rouge"-inspired fake lace-up bra with a delicate lace-trimmed neckline that has a "sexy, girly look" called French Connection, and a seamless demi-bra called Eve, made of microfiber and featuring a laser cut pad with no stitching.

"Response has been strong to new, full-busted styles by Natori called Nouveau that are sexy and elegant looking in European laces," said Garfinkle, noting that bra cup sizes go up to 38DD. Colors are hot pink and soft pink.

Jennifer Armstrong, vice president of marketing for the Bali Co. division of Sara Lee Intimate Apparel, said she's anticipating a strong market week, as the company continues to emphasize product innovation and updated styling.

There will be three new groups of bras and shapers by Bali for fall: one called Silver Lining, which features a "silvery side sling" in an underwire style and a minimizer; a Powershape lace group with knit-in lace and Lycra spandex shaping bands, and a new Seductive Curves deep-plunge seamless bra, said Armstrong.

Barely There will launch the next generation of Body Revolution featuring a stretch knit-in comfort band and four-way stretch, and a Comfortable Curves light foam bra lined with soft, comfortable cotton. Wonderbra is launching the Tempt Fate collection, a lined bra and a front-close push-up style, both with beautiful seamless laces over foam cups.

Armstrong noted that Bali is planning an aggressive print advertising and point-of-sale campaign for the Bali, Barely There and Wonderbra brands featuring photography by Richard Avedon.

Sonja Winther, vice president and managing director of Chantelle Inc., said: "Retailers were already responding to newness at the Salon International de la Lingerie in Paris, so I already know that [retail] plans are going up. Season-to-date we are up 35 percent, and current sell-throughs are ahead 32 percent at comp doors. We've already seen additional funding for fall. We had initially planned 6 percent, but have now revised to 20 percent."

Winther said full-figure bras are becoming a key classification for Chantelle, with items including two styles that go up to a 42G cup: a cut-and-sew style called Amazone and an allover stretch lace number called Evidence. Coordinating bottoms are sized up to XXXXL.Linda AuBuchon, vice president of sales at Felina, said: "Business is picking up, especially in the designer category. We have the same number of department stores coming to market, but a lot more specialty stores will be coming in. What's selling right now is fashion, color and newness."

AuBuchon said a group of Victorian-looking bras of embroidered mesh with soutache treatments received good reaction. The group, which is available in antique beige, lavender and color combinations of black and rose-beige, and pink and black, features a demi style, an average size underwire style and a full-figure style that is sized up to 40DD.

Regarding sleepwear, Jeanette Cantone, senior vice president of merchandising and design at Natori Co., said: "The newest trend is lots of texture and detail, mixing fabrics and prints, and patchwork looks. We will continue to capitalize on key items in all core brands, such as pajama dressing, boy-leg briefs and camis, as well as a strong print statement.

"The Natori black label collection has been designed to be a very exotic and alluring array of lingerie dressing with strong emphasis on embroideries on stretch lace, jersey, georgette and satin," said Cantone. "The Natori white label collection is sexy and modern and features a lot of knit dressing, as well as sheer fabrics and georgette."

Maryann Kraker, senior vice president of merchandising for the Cruz line of sleepwear and at-homewear at the Natori firm, said: "The Cruz line has experienced strong sell-throughs, especially during Christmas and Valentine's Day. It's all been driven by strong, key-item selling. The strength of our key items continues to be in the pajama category, across all fabrics, especially satin."

For March, the company is showing pajamas in a range of fabrics, but with a focus on updated looks, such as mixing woven fabric pants with knit tops.

Susan Pink, executive vice president of the French Jenny division of Richard Leeds International, said: "Our success at retail has been newness, whether it's been a special fabric trim or embellishment, or an item called Long Jenny Johns -- an old-fashioned long-john silhouette we've given a modern twist with whimsical prints in two-by-one cotton rib-knit."Other top ideas for fall include sparkle fur treatments, variegated metallic effects and allover flocking on yarn-dye knits that give a three-dimensional look, said Pink.

David Komar, executive vice president of marketing at Charles Komar & Sons, said new novelty knits and specialty sleeve treatments in the licensed collection of Eileen West sleepwear received good reaction.

"It's romantic looking yet modern at the same time," said Komar, adding that a group of ribbed and solid velour robes by Eileen West also was strong. "Our [licensed] Liz Claiborne line is very item-oriented. Retailers are responding to loungewear looks in French terry, a two-color bonded fleece fabric and blanket stitching treatments."

Victoria Vandagriff, vice president of sales for the Carole Hochman and licensed Oscar de la Renta brands at Carole Hochman Designs, said: "Clearly, it helps to come off a good season and we are looking forward to a good market. Our Oscar de la Renta navy label has been very strong. Buyers are looking for a better balance of traditional, classic and fashion. They are asking for more funding and they are getting it."

Donna Sozzi, vice president of sales for the licensed Esprit sleepwear collection at the Hochman firm, said distribution of the Esprit line has almost doubled to 300 department store doors for fall. The line is being launched at stores this spring.

"We are very bullish and upbeat at this point," said Howard Radziminsky, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Movie Star Inc. "A year ago, we introduced a soft brushed microfiber that's flying at retail. It's propelling a lot of our Cinema Etoile and private label sleepwear business.

"With suits becoming popular again, our daywear business is 60 percent ahead of last year. Micro spandex and stretch lace [tops] are key."

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