By  on May 21, 2007

The May intimate apparel market proved to be a small, yet potent, fashion cocktail of key lingerie items and exclusives.

The focus of major stores was on new product, not a rehash of replenishment items or last-minute goods. Offerings ran the gamut from merchandise for immediate and holiday deliveries, to Valentine's Day gift-giving and a range of spring assortments.

The diversity of seasons can be attributed partly to retailer demand for shorter lead times and an increased number of shipments to keep intimate apparel departments looking new and fresh at major retailers such as Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Dillard's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.

There also was a strong interest in directional trend for 2008.

"For this [spring] collection, I focused on fine details and craftsmanship, incorporating ready-to-wear techniques and elements into the architecture such as sheering and pleating, raw edges, lace, tiny bows and draping, and the use of signature Mokuba ribbon," Vera Wang said.

David Komar, senior vice president of marketing at The Komar Co., said he was "very pleased" with retail reaction to trends. Komar produces the Vera Wang Intimate Apparel collection, which has two groups, a Luxe segment and a classic Collection group.

"Classics with a Vera twist in the Collection line such as draping, specialty trims, oversize pockets and pleating were very well received," Komar said. "One item in particular, the Soho Robe of velour terry with a wide sash in Collection was a top item. In the Luxe line, Vera's take on a rugby shirt in lace, silk and chiffon with pleating was a top-booking key item."

The top color combination was Ecru and turquoise stripes. Komar said reaction was strong to a "green" initiative by Donna Nadeau, a lifestyle collection of sleepwear and at-homewear of 100 percent organic cotton and soy, and a bamboo blend. Several styles were rendered with "low-impact" printing, an application that uses organic ink. Komar added that a romantic floral-print lavender shade was the top color in the Eileen West sleepwear collection. A key silhouette by West was a ballet-length, triple V-yoke sleep gown with flutter sleeves.

Top-booking ideas at the market included:

-- Saucy-looking baby dolls in layered sheers with coordinating G-string or thong.-- Contemporary looking Empire-cut chemises and full slips that can double as dresses.

-- A new classification called "dormwear" — updated lounge separates with sophisticated logos, sayings and characters.

-- Anything following the green initiative in organic cotton in sleepwear, or blends of bamboo, soy, corn, pine chips, and milk and Modal [white birch wood pulp] with Lycra spandex or silk in daywear and foundations.

-- Stretch lace sleep teddies.

February proved to be a turning point in the way manufacturers conducted business to satisfy the increasing demands of retailers regarding special-looking product, new concepts and niche businesses like bridal trousseau and organic fabrics. But a tough problem remained for a majority of vendors: the consolidation of five market weeks from four a year, a move that has affected seasonal priorities for manufacturers, making it difficult to establish a time frame that will please major stores and smaller specialty boutiques.

This year's edition also was different in the sense that there was a break from the traditional May format, when vendors showed transitional and spring lines exclusively in showrooms during one week. Now, the May format has joined the frenzied pace of the August, November and the new February edition, which condensed the January and March markets, into a two-week venue. In this case, a number of vendors were on the road the second week, while smaller, specialty retailers who did not want to be away from their shops during Mother's Day business, came to New York to catch up on immediate and holiday orders they missed in February.

"We in the market are all very confused,'' said Marcia Leeds, chief executive officer of Richard Leeds International. "May market has never been product-driven, but now with the shift in market dates, we are showing new product."

Her husband Richard, chairman of the company, said, "Our bookings were strong, but I think it was strange because traffic was light and the building didn't seem to be too busy, and 135 Madison Avenue is always a high-traffic building."

Another transition was the Boutique Lingerie show, a compact trade fair created by designer Samantha Chang that staged its first May edition at the Royalton Hotel with nine up-and-coming designer lines. Chang created the show here in February 2006 and plans an August edition at the Morgans Hotel with around 24 exhibitors during the Aug. 6 to 10 market week. She also coordinates five trade fairs at the Gerry Building in Los Angeles, adjacent to the California Mart."The show turned out to be pretty decent," Chang said. "About 40 stores came in, including Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman, La Petite Coquette, Lingerie on Lex, La Mode from Houston, Otto from Brooklyn and Houppette from Greenville, Del."

Two other creative events livened up the market scene: Eres, the upscale French lingerie and swimwear brand, created a vintage "La Vie en Rose" ambience at the Soho House in the trendy Meatpacking District to display Forties and Fifties-inspired bras and undies, and red-carpet diva Melissa Rivers joined Ann Deal, founder of Los Angeles-based Fashion Forms, at a luncheon for the media and a cocktail party and dinner for retailers at the Kitano Hotel to launch a new license, The Cleavacious Bra. The new bra is a specialty adjustable style created by Karey Weyenberg.

Brenda Berger, vice president of sales at Hanky Panky, said red and black stretch lace teddies with a V-neck front and sexy V-shaped keyhole at the back have been strong.

"Retailers were all talking about teddies as a fourth-quarter item," she said. "I think we'll see a return of the teddy."

Another big item is a low-rise black lace "disco thong" with metallic Lurex striping, Berger said.

Michelle Clark, senior vice president of merchandising at Movie Star Inc., said the company's Cinema Etoile brand always has been steadfast with Valentine's Day offerings in May.

"Anything with handkerchief hems did very well for Valentine's Day, as well as baby dolls," Clark said. "Baby-doll business with padded cups has picked up dramatically and represents more than half of our baby-doll business, which is up 30 percent against a year ago."

She added that a tabletop program of novelty undies with flocked velvet hearts, shirring, bows, heart-shaped crystals, Lurex stripes and marabou pom-poms have been a top-booking classification for gift-giving.

"Retailers are asking to see spring earlier,'' said Robert Zarabi, president and ceo of Chatsworth, Calif.-based Felina Lingerie. "May and November are now our two main markets. We've expanded with Federated with 80 Macy's East doors, and 130 Macy's West doors for both the Felina and Jezebel [bra] brands."Regarding both brands, Zarabi noted, "There's definitely a resurgence of white. Women are tired of seamless bras. They want something frilly, lacy and sexy looking."

In addition to white, a top-booking color is citrine, along with platinum and silver tones for spring. In the Jezebel line, retro graphic motifs, cross-stitching and needlework effects have been well received, he said.

Neil Mossberg, director of operations at World Marketing Inc., parent of Fernando Sanchez, said the introduction of a silk and milk blend fabric had been a "big hit" in lounge separates in the new FSII collection.

"It has a great soft hand of cashmere, but it doesn't have the piling a cashmere has," said Mossberg, who also serves as president of the Fernando Sanchez business. "It's something we're going to brand and market as the new cashmere."

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